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Sanchez v. Office of State Superintendent of Education

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 8, 2019

ALTAGRACIA SANCHEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
OFFICE OF THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND COMPLAINT

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In 2016, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (“OSSE”) issued regulations that imposed minimum education requirements for certain childcare providers in Washington. Plaintiffs in this case promptly filed suit challenging those requirements, but the Court dismissed their complaint based on an unusual combination of standing, ripeness, and mootness problems. Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file an amended complaint. For the reasons provided below, the Court denies this motion, as the new complaint fails to cure the original's deficiencies.

         II. BACKGROUND

         As the Court explained in greater detail in its previous opinion dismissing Plaintiffs' complaint, OSSE is the state education agency for the District of Columbia and is “authorized to ‘formulate and promulgate rules necessary to carry out its functions.'” Sanchez v. Office of State Superintendent of Educ. (Sanchez I), Civ. No. 18-975, 2019 WL 935330, at *1 (D.D.C. Feb. 26, 2019) (quoting D.C. Code § 38-2602(b)(11)); see also D.C. Code § 38-2601.01. That authority includes the power to regulate “staff qualification[s]” at any “child development facility, ” D.C. Code § 38-2602(b)(11) -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 that 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 delegating power to OSSE).

         In December 2016, OSSE issued regulations that set minimum education requirements for staff at these child development facilities. See generally 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 640-14, 813 (Dec. 2, 2016). Most of the requirements did not take immediate effect, however. Depending on the position, the regulations built in a grace period of anywhere between three and six years before the requirements became binding. 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)). The regulations also permitted OSSE to grant two different kinds of waivers. First, certain types of staff positions-although not all-would be eligible for experience waivers, available to individuals who had “continuously served” in the relevant position for ten or more years as of December 2016. E.g., D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5A-1 §§ 164.3, 165.4. Second, hardship waivers could be granted if (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 [f]acility 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.” Id. § 106.1.

         Two of the three Plaintiffs in this case hold childcare development facility staff positions that are covered by the OSSE regulations. Altagracia Sanchez has operated a licensed daycare out of her house since 2006, which currently cares for nine children. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 161-63, ECF No. 15-2. According to the regulations, this makes her an “expanded home caregiver, ” required to hold “an associate's or more advanced degree . . . with a major in early childhood education, early childhood development, child and family studies or a closely related field.” D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 170.2(a). When the regulations first went into effect, expanded home caregivers had until December 2, 2019 to earn the requisite degree, and they were not eligible for experience waivers. See 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 799 (original version of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 170.2). But in June 2018, after Plaintiffs filed their original complaint, OSSE amended the regulations-extending the grace period for expanded home caregivers to December 2, 2023 and making experience waivers available to those that were otherwise eligible. See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 170.2(a), (c); 65 D.C. Reg. 7034-7036 (June 29, 2018).

         The second Plaintiff, Dale Sorcher, is what the regulations call a “teacher in a child development center.” See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5A-1, § 165. She works with children up to age three at a licensed daycare center associated with a Jewish preschool. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 192-95. Sorcher already has a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, but none of them are in a field related to early childhood, and she does not have the requisite experience for an experience waiver. See Id. ¶¶ 192, 201. As a result, the regulations require her to either seek a hardship waiver or obtain twenty-four college credit hours related to early childhood. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, §§ 165.1(b), 165.4. When the regulations were first issued, Sorcher had until December 2, 2020 to earn the credits, see 63 D.C. Reg. 14, 791 (original version of D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 165.1), but after the June 2018 amendments, she now has until December 2, 2023, see D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-A1, § 165.1.

         Unlike Sanchez and Sorcher, the third Plaintiff, Jill Homan, does not work at a child development facility and is not subject to the OSSE regulations. Instead, Homan and her partner have two young children and use a daycare center in D.C. where the staff members will need to meet the new education requirements. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 233-236. She is concerned “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 either “provide worse care than those who do not have to worry about attending school, ” id. ¶ 251, or simply leave their jobs altogether, see Id. ¶ 248.

         In both their original complaint and their proposed amended one, Plaintiffs raise three challenges to the OSSE regulations: (1) they allege that the education requirements exceed the authority lawfully delegated to OSSE; (2) they claim that the requirements violate their Fifth Amendment substantive due process rights to pursue honest livings and make reasonable childcare choices; and (3) they say that the regulations draw “arbitrary and irrational” distinctions between childcare providers, in violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 264-89. But in dismissing the original complaint, the Court never reached the merits of these claims. It instead concluded that the claims were not justiciable as asserted by any of the three Plaintiffs. Homan, the Court held, lacked standing because the injuries that she alleged were based on conjecture and could not be traced to the OSSE regulations. See Sanchez I, 2019 WL 935330, at *6. Sanchez's claims were either moot or unripe because, in light of the June 2018 amendments, she was eligible for an experience waiver but had not yet applied. Id. at *8. And Sorcher's claims were unripe because she had until December 2023 to seek a hardship waiver, for which she had not yet applied. Id.

         Plaintiffs now argue that their proposed amended complaint solves the problems that the Court previously identified. The new complaint alleges that Homan's daycare center has “become more expensive under the college requirement, ” Am. Compl. ¶ 252, and that staff members have now begun to leave to avoid having to comply with the requirement, see Id. ¶¶ 249-50. Sorcher, the proposed amended complaint says, is not interested in seeking a hardship waiver because, even if one were granted, it would only apply to her current employer; she wants “the freedom to work anywhere in the child-care field for anyone.” Id. ¶ 218; see also Id. ¶¶ 215-17. Finally, Sanchez, the proposed amended complaint clarifies, has been granted an experience waiver, meaning she no longer has to comply with the education requirement. Id. ¶¶ 189-91; see also Pls.' Reply Supp. Mot. Am. Compl. at 5, ECF No. 9. But according to Plaintiffs, this does not moot Sanchez's claims because she will have to apply to renew her waiver in three years, and because she continues to seek nominal damages. Unsurprisingly, Defendants-OSSE and the District of Columbia itself-oppose Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend. They argue that all of Plaintiffs' claims remain non-justiciable for the same reasons provided in the Court's decision dismissing the original complaint.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Under Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, courts “should freely give leave” to amend a complaint “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). But that “[g]enerous standard notwithstanding, courts may deny leave to amend for such reasons as ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment.” Connecticut v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 363 F.Supp.3d 45, 54 (D.D.C. 2019) (second alteration in original) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). This case concerns only futility, which is an appropriate basis to deny leave “if the proposed claim[s] would not survive a motion to dismiss.” James Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

         Thus, in reviewing Plaintiffs' motion, “the Court is required to assume the truth of the allegations in the amended complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the movant.” Flaherty v. Pritzker, 322 F.R.D. 44, 46 (D.D.C. 2017) (citing Caribbean Broad. Sys. v. Cable & Wireless PLC, 148 F.3d 1080, 1086 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). The Court need not, however, “accept inferences unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions that are cast as factual allegations.” Gregorio v. Hoover, 238 F.Supp.3d 37, 44 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Rann v. Chao, 154 F.Supp.2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2001)). And because here the deficiencies with the previous complaint went to subject matter jurisdiction, the allegations “bear closer scrutiny” than they would in resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Bennett v. Ridge, 321 F.Supp.2d 49, 52 ...


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