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HANDBERRY v. THOMPSON

March 13, 2000

ZAKUNDA-ZE HANDBERRY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
WILLIAM C. THOMPSON, JR., ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Motley, District Judge.

OPINION GRANTING DECLARATORY JUDGMENT

OPINION

Following oral argument on January 7, 2000 this court granted plaintiffs' motion for declaratory judgment that the City defendants failed to provide adequate educational services to members of the plaintiff class at all Rikers Island facilities. The court ordered City defendants to file a plan for providing full and complete educational facilities and services to all eligible inmates on Rikers Island. The following outlines the court's reasoning in granting this motion for declaratory judgment pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and 2202.

BACKGROUND

This case involves a class action brought by inmates in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC") claiming violation of federal and state laws in the failure to provide them with adequate general and special educational services. Plaintiffs are a class of individuals aged 16 through 21 years who are in the custody of DOC and are entitled to educational services. Defendants are the New York City Board of Education, DOC, and certain City officials sued in their official capacities (collectively referred to as the "City defendants") and Richard Mills, the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department.

The plaintiff class is comprised of school age inmates (inmates between the ages of 16 and 21 years) who are held in 16 DOC jails, including 10 facilities on Rikers Island. The majority of class members are pre-trial detainees and the minority are post-conviction inmates serving sentences of up to one year's duration. Plaintiffs estimate that approximately 2,800 incarcerated youngsters were eligible for educational services at the time this case was filed in 1996. See Pls.' Mem. of Law at 3.

Plaintiffs bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the United States Constitution, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (the "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the New York State Constitution, statutory law and regulations.

Plaintiffs' claims involve both general and special education. Plaintiffs claim that numerous class members received no or extremely limited educational instruction for significant periods of time in violation of the general education laws. Plaintiffs also estimate that approximately 40% of the class members require special education services due to various disabilities. See Pls.' Mem. of Law at 2. Plaintiffs claim defendants violated the IDEA as well as state law by failing to provide appropriate special education services to this substantial portion of the incarcerated population.

STANDARD FOR DECLARATORY OR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This court granted plaintiffs' motion for declaratory judgment that the City defendants have failed to provide adequate educational services to class members in the facilities on Rikers Island. This order is equivalent to the granting of summary judgment establishing liability. This circuit recognizes the value of summary judgment to expedite the process of litigation. See Quinn v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood Corp., 613 F.2d 438, 445 (2d Cir. 1980). The mechanism of summary judgment promotes judicial economy by preventing further litigation on an issue with an unalterably predetermined outcome. The standard for summary judgment ensures that issues are efficiently resolved without compromising the rights of the non-moving party.

Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party can show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The court must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all ambiguities in favor of the non-moving party.

Ametex Fabrics, Inc. v. Just In Materials, Inc., 140 F.3d 101, 107 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). Thus, the mere existence of a factual dispute between parties does not preclude summary judgment when the dispute is not genuine or when the disputed facts are immaterial. A disputed fact is immaterial when the outcome of the case remains the same regardless of the disputed issue. Factual questions which prove immaterial fail to preclude summary judgment. See Knight v. U.S. Fire Insurance Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1986) (noting that the existence of unresolved immaterial issues does not suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment).

A party may not rely on "mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment". Knight v. U.S. Fire Insurance Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1986).

Nor are judges any longer required to submit a question to a jury merely because some evidence has been introduced by the party having the burden of proof, unless the evidence be of such a character that it would warrant the jury in finding a verdict in favor of that party. Formerly it was held that if there was what is called a scintilla of evidence in support of a case the judge was bound to leave it to the jury, but recent decisions of high authority have established a more reasonable rule, that in every case, before the evidence is left to the jury, there is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no ...

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