Blackwelder v. Safnauer, No. 86-CV-1208.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
Citation689 F. Supp. 106
Docket NumberNo. 86-CV-1208.
PartiesRandy BLACKWELDER, Alice Blackwelder, Carmon Blackwelder, Katherine Blackwelder, Stephen Standish, Debora Standish, Aaron Standish, George Lonneville, Hilda Lonneville, Amy Lonneville, and Jacqueline Lonneville, Plaintiffs, v. Henry SAFNAUER, in his official capacity as the Superintendent of the Cato-Meridian Central School District; Edward Garno, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the City School District of Oswego; and Michael Hunsinger, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Waterloo Central School District, Defendants, and The State of New York, Intervenor-Defendant.
Decision Date17 June 1988

689 F. Supp. 106

Randy BLACKWELDER, Alice Blackwelder, Carmon Blackwelder, Katherine Blackwelder, Stephen Standish, Debora Standish, Aaron Standish, George Lonneville, Hilda Lonneville, Amy Lonneville, and Jacqueline Lonneville, Plaintiffs,
v.
Henry SAFNAUER, in his official capacity as the Superintendent of the Cato-Meridian Central School District; Edward Garno, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the City School District of Oswego; and Michael Hunsinger, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Waterloo Central School District, Defendants,
and
The State of New York, Intervenor-Defendant.

No. 86-CV-1208.

United States District Court, N.D. New York.

June 17, 1988.


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Michael P. Farris, Washington, D.C., David Rollinson, Syracuse, N.Y., for plaintiffs

Bond, Schoeneck & King, Syracuse, N.Y., for defendants Safnauer, Hunsinger & Garno; Deborah H. Karalunas, Jonathan B. Fellows, of counsel.

Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen. of the State of N.Y., Albany, N.Y., for intervenor defendant State of N.Y.; Alfred J. Sciarrino, Asst. Atty. Gen., of counsel.

Norman H. Gross, Albany, N.Y., for Proposed amicus curiae New York State United Teachers, AFL-CIO, and New York School Boards Ass'n, Inc.; Jay Worona, Associate Counsel, of counsel.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MUNSON, Chief Judge.

This is an action commenced under 42 U.S.C. ? 1983 that presents a variety of constitutional challenges to a New York statute governing the minimum standard of instruction that must be provided to minors between the ages of six and sixteen who are taught outside of the public schools of the cities and districts of the state. This case involves the practice of "homeschooling," or the instruction of children at home by their parents or other private instructors. Plaintiffs are homeschooling parents and children who for religious reasons have chosen this alternative form of education in lieu of public education. Defendants are the State of New York and the three superintendents of schools for the districts in which the various plaintiffs reside. The challenged statute, ? 3204 of New York's Education Law, mandates that the educational services provided to a minor "elsewhere than at a public school shall be at least substantially equivalent to the instruction given to minors of like age and attainments at the public schools of the city or district where the minor resides," and that such services must be provided by "competent" instructors. N.Y.Educ.Law ? 3204(2) (McKinney 1981 & Supp.1988). Plaintiffs argue that ? 3204 is unconstitutionally vague, violates both the establishment and free exercise clauses of the first amendment, offends due process, and is enforced through on-site visits by public school authorities which violate the right to privacy guaranteed by the fourth and fourteenth amendments. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief. Before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment.1

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are deemed undisputed.2 Plaintiffs Randy and Alice Blackwelder

689 F. Supp. 113
are the parents of two school age children, plaintiffs Carmon and Katherine Blackwelder. The Blackwelders reside within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Cato-Meridian Central School District ("Cato-Meridian District"). The Cato-Meridian District requires the conditional approval of all proposed alternative educational programs, including homeschooling programs, prior to the commencement of the academic year for which approval is sought. To obtain such conditional approval, a family wishing to educate their children at home must submit a proposed calendar, curriculum, list of textbooks, syllabus and standardized testing schedule (if appropriate) for review by a representative of the school district. That representative must also be apprised of the credentials and life and occupational experiences of the instructor or instructors who are to conduct the homeschooling program. Final approval of a homeschooling program in the Cato-Meridian District is contingent upon the results of a scheduled visit to the home where the alternative instruction is to be given by a team of representatives of the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Ordinarily, one or two scheduled on-site inspections are conducted during the school year. The Blackwelders have indicated that they wish to educate their children at home for religious reasons, but refuse to permit on-site visits, and indeed contend that the state does not have "jurisdiction" over their children's education

