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Sanchez v. Office of The State Superintendent of Education

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 26, 2019

ALTAGRACIA SANCEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,


         Granting in Part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

          Rudolph Contreras, United States District Judge.


         Together, the doctrines of standing, ripeness, and mootness serve a common purpose: to ensure that federal courts resolve only “Cases” and “Controversies” within the meaning of the Constitution. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. This case presents the Court with questions involving all three doctrines. The case arises out of regulations promulgated in 2016 by the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (“OSSE”) that impose minimum education requirements on certain childcare providers that operate in Washington. Plaintiffs are two childcare providers and one parent who bring a number of challenges to those education requirements. As the Court will explain below, however, it is unable to reach the merits of Plaintiffs' challenges at this juncture. The parent Plaintiff, who is not herself subject to the regulations, lacks standing because her asserted injuries are merely conjectural. The childcare provider Plaintiffs' claims, meanwhile, are either moot or unripe. This is because when OSSE first promulgated the regulations, it provided that the education requirements would not take effect for many years and that waivers would be available under certain circumstances. These protections were then expanded after Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit. Consequently, as things currently stand, both Plaintiffs will be permitted to continue working as childcare providers until December 2023, and they may seek waivers in the interim. Because this state of affairs leaves Plaintiffs' challenges unfit for judicial adjudication at this time, the Court dismisses their claims without prejudice.


         Housed within the Executive Office of the Mayor, OSSE “serve[s] as the state education agency” for the District of Columbia, D.C. Code § 38-2601.01, and is authorized to “formulate and promulgate rules necessary to carry out its functions, ” id. § 38-2602(b)(11). This authority includes the power to regulate “staff qualification[s]” at any “child development facility, ” id. - defined as a “center, home, or other structure that provides care and other services, supervision, and guidance for children, infants, and toddlers on a regular basis” but is not “a public or private elementary or secondary school engaged in legally required educational and related functions or a pre-kindergarten education program, ” id. § 7-2031(3). See Id. § 7-2036(a)(1)(A) (delegating regulatory power to Mayor); Mayor's Order 2009-130, 56 D.C. Reg. 6883 (July 16, 2009) (Mayor in turn delegating power to OSSE).

         Pursuant to its mandate, OSSE issued regulations on December 2, 2016 that set minimum education requirements for childcare staff at these child development facilities. See generally 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 640-14, 813 (Dec. 2, 2016). The requirements did not become immediately binding for most childcare professionals, though; depending on the kind of staff position at issue, the new regulations generally provided a grace period of anywhere between three and six years. See, e.g., 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 786, 14, 799 (original versions of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, §§ 164.1(b), (c) and 170.2(a)(1)(2)). And the regulations provided that OSSE could waive compliance with any of the education requirements if it was presented with clear and convincing evidence that (1) “[t]he demonstrated . . . economic impact or hardship on the Facility or staff member [was] sufficiently great to make immediate compliance impractical despite diligent efforts;” (2) “[t]he facility or staff member [was] meeting or exceeding the intent of the regulation for which the waiver [was] requested; and” (3) “[t]he health and welfare of staff and children [we]re not jeopardized.” D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5A-1, § 106.1. The regulations also provided that certain types of staff positions, though not all, would be subject to experience waivers, available to individuals who had, as of December 2016, “continuously served” in the relevant staff position for ten or more years. Id. §§ 164.3, 165.4.

         Two of the three Plaintiffs in this case are subject to the new education requirements. Plaintiff Altagracia Sanchez is what the regulations deem an “expanded home caregiver.” See generally Id. §§ 169-71. Since 2006, she has run a licensed daycare out of her house, which currently cares for nine children. Compl. ¶¶ 143-45, ECF No. 1. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Sanchez has a law degree from the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. Compl. ¶¶ 137-38. But Sanchez never went to college in the United States, so when the regulations first went into effect, they required her to obtain by December 2, 2019 an “associate's or more advanced degree from an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, with a major in early childhood education, early childhood development, child and family studies or a closely related field.” 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 799 (original version of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 170.2); see also Compl. ¶¶ 153-54. Such a degree would require roughly sixty credit hours of classes, which according to Sanchez, would take at least five years for her to earn as a part-time student. Compl. ¶ 157. Sanchez's only other option at the time the regulations first took effect was to seek a hardship waiver, as the regulations did not make experience waivers available to expanded home caregivers. See 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 799 (original version of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 170.2).

         Plaintiff Dale Sorcher is what the regulations refer to as a “teacher in a child development center.” See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5A-1, § 165. She works with children up to the age of three at a licensed daycare center associated with a Jewish preschool. Compl. ¶¶ 173-78. Sorcher already has a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, but none of them are in a field related to early childhood. As first promulgated, the OSSE regulations did make experience waivers available to childhood development center teachers, but Sorcher had only six years of continuous experience as a teacher as of December 2016. See 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 791 (original version of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 165.4); Compl. ¶ 194. Consequently, the regulations required her to obtain twenty-four college credit hours related to early childhood by December 2, 2020, or seek a hardship waiver. See 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 791 (original version of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 165.4).

         Unlike Sanchez and Sorcher, the third Plaintiff, Jill Homan, is not herself subject to OSSE's regulations. Homan is a consumer of childcare services rather than a provider: her young daughter attends a licensed daycare center where the staff members will need to meet OSSE's new education requirements. Compl. ¶¶ 204, 212. Homan “is afraid that the caregivers she trusts will not be able to comply with the college requirement and will lose their jobs.” Compl. ¶ 214. And she worries “that day-care providers who are exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed by having to attend college, work full time, and care for their own families . . . will provide worse care than those who do not have to worry about attending school.” Id. ¶ 215.

         The three Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit against OSSE and the District of Columbia itself in April 2018. Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, the complaint alleged that the education requirements (1) exceeded the authority lawfully delegated to OSSE; (2) violated their Fifth Amendment substantive due process rights to pursue honest livings and make reasonable childcare choices; and (3) drew “arbitrary and irrational” distinctions between childcare providers, in violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. Compl. ¶¶ 228- 53. When the complaint was filed, neither Sanchez nor Sorcher had applied for a hardship waiver because their understanding was that OSSE would not make the waiver applications “available until the college requirement was ‘closer' to coming into effect-2019 for expanded-home day-care caregivers . . . and 2020 for day-care center teachers.” Id. ¶ 61. In the meantime, Sanchez and Sorcher claimed that they would need to begin enrolling in college courses immediately in order to give themselves a chance of meeting their respective deadlines- December 2019 for Sanchez and December 2020 for Sorcher.

         In June 2018, however, after Plaintiffs filed their complaint, OSSE amended its regulations to extend both of these deadlines to December 2023. 65 D.C. Reg. 7034-7036 (June 29, 2018); see also D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1 §§ 165.1(d), 170.2(a)(2). The amendments also made experience waivers available to expanded home caregivers like Sanchez. 65 D.C. Reg. 7037; see also D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1 § 170.2(c). Relying heavily on these changes to the regulations, Defendants responded to the complaint by filing a motion to dismiss, in which they argue primarily that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs do not have standing. But according to Defendants, even if Plaintiffs do have standing, the complaint still fails to adequately state a claim. Each of these reasons, Defendants say, independently require the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, courts must dismiss any claim over which they lack subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Rule 12(b)(6), by contrast, requires courts to dismiss any claim upon which relief could not be granted even if jurisdiction was proper. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When these two rules are invoked together, a court must first address the issues encompassed by Rule 12(b)(1), as those issues implicate the ...

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