District Court Denies Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Class Action Against Pomona Unified School District

Last week DRLC received a successful order from the District Court denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment in our class action against Pomona Unified School District (PUSD). Of particular importance are the Court’s findings related to exhaustion and Defendants’ attempts to get the ADA/504 claims dismissed for failure to show that any of PUSD’s illegal acts were “by reason of disability.”

The case involves students with developmental disabilities (the class) who are being denied access to a meaningful education under the ADA/504 as a result of PUSD’s failures to maintain a safe learning environment. Specifically, PUSD fails to adequately train or supervise staff and fails to properly document restraint/student injuries and notify parents. As a result, students are being injured and illegally restrained by PUSD staff and parents are unable to obtain needed information. The case was brought on behalf of two named plaintiffs: J.V.,who was illegally held down by his arms and legs by two classroom aides, and B.K., who was pushed and slapped by a classroom aide.

Regarding Exhaustion — In February 2017, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Fry v. Napolean Community Schools analyzing exhaustion requirements for claims brought on behalf of students with disabilities. In the Pomona case, the Central District of California takes one of the first looks at applying the Fry decision, finding that “exhaustion is not required because “the gravaman of Plaintiffs’ claims is that the systems in place within the District to regulate and address injuries and restraints do not take into account the unique problems associated with children with disabilities. Thus, Plaintiffs’ access to a fair and adequate public education is limited in ways that do not affect students who are not disabled. This is not a problem that could be addressed by individual tailoring.” This is a great success on behalf of students seeking to enforce their rights under the ADA/504.

Regarding the ADA/504 claims — Defendants attempted to get the Court to adopt a higher standard for disability discrimination cases by arguing that Plaintiffs would only have a viable claim of disability discrimination if they could show disparate impact and treatment. The Court rejected this, stating “Defendants mischaracterize the standard for a violation of Section 504 and Title II. The Ninth Circuit has held that section 504 prohibits not only discrimination against the disabled, but also exclusion from … participation in and denial of the benefits of state programs solely by reason of a disability . . . the Ninth Circuit has declined to require that claims such as those advanced here must be defined according to disparate impact, disparate treatment and failure to accommodate.”

This decision allows the class to move forward in enforcing their rights to equal access to an education and to obtain systematic changes to keep all students with developmental disabilities safe.

Order on MSJ.

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