Chester Upland Sch. Dist. v. Commonwealth

Decision Date16 March 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 12–132.
Citation861 F.Supp.2d 492
PartiesCHESTER UPLAND SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al. v. Commonwealth of PENNSYLVANIA, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Leo A. Hackett, Law Office of Leo A. Hackett, Media, PA, for Chester Upland School District, et al.

Amy C. Foerster, Cory Scott Winter, Michael A. Finio, Saul Ewing LLP, John P. Krill, Jr., Thomas R. DeCesar, K & L Gates LLP, Harrisburg, PA, Kevin Michael Kelly, Kevin T. Kerns, Patrick J. O'Connor, Cozen O'Connor, Philadelphia, PA, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al.


BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

If there is one sacred cow in the pasture of public education, it is the concept that public schools should stay open during the school year.

The Chester Upland School District (“District”) filed this case when it was about to run out of operating funds in the middle of the school year. The parties dispute the reasons for this, but an infusion of funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Education has kept the District Schools open so far, and they are likely to stay open through the end of this school year, June 2012.1

This Memorandum addresses subject matter jurisdiction—what claims by the parties may be heard in federal court. This threshold issue is important because federal courts have only limited jurisdiction. The District and the other Plaintiffs assert only claims arising under federal law, but some of the Intervenor parties also assert claims under Pennsylvania law.2

A. Education and Federal Courts

Education is expensive, until one considers the alternatives. There is no one “true way” to educate school children, nor is there any federal rule of law mandating a particular method of education. Congress has, however, for more than 40 years, enacted many provisions, and appropriated billions of dollars, which impact elementary and secondary education. Federal regulations binding on state and localities follow the appropriations of money, thus giving federal courts jurisdiction over disputes arising under these federal statutes and regulations.3

Reviewing what is now a very large footprint which Congress has planted over the education landscape, one may be surprised at the many federal cases involving education, filed and decided in federal courts, from the Supreme Court down. Thus, it cannot be said that federal courts have no impact on education; but the federal court role is limited to protecting constitutional rights and interpreting the laws passed by Congress. Despite the familiar shibboleth that education is purely a local concern, federal statutes and judicial decisions have impacted educational practices in Pennsylvania and across the United States.

B. Students with Disabilities

Federal laws enacted by Congress concern students with disabilities, who are eligible for special education services. These students have specific rights under federal law, including a private right of action to secure what is referred to as a “free and appropriate public education” (“FAPE”). One of the important allegationsbrought by the District (and by parents) is that the alleged funding curtailments by the Defendants will prevent the schools from providing a FAPE to these students.

Plaintiffs alleged that without emergency financing the District would no longer be able to provide the requisite services to students with disabilities, emphasizing that this result would violate federal law.

However, there are no assurances that adequate funding for students with disabilities will continue into the 2012–13 school year, which will constitute the principal inquiry for the upcoming trial, scheduled to start on May 7, 2012.4

C. Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment impacts subject matter jurisdiction. Generally, federal courts do not have jurisdiction to hear suits against state governments or state officials, but, as with every rule, there are exceptions. One exception is that a state, such as Pennsylvania, which has accepted federal funds, may waive its sovereign immunity on certain claims. Under another exception, a state and its officials are subject to a federal court issuing prospective injunctive relief to enjoin ongoing violations of federal law.

D. Supplemental Jurisdiction

Although Congress has permitted federal courts to entertain some state law claims, when asserted along with federal claims (called “supplemental jurisdiction” under 28 U.S.C. § 1367), this Court has discretion whether to hear the Pennsylvania state law claims.

This Court will exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims asserted by the Intervenors to a limited extent. The presence of companion litigation pending in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania is a strong factor against this Court considering all Pennsylvania law claims, because some of them are already pending in the Commonwealth Court, and others could surely be added.5

E. Charter Schools and Funding

One issue that pervades the pleadings in this case, as well as the Secretary's report, concerns the dispute between the District and the charter schools over their expected entitlements. Their in-fighting resembles the battles between the Capulets and the Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. This is not an issue of federal law and this Court is not the place to resolve disputes between the District and charter schools.

This Court has no jurisdiction to require appropriations by the state in any specific amount or to any specific school. The Secretary, exercising his authority and his discretion under Pennsylvania state law must act like Sarastro, the sage/philosopher in Mozart's The Magic Flute.

