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Case Name Methelus v. School Board of Collier County, Florida IM-FL-0024
Docket / Court 2:16-cv-00379-SPC-MRM ( M.D. Fla. )
State/Territory Florida
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection DOJ Civil Rights Division Statements of Interest
Attorney Organization Southern Poverty Law Center
Case Summary
On May 18, 2016, a group of parents and guardians of noncitizen children who had recently arrived in the United States filed this class action suit against the School Board of Collier County, Florida. The claim was filed in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida. In September 2016, the ... read more >
On May 18, 2016, a group of parents and guardians of noncitizen children who had recently arrived in the United States filed this class action suit against the School Board of Collier County, Florida. The claim was filed in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida. In September 2016, the United States issued a Statement of Interest in support of the plaintiffs' claim.

The litigation arose out of the defendants' implementation of an amendment to its Policy 5112.01 on August 2013. This policy provides in relevant part:
No person shall be permitted to attend the regular high school program after attaining the age of nineteen (19). Those who attain the age of nineteen during a school year may complete that school year. Persons who are seventeen years old or older and who, by earning eight credits per academic year, cannot meet graduation requirements, including grade point average, prior to the end of the year during which they attain the age of nineteen, shall not be permitted to attend the regular high school program beyond the end of the academic year in which they attain the age of seventeen. Such persons shall be afforded any opportunity to pursue a high school diploma through the Adult High School or General Educational Development (GED) programs of the District.
In May 2016, the School Board shifted enrollment of high school to a centralized location, the Student Relations Department. Whenever a student who is seventeen or older seeks to enroll, an enrollment specialist gathers the academic records and other pertinent records and gives these to the Executive Director for Secondary Programs, Curriculum, and Instruction. The Executive Director then makes the final recommendation as to enrollment. The Executive Director considers certain factors, including the student's English proficiency, as well as whether the student has an interruption or gap in prior education.

The plaintiffs alleged that the noncitizen children were systematically excluded from enrolling in the local public high school because they did not speak English fluently. Instead, plaintiffs claimed that the County was funneling these students into the local technical college, which does not provide instruction in basic subject areas or provide credit towards a high school diploma. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the Equal Education Opportunities Act ("EEOA"), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VI"), along with violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The complaint also alleged the defendants were violating the Florida Educational Equity Act ("FEEA"). The plaintiffs were represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On June 21, 2017, the plaintiff's filed a motion for a preliminary injunction requiring the School Board to enroll in school all English Language Learners identified in regular high school.

After the motion was argued before a magistrate, the court denied the motion on March 14, 2018, finding that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the irreparable injury needed because they had not established how they or others similarly situated will face actual and imminent injury unless the preliminary injunction issued.

The court first noted that Adult ESOL proves a pathway for student plaintiffs to attain their future goals of pursuing higher education at a college, university, or technical school, or to enter the labor market. The court also reasoned that this was different from cases where other plaintiffs had suffered injury because of denial or effective denial of any public educational opportunity at all. The court looked to whether the challenged practice "significantly interferes" with the exercise of a right to education and found that it did not. The plaintiffs were still receiving English-language instruction at the other schools and still had the ability to obtain a GED, which would empower them to pursue their future goals. Finally, the court noted that the plaintiffs' excessive delay in moving for mandatory preliminary injunctive relief mitigated against finding irreparable harm.

Around the same time, on January 12, 2018, the plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, which the court granted in part and denied in part on October 17, 2018. The court only granted class certification for the due process claim because it found the remaining claims failed to satisfy the commonality requirement of FRCP Rule 23

The due process claim relied on the alleged total absence of any procedure to contest the denial of enrollment in public high school, and the question of whether defendants had any such procedure is one that applied equally to all putative class members. By contrast, the EEOA claim required to show that the defendant had failed to take "appropriate action" under the statute. In determining this, the court would need to examine each student's relative success or failure in overcoming language barriers to determine if the defendant's action of placing them in ELCAE or Adult ESOL qualified as appropriate action.

As for the remaining claims, commonality failed because each of them required the court to examine why defendants denied a particular student enrollment in regular high school. Because each of the remaining claims had discrimination as one element of proof, and the record demonstrated that defendants actually did conduct individualized reviews of each student before deciding whether to permit enrollment, the court decided that these claims were not capable of classwide resolution.

For the due process claims, the certified class was defined as:
All foreign-born, English Language Learner (ELL) children ages fifteen to twenty-one whose last completed schooling (not including adult education courses) was at a non-U.S. school, and who, after August 1, 2013, while residing in Collier County, sought or will seek to enroll in the Collier County public school system serving grades K-12, and were or will be denied enrollment by the Defendants.
Since then, the parties have continued litigating various discovery disputes, and the plaintiffs have filed a fourth amended complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief based on the due process claim. On March 12, 2019, the parties held a mediation that resulted in an impasse, and the litigation is still ongoing. As of this writing, discovery is due by March 29, 2019, and any additional dispositive motions are due by April 19, 2019.

Jamie Kessler - 01/30/2017
Chris Pollack - 03/27/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Discrimination-basis
Immigration status
Language discrimination
General
Education
Juveniles
Language/ethnic/minority needs
School/University policies
Language
Spanish
National Origin/Ethnicity
Hispanic
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) The School Board Of Collier County, Florida
Plaintiff Description All foreign-born, English Language Learner (ELL) children ages fifteen to twenty-one whose last completed schooling (not including adult education courses) was at a non-U.S. school, and who, after August 1, 2013, while residing in Collier County, sought or will seek to enroll in the Collier County public school system serving grades K-12, and were or will be denied enrollment by the Defendants.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Southern Poverty Law Center
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
2:16−cv−00379−SPC−MRM (M.D. Fla.)
IM-FL-0024-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/14/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
IM-FL-0024-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/18/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Report and Recommendation [ECF# 26] (2016 WL 8539815)
IM-FL-0024-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/21/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and for Damages [ECF# 30]
IM-FL-0024-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/08/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Interest of the United States [ECF# 38]
IM-FL-0024-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 09/26/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Dismissing Counts II, III, and IV [ECF# 62] (2017 WL 1050374) (M.D. Fla.)
IM-FL-0024-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/17/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Magistrate Report and Recommendation [ECF# 183] (2018 WL 5304813)
IM-FL-0024-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 08/08/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Opinion and Order [ECF# 202] (2018 WL 5025229) (M.D. Fla.)
IM-FL-0024-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 10/17/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Dismissing Third Amended Complaint [ECF# 239] (2019 WL 913358) (M.D. Fla.)
IM-FL-0024-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/25/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Fourth Amended Complaint [ECF# 243]
IM-FL-0024-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/01/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Chappell, Sheri Polster (M.D. Fla.) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0005 | IM-FL-0024-0007 | IM-FL-0024-0008 | IM-FL-0024-9000
McCoy, Mac R. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0004 | IM-FL-0024-0006
Plaintiff's Lawyers Galloni, Tania (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0001 | IM-FL-0024-0002 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Gillers, Gillian (Georgia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0009 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Lapointe, Michelle R. (Georgia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0002 | IM-FL-0024-0009 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Lopez, Viviana Teresa Bonilla (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0009 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Wallace, Jessica Zagier (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0001 | IM-FL-0024-0002 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Fishbane, Jonathan D. (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-9000
Fox, James Donald (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-9000
Other Lawyers Bentley, A. Lee III (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003
Gupta, Vanita (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003
Hill, Eve L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003
McCarthy, Emily H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003
Medina, Anna Maria (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Pettis, Yohance Asim (Florida) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003 | IM-FL-0024-9000
Simons, Shaheena S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003
Stoneman, Christine (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-FL-0024-0003

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