Plaintiffs Stephen and Debora Standish reside within the jurisdictional limits of the City School District of Oswego ("Oswego District"). Because of their religious beliefs, the Standishes wish to educate their child, plaintiff Aaron Standish, in their home. The Oswego District's procedures for giving alternative education programs conditional and permanent approval parallel those of the Cato-Meridian District. On-site inspections are to be conducted by a school district representative or a mutually acceptable third party before final approval of a homeschooling program can be obtained. The Standishes do not recognize the jurisdiction of the Oswego District or the state to regulate their child's educational program, and have refused to cooperate with school district officials in order to gain approval for their homeschooling program.

Plaintiffs George and Hilda Lonneville similarly wish to have their children, plaintiffs Amy and Jacqueline Lonneville, educated in a homeschooling program. Like the other plaintiffs in this action, they are motivated by religious concerns, and do not recognize the state's right to approve or disapprove of the educational choices they make for their children. The Lonnevilles reside in the Waterloo Central School District ("Waterloo District"), which follows procedures comparable to those of the other school districts involved in this litigation in determining whether homeschooling programs should be given conditional and final approval. The Lonnevilles have not submitted standardized test scores to district officials nor permitted on-site visits by representatives of the Waterloo District.

On October 31, 1986 the original complaint was filed in this action. The named plaintiffs were the Blackwelders and the members two other families who have since dropped out of this case. The named defendants were Henry Safnauer, the Superintendent of the Cato-Meridian District, and two other district superintendents who were also dropped from this litigation after it began. On February 6, 1987, a motion for leave to file an amended complaint was granted.3 The Standishes and the Lonnevilles

689 F. Supp. 114
were added as party plaintiffs, and Edward Garno and Michael Hunsinger, Superintendents of the Oswego and Waterloo Districts, respectively, were added as defendants. On February 23, 1987, a motion by the State of New York for leave to intervene as a defendant in this action was granted. Subsequent to the commencement of this action, educational neglect proceedings4 were commenced against the Blackwelders and the Standishes in the Family Court for the State of New York, Cayuga County and Oswego County, respectively. The same constitutional issues presented in this action have been raised in those state court proceedings. By order dated April 27, 1988, Judge Corning of the Cayuga County Family Court dismissed the educational neglect petition brought against the Blackwelders, finding that the Blackwelder children were receiving an education "substantially equivalent" to that offered in the public schools. In re Sarah B., 528 N.Y.S.2d 759 (Fam.Ct.1988).5 The Family Court proceedings against the Standishes are still pending

Defendants urge this court to abstain from deciding the issues raised here, or in the alternative to grant summary judgment on the merits of plaintiffs' constitutional claims and to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety. Plaintiffs cross-move for summary judgment on their claims, save for their claim under the free exercise clause of the first amendment.6

II. DISCUSSION

A. Abstention

As a preliminary matter, it must be determined whether the pendency of the Family Court proceeding against the Standishes requires the court to refrain from

689 F. Supp. 115
exercising jurisdiction over any or all of the claims raised in this case under the doctrine of abstention. The abstention "doctrine"?€”in reality a series of equitable doctrines inspired by concerns of comity and federalism?€”constitutes "an extraordinary and narrow exception to the duty of a district court to adjudicate a controversy properly before it." County of Allegheny v. Frank Mashuda Co., 360 U.S. 185, 188-89, 79 S.Ct. 1060, 1063, 3 L.Ed.2d 1163 (1959). The various categories of abstention "are not watertight," Law Enforcement Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Corcoran, 807 F.2d 38, 40 (2d Cir.1986), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 1896, 95 L.Ed.2d 503 (1987), nor are they "rigid pigeonholes into which federal courts must try to fit cases. Rather, they reflect a complex of considerations designed to soften the tensions inherent in a system that contemplates parallel judicial processes." Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 107 S.Ct. 1519, 1526 n. 9, 95 L.Ed.2d 1 (1987). The court must balance these factors "in a pragmatic, flexible manner with a view to the realities of the case at hand." Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 21, 103 S.Ct. 927, 940, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983). That abstention from the exercise of a federal court's jurisdiction remains "the exception, not the rule" is a fundamental truism that must always be kept in mind when determining whether the doctrine is...

