E-Alert Case Updates
U.S. District Court Examines Requirements for a Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction
J.S., C.S., and A.S., minors by and through their mother, S.S. v. Red Clay Consolidated School District
In J.S., C.S., and A.S., minors by and through their mother, S.S. v. Red Clay Consolidated School District, a case involving a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction filed in conjunction with Plaintiffs’ claim under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11434, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that Plaintiffs failed to establish that they were likely to succeed on the merits. Thus, Judge Leonard P. Stark denied Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.
By way of factual background, Plaintiffs J.S., C.S., and A.S. (“Plaintiffs”) were minors who, during the previous school year, attended Skyline Middle School ("Skyline") in the Red Clay Consolidated School District ("Red Clay"), when they were living with their mother. During the recent summer break, Plaintiffs' mother was placed on unpaid medical leave from her job, resulting in her being unable to pay rent and causing her to lose the apartment in Red Clay where she and Plaintiffs had lived during the previous school year.
Over the summer, Plaintiffs' mother took the children to live with their father, who lived in the Christina School District ("Christina"). At some point during the summer, the father enrolled Plaintiffs in Bayard Middle School ("Bayard") in Christina. Since the current school year began, Plaintiffs had attended Skyline for one (1) day and Bayard for two (2) weeks. At some point in early October 2015, Plaintiffs' mother moved Plaintiffs from their father's residence to the residence of their godmother, which was located in the Colonial School District ("Colonial").
Plaintiffs' mother and father shared joint custody of the children, and the parents disagreed as to the best school for their children to attend. The mother wanted Plaintiffs to attend Skyline, while the father wanted them to attend Bayard.
Plaintiffs’ mother, on behalf of Plaintiffs, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, seeking an order requiring Defendant Red Clay Consolidated School District ("Red Clay" or "Defendant"), to enroll Plaintiffs at Skyline and to provide transportation to Skyline from their current residence, which was outside of Red Clay.
The Court began its analysis by noting that a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction is an "extraordinary remedy" that is “rarely granted.” NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enters., Inc., 176 F.3d 151, 153 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court explained that in assessing Plaintiffs’ request, the Court was required to consider four (4) factors:
Council of Alt. Political Parties v. Hooks, 121 F.3d 876, 879 (3d Cir. 1997). The Court further explained that if Plaintiffs fail to meet their burden to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, a preliminary injunction is not warranted, "regardless of what the equities seem to require." Adams v. Freedom Forge Corp., 204 F.3d 475 (3d Cir. 2000). Upon reviewing the facts of the case, the Court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to establish that they were likely to succeed on the merits for several reasons.
First, the Court explained that Plaintiffs' claim was predicated on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act ("Act"), yet the Court was not persuaded that Plaintiffs became "homeless" under the Act when they moved in with their father in August 2015. Section 11434a of the Act provides:
42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2). According to the Court, it was unclear whether Plaintiffs' mother's decision to let her children move in with their father meant that Plaintiffs lacked a "regular, fixed, and adequate nighttime residence" at the time of the move. See 42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2). The Court found that this was “particularly true” because there were suggestions in the record that Plaintiffs had previously spent some amount of time at their father's residence.
Further, the Court explained that even if Plaintiffs could ultimately convince the Court that they were "homeless," they still had not shown that they were likely to succeed in establishing that the proper relief under the Act was admission and transportation to Skyline. Section 11432g of the Act provides:
42 U.S.C. § 11432g(3)(A) (emphasis added). According to the Court, each of the highlighted portions of the statute posed hurdles that would likely prevent Plaintiffs from succeeding on the merits on their request for relief.
First, the Court explained that the ultimate relief the Act would entitle Plaintiffs to was set out in alternatives, only one (1) of which would be to return them to Skyline, assuming that Plaintiffs could prove that Skyline was the "school of origin;” alternatively, the Court could order that Plaintiffs need only be given the opportunity to attend a school that nonhomeless students also living "in the attendance area where the [homeless] child or youth is actually living" attend. The Court noted that the "attendance area" where Plaintiffs were "actually living" was in Colonial, that recently it had been in Christina, and that it was uncertain where it would be when the case was resolved on the merits.
Second, the Court explained that in formulating relief on the merits, the Court would be required to consider the "best interests" of the children, accounting for what was "feasible." Given the realities of Plaintiffs' parents' disagreement as to what was best for Plaintiffs, and the repeated moves that they had already endured, the Court found that it was “far from clear” that the Court would be persuaded that it was in the "best interests" of Plaintiffs, and "feasible," to order Red Clay to transport them to Skyline.
Finally, the Court noted that any statutory right to continued attendance at the school of origin, assuming that was Skyline, was expressly subordinated to the wishes of the child's parent or guardian, and one (1) of Plaintiffs' parents had unambiguously stated his preference that Plaintiffs not attend Skyline.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to establish that they were likely to succeed on the merits. Thus, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.
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