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B. L. v. Mahtomedi Public School District

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 26, 2017

B.L., by and through his Parent and Natural Guardian, Carole Lundell, Plaintiff,
v.
Mahtomedi School District, ISD No. 832, Defendant.

          Andrea L. Jepsen, Esq., School Law Center, LLC, St. Paul, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

          Michael J. Waldspurger, Esq., and Elizabeth J. Vieira, Esq., Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANN D. MONTGOMERY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge for a ruling on Plaintiff B.L.'s Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, or in the Alternative, a Preliminary Injunction [Docket No. 8]. B.L. is a high school student who was expelled from the Mahtomedi School District (the “District”) for possessing and displaying an air-powered BB-gun on school grounds on March 20, 2107. Larson Decl. [Docket No. 13] ¶ 3; Ex. D. On April 17, 2017, while the expulsion proceeding was in progress, B.L. sued the District and sought emergency injunctive relief to terminate the District's expulsion process. See Am. Compl. [Docket No. 6]. B.L. argues that the District failed to follow the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act, Minn. Stat. § 121A.40, et seq., because he was not provided with the required alternative educational services. B.L. seeks an order enjoining the District from continuing to attempt to expel B.L. and from continuing to exclude B.L. from attending school. For the reasons set forth below, B.L.'s Motion is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         On March 20, 2017, B.L. was suspended for 10 days for possessing and brandishing a BB-gun on school grounds. Larson Decl. Ex. B (“Hr'g Exs.”) at Ex. 4. During this period of suspension, B.L. had access to his school work and many of his teachers met with him to discuss his coursework. Larson Decl. Ex. A (“Hr'g Tr.”) at 97. Additionally, the District assigned B.L. an intervention specialist to assist him in completing his academics and to help him make better choices. Id. at 73.

         On March 27, 2017, the District informed B.L. that he was being suspended for five additional days pending expulsion. Hr'g Exs. at Ex. 6. The following day, B.L. received a Notice of Proposed Expulsion, formally notifying B.L. that the District proposed expelling B.L. pursuant to the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act (“PFDA”), and that a hearing on the matter was scheduled for Monday, April 3, 2017. Id. at Ex. 7. The hearing date was later moved to April 12 to accommodate the schedule of B.L.'s attorney. Larson Decl. Ex. F.

         The expulsion hearing was held before Hearing Officer Richard John Miller (“Miller”). Miller heard testimony from B.L., the school bus driver who observed B.L. brandishing the BB-gun, a school resource officer and Washington County deputy sheriff who spoke with B.L. about the incident, the Mahtomedi High School principal and assistant principal, and the District superintendent. See generally Hr'g Tr. On April 17, 2017, Miller submitted his recommendation to the School Board.[2] Larson Decl. ¶ 7. The School Board then met the following day to consider Miller's recommendation. Id. ¶ 8. After deliberating for approximately 90 minutes, the School Board adopted a resolution expelling B.L. from the District for the remainder of the 2016-17 school year and for the first semester of the 2017-18 school year. Id. ¶ 9; Ex. D.

         B.L. filed this suit on April 17, 2017, seeking a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction to enjoin the District's expulsion proceeding. The gravamen of B.L.'s Amended Complaint [Docket No. 6] is that his property right to education was impaired by the District's failure to provide the proper alternative educational services prior to initiating the expulsion proceeding.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Younger Abstention

         The District argues that this federal court should decline to interfere with a state proceeding under the abstention doctrine announced in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Under Younger, “[w]here vital state interests are involved, a federal court should abstain ‘unless state law clearly bars the interposition of the constitutional claims.'” Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982) (quoting Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 426 (1979)).

         The District presents a persuasive argument for why abstaining under Younger is appropriate, including that B.L. has and is able to continue to pursue his rights in the administrative forum, including seeking judicial ...


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