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Mirabella v. William Penn Charter School

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 20, 2017

JOHN CONNOR MIRABELLA, et al., Plaintiffs,


          GOLDBERG, J.

         Plaintiffs John and Maureen Mirabella and their son, Connor Mirabella, brought suit claiming that Defendants William Penn Charter School and Overseers of the Public Schools failed to accommodate Connor's Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). The Complaint alleges violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., as well as breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and negligent infliction of emotional distress.[1]

         Presently before me are the parties' cross-motions for partial summary judgment. Defendants seek summary judgment on the ADA claim, arguing that they are exempt from the statute as a religious organization. Defendants also assert that, because Connor has graduated high school, he lacks standing to pursue his ADA claim and/or the claim is moot. In their motion, Plaintiffs urge that the undisputed evidence establishes that Defendants do not qualify as a religious organization and, therefore, are subject to the ADA's requirements.

         For the reasons that follow, I conclude that Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that Connor Mirabella has standing to pursue the ADA claim and, relatedly, the ADA claim is also moot. Because I lack subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the ADA claim, I will not reach the parties' arguments regarding the religious exemption issue and will dismiss the remaining state law claims without prejudice.


         Because I will decide the instant motions on standing and mootness grounds, I only note the facts pertinent to those issues. Connor was enrolled at William Penn Charter School for three academic years, 2011-2014, in the ninth, tenth and eleventh grades. Plaintiffs' contend that, by engaging in a pattern of discriminatory conduct related to Connor's disabilities, Defendants “constructively expelled” Connor at the end of the 2013-14 school year. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 1, 153-54; Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Mot. p. 9.)

         At no time did Connor seek to re-enroll at William Penn Charter School. During the 2015-2016 school year, Connor participated in the University of Pennsylvania's Young Scholars program for high school credits and graduated from the North Penn School District in 2016. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 3, 154.) Thereafter, Connor was accepted at St. Joseph's University, where he is currently enrolled. (Id. at ¶ 154.)


         A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment has been made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if a reasonable jury could rule in favor of the non-moving party based on the evidence presented. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). The non-moving party cannot avert summary judgment with conclusory, self-serving statements, but rather must cite to specific facts in the record. Kirleis v. Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., 560 F.3d 156, 161 (3d Cir. 2009); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Courts may not make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling-Delaware Co., Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993) cert. denied, 510 U.S. 994 (1993)). The same burdens and standards apply with regard to cross-motions for summary judgment. Appelmans v. City of Phila., 826 F.2d 214, 216 (3d Cir. 1987).


         a. Standing

         Before considering the merits of this case, I must determine whether a “case or controversy” exists, such that this Court has jurisdiction under Article III. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). A plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that he has Article III standing. ZF Meritor, LLC v. Eaton Corp., 696 F.3d 254, 301 (3d Cir. 2012). To satisfy this burden, a plaintiff must show:

(1) that he is under a threat of suffering an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized; the threat must be actual and imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) a likelihood that a favorable judicial decision will prevent or redress the injury.

Id. (citing Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 493 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted)). “[E]ach element [of standing] must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e. with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of litigation.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561.

         When injunctive relief is sought in connection with a past wrong, a plaintiff does not have standing “absent a showing of irreparable injury, a requirement that cannot be met where there is no showing of any real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again.” City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 (1983).

         Defendants argue that Connor lacks standing to pursue his ADA claim because he will not again be subject to William Penn Charter School's policies or procedures and, therefore, there is no actual or imminent threat of future injury. Defendants note that Connor did not re-enroll at William Penn Charter School after completion of the eleventh grade in June of 2014, he never sought readmission to the school, he enrolled in and graduated from another high school and is currently enrolled at St. Joseph's University. Defendants urge that because Connor cannot prove that he will be wronged again, he cannot establish that any injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Defendants correctly note that, under the applicable provision of the ADA, aside from attorney's fees, injunctive relief is the only available remedy. See 42 U.S.C. § 12188(a)(1).

         Plaintiffs respond that standing is assessed as of the time the action was filed. Plaintiffs note that Connor was seventeen years old and still a high school student at the time this action was commenced and, thus, the relief sought could have been secured in time for him to be re-enrolled at William Penn Charter School. Plaintiffs also urge that Connor was not required to remain in a “hostile environment” in order to have standing to bring his ADA claim.

         Plaintiffs are correct that standing is assessed in light of the facts existing “at the outset of the litigation, ” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180, (2000), and the “principles of standing [do not] require [a] plaintiff[ ] to remain in a hostile environment to enforce” his rights. Freed ...

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