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N.U. v. Mansfiled Township School District

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 18, 2019

N.U., on behalf of M.U., a minor child, Plaintiffs,
v.
MANSFILED TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          N.U. 18 FAIRMONT DR. COLUMBUS, N.J. 08022 Appearing pro se on behalf of herself and her minor child

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         WHEREAS, Plaintiff, N.U., is the mother of Plaintiff, M.U., a minor child; and

         WHEREAS, N.U., who is appearing pro se on her own behalf and on behalf of her son, filed a complaint against her son's school district, the superintendent, his school principal, and his school's anti-bullying specialist; and

         WHEREAS, N.U claims that Defendants' actions concerning her son violated VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Article I of the New Jersey Constitution; and

         WHEREAS, N.U. premises this Court's subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331[1]; and

         WHEREAS, this Court, as with all other federal courts, is under an independent obligation to examine its own jurisdiction, and “standing is perhaps the most important of the jurisdictional doctrines, ” FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 230-31 (1990) (citation omitted) (stating that even if the parties fail to raise the issue of standing, it may be addressed by the court sua sponte at any stage of the proceedings); and

         WHEREAS, the Third Circuit has held as a general proposition that a non-lawyer appearing pro se is not entitled to play the role of attorney for her children in federal court, Osei-Afriyie v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, 937 F.2d 876, 882 (3d Cir. 1991); and

         WHEREAS, following other circuit courts which have reached the same conclusion, it explained,

The choice to appear pro se is not a true choice for minors who under state law cannot determine their own legal actions. There is thus no individual choice to proceed pro se for courts to respect, and the sole policy at stake concerns the exclusion of non-licensed persons to appear as attorneys on behalf of others. It goes without saying that it is not in the interest of minors or incompetents that they be represented by non-attorneys. Where they have claims that require adjudication, they are entitled to trained legal assistance so their rights may be fully protected.

Id. (citations omitted); and

         WHEREAS, even though the Osei-Afriyie case was decided in the context of a parent representing a child's claims for medical negligence, the proposition that a parent cannot represent a child has been applied in cases involving civil rights and constitutional claims, see, e.g., Cole v. Montague Bd. of Educ., 145 Fed.Appx. 760, 762 (3d Cir. 2005) (in a case involving claims that a school board violated the parents' due process rights by banning them from public school without a hearing, illegally evaluating their child, and violating the No Child Left Behind Act, the court noting that because the parents were not attorneys, they could not represent their child in federal court, and they could only proceed on their own claims); Harris-Thomas v. Christina School Dist., 145 Fed.Appx. 714, 714 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding a mother could not represent her minor child pro se in a case which involved claims that a school district violated a child's rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fourteenth Amendment, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress); Pinkney v. City of Jersey City Dept. of Housing and Economic Development, 42 Fed.Appx. 535, 536 (3d Cir. 2002) (in a case alleging civil rights violations, the court holding that a guardian or parent cannot represent an incompetent adult in the courts of this circuit without retaining a lawyer); and

         WHEREAS, based on this Third Circuit precedent, even though N.U. is permitted to proceed pro se with regard to any of her own claims against Defendants, she cannot appear pro se with regard to her son's claims; and

         WHEREAS, it is clear that N.U. does not have standing to prosecute any ...


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