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32 practice notes
  • Rounseville v. Zahl, No. 89-CV-1020.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • April 15, 1993
    ...Co., 754 F.2d 180, 183 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 473 U.S. 906, 105 S.Ct. 3530, 87 L.Ed.2d 654 (1985); see also Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F.Supp. 106, 148 (N.D.N.Y.1988) (Munson, C.J.) (test is "`whether the claim itself is meritless,' and the court is to measure the merits of the plainti......
  • V-1 Oil Co. v. State of Wyo., Dept. of Environmental Quality, V-1
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • April 30, 1990
    ...for the subsequent search to be effective, see McLaughlin v. Kings Island, 849 F.2d 990, 996 (6th Cir.1988); Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F.Supp. 106, 139 (N.D.N.Y.1988). Fortunately, such a determination is not necessary to our disposition of this 2 Gasoline stations also may be regulated ......
  • Young Advocates for Fair Educ. v. Cuomo, 18-CV-4167
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 16, 2019
    ...superintendent, to determine whether its students are receiving a "substantially equivalent" education. See Blackwelder v. Safnauer , 689 F.Supp. 106, 122 (N.D.N.Y. 1988) ; Matter of Adam D. , 132 Misc.2d 797, 801, 803, 505 N.Y.S.2d 809 (N.Y. Fam. Ct., Schoharie County 1986) ; Appeal of M. ......
  • Cornwell v. California Bd. of Barber & Cosmetology, No. Civil 97-0138-B(POR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 2, 1997
    ...if the same claims are being addressed in a concurrent state proceeding involving similarly situated parties." Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F.Supp. 106, Page 1269 (N.D.N.Y.1988), aff'd and appeal dismissed, 866 F.2d 548 (2nd Cir.1989). In Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 95 S.Ct. 256......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Rounseville v. Zahl, No. 89-CV-1020.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • April 15, 1993
    ...Co., 754 F.2d 180, 183 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 473 U.S. 906, 105 S.Ct. 3530, 87 L.Ed.2d 654 (1985); see also Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F.Supp. 106, 148 (N.D.N.Y.1988) (Munson, C.J.) (test is "`whether the claim itself is meritless,' and the court is to measure the merits of the plainti......
  • V-1 Oil Co. v. State of Wyo., Dept. of Environmental Quality, V-1
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • April 30, 1990
    ...for the subsequent search to be effective, see McLaughlin v. Kings Island, 849 F.2d 990, 996 (6th Cir.1988); Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F.Supp. 106, 139 (N.D.N.Y.1988). Fortunately, such a determination is not necessary to our disposition of this 2 Gasoline stations also may be regulated ......
  • Young Advocates for Fair Educ. v. Cuomo, 18-CV-4167
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 16, 2019
    ...superintendent, to determine whether its students are receiving a "substantially equivalent" education. See Blackwelder v. Safnauer , 689 F.Supp. 106, 122 (N.D.N.Y. 1988) ; Matter of Adam D. , 132 Misc.2d 797, 801, 803, 505 N.Y.S.2d 809 (N.Y. Fam. Ct., Schoharie County 1986) ; Appeal of M. ......
  • Cornwell v. California Bd. of Barber & Cosmetology, No. Civil 97-0138-B(POR).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 2, 1997
    ...if the same claims are being addressed in a concurrent state proceeding involving similarly situated parties." Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F.Supp. 106, Page 1269 (N.D.N.Y.1988), aff'd and appeal dismissed, 866 F.2d 548 (2nd Cir.1989). In Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 95 S.Ct. 256......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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