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TURNER v. LIVERPOOL CENTRAL SCH.
February 11, 2002
KELLY TURNER, ON HER OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF VICTORIA TURNER, AN INFANT, PLAINTIFF,
LIVERPOOL CENTRAL SCHOOL, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE LIVERPOOL CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, AND SUPERINTENDENT JOHN CATALDO, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick J. Scullin, Chief United States District Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Kelly Turner, individually and as a guardian for her minor
daughter, Victoria, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
and 1988 asserting that Defendants violated the First and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I of the
New York State Constitution, and New York Public Health Law § 2164.
In particular, Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated her
Constitutional rights and those of her minor daughter by failing to
provide a religious exemption from New York State's immunization
requirement pursuant to § 2164(9).
New York Public Health Law § 2164 mandates that children receive
immunizations before public schools are permitted to admit them.*fn1
There are two narrow exceptions to this requirement, only one of which is
relevant to this action. That exception allows a child to enter public
school without immunization if that child's parents "hold genuine and
sincere religious beliefs" which are contrary to the practice of
immunization. See N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2164(9) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff and her daughter are members of the Congregation of Universal
Wisdom ("Congregation"), and the practice of immunization is contrary to
Plaintiff's religious beliefs.
Before registering her daughter for kindergarten, Plaintiff notified
the Liverpool School District ("District") that she was religiously
opposed to the introduction of any foreign material into the human body
and, therefore, sought a religious exemption from New York State's
immunization requirement.*fn2 See Complaint at ¶ 11. After
questioning Ms. Turner, the District determined that the Congregation was
not a genuine religion and that although Ms. Turner's beliefs regarding
immunization were sincere, they were founded upon a personal philosophy
rather than a legitimate religion.*fn3 As a result, Victoria Turner did
not attend kindergarten in the Fall of 1999.
Subsequently, Plaintiff appealed this second rejection to the Board of
Education ("Board"). The Board heard arguments on July 11, 2000, and
voted to deny Plaintiff's appeal. On July 19, 2000, Plaintiff appealed
the Board's decision to the New York State Commissioner of Education and
requested a stay of the District's order during the pendency of the
case. The Commissioner denied the stay, and Plaintiff eventually
withdrew her appeal to the Commissioner of Education.
Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. Alternatively, Defendants move for a
declaratory judgment declaring that New York Public Health Law §
2164(9) (the "genuine" and "sincere" religious belief exemption) is
unconstitutional pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201.
A. The Court has Jurisdiction to Hear this Case because Plaintiff's
Complaint Raises Issues of Federal Law
Defendants contend that this Court does not have jurisdiction over
Plaintiff's claims because her complaint does not present a federal
question. Defendants advance two arguments in support of this
contention. First, Defendants argue that the First Amendment does not
require that States provide a religious exemption from immunization.
Second, Defendants argue that the First Amendment does not require that
States provide religious accommodations with respect to immunization
statutes. Neither of these arguments is availing because jurisdiction is
not dependent on whether Plaintiff can prove the merits of her
complaint. Rather, Plaintiff need only state a federal issue in her
well-pleaded complaint. See Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Mottley,
211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908). As stated, in the present case, Plaintiff has
alleged a violation of her constitutional rights under the First and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Therefore, the
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
B. The Constitutionality of New York Public Health Law § 2164(9)*fn5
Defendants contend that the statutory exemption to New York State's
immunization requirement violates the Establishment Clause of the First
Amendment to the United States Constitution. As stated, the New York
State Legislature created an exemption from the ...
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