II. Plaintiffs' Legal Claims

On January 12, 2012, Plaintiffs Chester Upland School District (“District”), the Board of School Directors of the District (“Board”), a resident of the District, a taxpayer of the District, a parent of a student receiving special education services, and a parent of a general education student, initiated this civil action. Their Complaint asserts claims against the following Defendants: the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (“Commonwealth”); the Department of Education of the Commonwealth (“Department of Education or “Department”); Ronald Tomalis, the Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth (“Secretary”) 6; Joseph P. Scarnati III, President Pro Tempore of the Senate of the Commonwealth, in his official capacity (“President Pro Tempore”); Samuel H. Smith, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth, in his official capacity (“Speaker”); and Tom Corbett, Governor of the Commonwealth, in his official capacity (“Governor”) (ECF No. 1). 7

Plaintiffs assert their claims as a class action on behalf of all similarly situated persons, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b)(2). Plaintiffs initially brought substantive claims for declaratory, mandamus, and injunctive relief based on a variety of constitutional, federal statutory, and state law grounds, all arising out of an alleged lack of adequate funding to ensure the District's continued operation. Plaintiffs later amended their Complaint (ECF No. 67), discarding entirely their state law claims and asserting causes of action as follows.8

A. Count I—IDEA

Count I alleges that a number of funding decisions by Defendants—especially certain preferential funding allocations made to charter schools—have resulted in reductions in funding to the District that will “prevent the School District from providing educational services to special education and regular students in the School District, effectively requiring the closing of schools in the School District.” Am. Compl. ¶ 42. The subsequent school closings would trigger violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.,9 including the requirement that all students with disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), and the requirement that students protected under the IDEA receive at least ten days notice of a change in educational placement. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 42–43. To remedy these alleged violations, Plaintiff requests a declaration that Defendants have a duty under federal law to maintain services for District students with disabilities in their current placement and in the least-restrictive environment (“LRE”) with their non-disabled peers. Am. Compl. at 12. Plaintiffs further request that the Court enjoin Defendants from failing to provide the District funding to maintain its special education programs. Am. Compl. at 12.10

B. Count II—IDEA and Other Federal Claims

Count II alleges that students with disabilities are a protected class, and that the Pennsylvania special education subsidy payment formula (P.S. § 25–2509.5) violates the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 6301 et seq. Am. Compl. ¶ 46. Plaintiffs ask the Court to “enjoin Defendants from using and implementing a state special education subsidy formula that discriminates against students with disabilities in favor of non-disabled students.” Am. Compl. at 12.

C. Count III—Federal Statutory and Constitutional Claims

Count III avers that the reduction in state educational funding to the District has disproportionately impacted racial minority students—as well as school districts with high percentages of racial minority students—and, moreover, that Defendants intended to bring about this result. Am. Compl. ¶ 49. According to Plaintiffs, this conduct violates the Equal Protection Clause, Substantive Due Process, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, Title I of the ESEA, and the No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”).11 Am. Compl. ¶ 50. Plaintiffs ask the Court to enjoin Defendants from reducing funding to the District at a rate different from that to school...

To continue reading

Request your trial
6 cases
  • Worth & Co. v. Getzie
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • April 2, 2014
    ...See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989) ; Chester Upland Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania, 861 F.Supp.2d 492, 512–13 (E.D.Pa.2012).The type of relief the plaintiff requests is the key issue. The “general criterion for determining when ......
  • Rittenhouse Entm't, Inc. v. City of Wilkes–Barre
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • March 19, 2012
    ... ... Sch. Dist. of Twp. of E. Brunswick, 523 F.3d 153, 173 (3d ... ...
  • Jenn-Ching Luo v. Owen J. Roberts Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • March 18, 2022
    ... ... No. 21-5000. [ 3 ] Plaintiff Jenn-Ching Luo resides in ... Chester County, PA and sends his child ... (“Student”) to school in their local school ... action, unless an exception to sovereign immunity applies ... Chester Upland Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania , 861 ... F.Supp.2d 492, 510-11 (E.D. Pa. 2012). “Sovereign ... Brown v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Health ... Emergency Medical Services Training Institute , 318 F.3d ... ...
  • Mikkelson v. Piper
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • July 6, 2017 at 256-57, did not materially alter the proper Ex parte Young analysis described above.8 See Chester Upland Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania, 861 F. Supp. 2d 492, 518 (E.D. Pa. 2012) ("[N]otwithstanding the comments in VOPA that Ex Parte Young does not permit an injunction affecting the state......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT