Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fernandez v. Sophie B. Wright Charter School

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 9, 2019


          ORDER & REASONS


         Before the Court is the motion of plaintiff Lyric Naje Fernandez (“Fernandez”) to remand[1]the captioned case, which was removed to this Court on May 5, 2019, by defendants Sophie B. Wright Charter School, James Watson, Sharon Clark, and Wayne Hardy (the “Defendants”).[2] On May 6, 2019, Defendants filed an amended notice of removal to include Plaintiffs' verified petition.[3] Thereafter, Defendants filed an opposition to the motion to remand.[4] Having considered the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, the Court issues this Order & Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Fernandez's involvement in a senior prank at Sophie B. Wright Charter School and the disciplinary actions that followed. The petition filed in the Civil District Court for Orleans Parish alleges the following facts. On April 5, 2019, Fernandez and thirteen other senior high school students at Sophie B. Wright Charter School were charged with participating in “senior prank day.” On or about April 8, 2019, Fernandez was given a five-day suspension to commence on April 8, 2019, and end on April 12, 2019. As further punishment, Fernandez was prohibited from attending senior activities, including prom and graduation on May 13, 2019. On or about April 8, 2019, Principal Sharon L. Clark (“Clark”) and Board President James Watson (“Watson”) released statements pertaining to the incident. Fernandez was given the option to appeal the infraction and subsequent punishment on or about April 9, 2019, at a meeting with the Dean of Students, Wayne Hardy (“Hardy”), and the attorney for Sophie B. Wright Charter, Tracie Washington. At the April 9, 2019 meeting, Hardy distributed materials describing the appeals process to the students and parents in attendance. Following these instructions, Fernandez filed her appeal on or about April 12, 2019.

         On or about April 15, 2019, Fernandez received correspondence sent by Clark and drafted by Hardy that set the disciplinary hearing on April 16, 2019, at the Orleans Parish School Board hearing office. When Fernandez and her parents arrived at the office for her scheduled hearing, they found a note on the office door that rescinded Fernandez's five-day suspension and instructed the Fernandez family to set up a meeting with Hardy to discuss additional punishments. On or about April 18, 2019, Fernandez received an email with an attached letter addressed to her parents. In the letter, Hardy denied Fernandez's request to reconsider the decision to prohibit her from attending graduation activities. The letter also allegedly mentioned two other students by enclosing one's email address and describing disciplinary actions taken against another.[5]

         On April 26, 2019, Fernandez filed a verified petition in the Civil District Court for Orleans Parish seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against Defendants, as well as damages.[6]Fernandez asserts three counts against Defendants. In Count I, Fernandez alleges that she is entitled to an injunction to enjoin Defendants from enforcing the punishments against her, including the prohibition against participation in the graduation ceremony on May 13, 2019, which Fernandez claims “[n]o amount of monetary recompense can adequately compensate.”[7] In Count II, Fernandez seeks judicial review of her punishments as administrative decisions pursuant to La. R.S. 49:964(G).[8] In Count III, Fernandez seeks damages for Defendants' negligence under two theories. First, Fernandez asserts that Defendants were negligent in disclosing students' private information in violation of the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (“FERPA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; the Louisiana Database Security Breach Notification Law, La. R.S. 51:3071, and the corresponding provisions in the Louisiana Administrative Code; and La. R.S. 17:3914.[9] Second, Fernandez alleges that Defendants were negligent in failing to “properly conduct investigations, hearings, and make its rulings in a fair, impartial, and competent manner, in accordance with its policies and procedures.”[10]

         On April 26, 2019, the state court scheduled a hearing on the preliminary injunction for Monday, May 6, 2019, at 9:00 a.m.[11] On Friday, May 3, 2019, Defendants Sophie B. Wright Charter School and Clark were served with the petition.[12] On Sunday, May 5, 2019, Defendants filed their notice of removal.[13] Fernandez filed the instant motion to remand the night of May 6, 2019, [14] and the Court expedited submission of the motion to remand for Thursday, May 9, 2019.[15]

         In their notice of removal, Defendants cite 28 U.S.C. § 1331 to support purported federal subject-matter jurisdiction over Fernandez's “claims for violations of due process because such claims arise under federal law, namely, 20 [U.S.C. §] 1232, et seq, ” as alleged in Count III.[16]


         In support of her motion to remand, Fernandez contends that none of her claims raises any federal questions because they are predicated solely upon Louisiana statutes.[17] Fernandez argues that she does not seek to enforce FERPA or her due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. Rather, Fernandez says that she seeks to enforce state laws that reference federal laws as the standards for adjudging unlawfulness. Fernandez argues that the federal laws cited in her petition are merely alternate theories of liability to support her claims under state law; therefore, her claims are “not necessarily federal in character.”[18] Fernandez also seeks costs, expenses, and attorney's fees under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), characterizing the removal as objectively unreasonable and “a stall tactic” to prevent injunctive relief[19]

         In opposition, Defendants assert that Fernandez's negligence claim requires “a substantial interpretation of FERPA's standing requirements and duty obligations.” Therefore, contend Defendants, the resolution of the state-law claim necessarily raises a substantive and disputed question of federal law under Grable & Sons Metal Prods, Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308 (2005), which supports federal jurisdiction.[20] Defendants also argue that attorney's fees are inappropriate because they promptly removed the case on an objectively reasonable basis.[21]

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Motion to Remand

         The federal court's jurisdiction is examined as of the time of removal. See Doddy v. Oxy USA, Inc., 101 F.3d 448, 456 (5th Cir. 1996). A defendant may remove from state court to the proper United States district court “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Because federal courts have limited jurisdiction, the removal statute is strictly construed, and any ambiguities are construed against removal and in favor of remand. Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002). The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper. Id.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, a federal district court “shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” The well-pleaded complaint rule instructs that “[a] federal question exists ‘only [in] those cases in which a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiffs right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.'” Singh v. Duane Morris LLP, 538 F.3d 334, 337-38 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). Most original-jurisdiction cases arise under federal law where a plaintiff pleads a cause of action created by federal law. However, in “rare” circumstances, original jurisdiction arises in the absence of a pleaded federal cause of action where “the state-law claim necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” Grable, 545 U.S. at 314, 319; see also Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699-701 (2006) (describing Grable original-jurisdiction cases as a “special and small category”).

         Defendants submit that Fernandez's reliance upon FERPA as the standard of care in her negligence claim creates original jurisdiction under Grable. However, Fernandez's petition does not necessarily raise a substantial and disputed federal question. Fernandez cites FERPA, as well as several Louisiana statutes, to illustrate the standard of care in her negligence claim. When deciding whether a federal question is “necessarily raised” by a state-law claim, a court considers whether the federal law comprises the claim itself or merely a theory to support the claim. “If a claim can be supported by alternate and independent theories, one based on state law and the other based on federal law, the federal question is not a necessary element and federal jurisdiction does not attach.” Pastor v. William Jewell Coll., 2012 WL 12953769, at *2 (W.D. Mo. May 25, 2012) (quoting Schmid v. City of Petaluma, 2012 WL 381203, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2012)). Thus, Fernandez invokes FERPA as one theory to support her state-law negligence claim - not as a distinct claim for relief. See Id. at *2-3 (no original jurisdiction under Grable where plaintiff asserted FERPA violation as ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.