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Court Denies Discovery of Access to Multiple School Buildings, Holding That the Request was Irrelevant and Disproportional to the Case

By on July 21, 2021 in Other with 0 Comments

By: Kristen M. Doyle, Law Clerk
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

In a decision dated June 1, 2021, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey held in Esposito v. Ridgewood Board of Education that Plaintiffs failed to show that the broad discovery they wished to obtain was relevant to the subject matter of the lawsuit. The Court denied Plaintiffs’ requests to access and photograph the interior of various school buildings because they were not related to Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and were disproportional to the case.

The claim stemmed from an incident on January 8, 2019, at an elementary school when the principal instructed the Plaintiffs’ two children to go outside during recess in inclement weather, despite an alleged agreement between the school and parents that the children would stay indoors if such weather occurred. The father arrived to pick up his children, entered the main office, and confronted the principal. The parties dispute the details of this confrontation, but the Complaint alleged that the police were called and the father was later banned from the school premises by the superintendent.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed this lawsuit against the Ridgewood Board of Education (“Board”) alleging that the actions of the principal during the incident in question violated their First Amendment right to free speech as well as that of their children. The Plaintiffs also alleged that the principal’s conduct constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs further alleged that the father’s January 2019 ban from school premises violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

During the discovery phase of the litigation, Plaintiffs asked the Court to compel Defendants to provide access to all Board property including all school buildings, school property, and athletic fields. Plaintiffs sought permission for the mother and a photographer to enter the property for the purpose of taking pictures of the school buildings’ interiors as well as their exterior premises. Plaintiffs wished to photograph not only the elementary where the alleged incident occurred, but additionally sought access to three other elementary schools, two middle schools, and the high school.

Plaintiffs maintained that the “photographs will directly correlate with the imposed ban of January 8th 2019 as well as the January 8th incident involving the [Plaintiffs’ children] as well as [the father].” The Court disagreed.

The Court reasoned that, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), parties may obtain discovery regarding any “nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” However, “[a]lthough the scope of discovery is broad, it is not unlimited.” Gutierrez v. Johnson & Johnson, Inc., 01-CV-5302, 2002 U.S. Dist. (D.N.J. Aug. 13, 2002).

The Court concluded that Plaintiffs could not give “the slightest indication” that the interior of multiple school buildings bore any relation to Plaintiffs’ alleged constitutional violations. Moreover, the Court held that the requested discovery was not only irrelevant, but also completely disproportional to the needs of the case.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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