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United States v. Nobel Learning Communities

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
NOBEL LEARNING COMMUNITIES d/b/a CHESTERBROOK ACADEMY, Defendant.

          JORDAN MILOWE ANGER DAVID V. SIMUNOVICH OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY On behalf of Plaintiff United States of America.

          BONNIE M. HOFFMAN, ANDREW M. ERDLEN, HANGLEY ARONCHICK SEGAL PUDLIN & SCHILLER On behalf of Defendant Nobel Learning Communities d/b/a Chesterbrook Academy.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

          This case concerns Defendant's alleged violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”). Presently before the Court is Defendant's Objection to Discovery Order Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72.

         Defendant's Objection will be denied for the reasons that follow.

         BACKGROUND

         The Court takes its facts from Plaintiff's January 18, 2017 complaint and various letters, opinions, orders, and transcripts concerning the discovery dispute. Defendant Nobel Learning Communities (“NLC”) is the owner and operator of the Chesterbrook Academy (“Chesterbrook”) in Moorestown, New Jersey (“Chesterbrook Moorestown”). Chesterbrook offers daycare services and an educational foundation program for young children in several states. M.M., born on July 11, 2011 with Down syndrome, enrolled at Chesterbrook Moorestown on January 5, 2012.

         Generally, at Chesterbrook, diaper-changing services are provided to children enrolled in its “Infants, ” “Toddlers, ” and “Beginners” programs. Diaper-changing services are not provided to children enrolled in its “Intermediates” or “Pre-K” programs.

         In December 2014, Chesterbrook Moorestown informed M.M.'s parents of its intention to move M.M. into the “Intermediates” program. At this time, M.M. still required diapers. M.M. was moved into the “Intermediates” program on January 21, 2015. Chesterbrook Moorestown worked with M.M. to try to get her toilet trained, setting a deadline pursuant to their alleged corporate policy for M.M. to be toilet trained by April 1, 2015.

         On March 26, 2015, Chesterbrook Moorestown informed M.M.'s parents that M.M. was being expelled effective April 1, 2015 because she was not toilet trained. Plaintiff alleges the real reason for M.M.'s expulsion was her disability. M.M.'s last day was March 31, 2015.

         Plaintiff brought a claim under Title III of the ADA asking for a declaration that Defendant violated Title III of the ADA, for Defendant to be enjoined from engaging in discrimination against individuals with disabilities and from failing to comply with Title III of the ADA, for an award of compensatory damages to M.M. and M.M.'s parents, and for a civil penalty against Defendant to vindicate the public interest.

         Defendant filed its Motion to Stay or, Alternatively, for Partial Dismissal on March 24, 2017. Defendant argued, in part, that the request for injunctive relief was too broad and not based upon sufficient factual allegations. Defendant insisted that the complaint only concerns one individual and one facility - not a nationwide wrong. After being fully briefed, this Court decided in an October 19, 2017 Order and Opinion that it was premature to dismiss the request for injunctive relief. In doing so, the Court opined that full discovery was necessary and that only after liability was determined on all claims could it determine whether to grant injunctive relief.

         As the parties entered the discovery phase of this case, a disagreement sparked over the proper scope of discovery. Plaintiff asserted (based on Defendant's admissions) that NLC did not have a corporate policy concerning toilet training, but rather had a general practice - with exceptions - of not permitting diapering in the Intermediate classrooms. Plaintiff wished to explore this assertion and served various discovery requests upon Defendant relating to this policy. These discovery requests sought information for the five years preceding the expulsion of M.M. and specified various Chesterbrook facilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland run by NLC. Defendant resisted these discovery requests on grounds that the only permissible scope was one limited to the two-year time period preceding the expulsion of M.M. and the Chesterbrook Moorestown facility.

         Because the parties could not resolve this issue on their own, the discovery dispute was presented to United States Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider through letters in April 2018 from both parties. On April 10, 2018, Judge Schneider held oral argument. Judge Schneider ruled orally at the hearing and distilled his rulings into a written order filed on April 17, 2018. This Court will discuss the details of the oral ruling as relevant, infra. Generally, however, Judge Schneider ruled that discovery was appropriate into facilities other than Chesterbrook Moorestown for children other than M.M. and for five years preceding the incident.

         On April 30, 2018, Defendant NLC filed an objection to Judge Schneider's ruling. This objection has been fully briefed by both parties and is ripe for adjudication.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as Plaintiff's claims ...


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