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Jackie v. Connelly

July 20, 2006

JACKIE S., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JOHN M. CONNELLY, IN HIS CAPACITY AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE OHIO REHABILITATION SERVICES COMMISSION DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Algenon L. Marbley

Magistrate Judge Kemp

OPINION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court upon the following motions by Defendant, John M. Connelly ("Defendant"), in his capacity as Executive Director of the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission: (1) Defendant's Second Motion to Dismiss*fn1 Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint ("the Amended Complaint"); (2) Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Intervenors' Complaint.Defendant asserts that the Court must dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint and the Intervenors' Complaint both for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, respectively. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS Defendant's various Motions to Dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

A. Background

The purpose of Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701-753 (hereinafter "Rehabilitation Act" or "the Act")*fn2 , is to empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, inclusion, and integration into society. See 29 U.S.C. § 701. Specifically, Title I of the Act is intended to assist States in operating a comprehensive, coordinated, effective, efficient, and accountable program of vocational rehabilitation that is designed to assess, plan, develop, and provide vocational rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities consistent with their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice, so that such individuals may prepare for and engage in gainful employment. See id. § 720(a)(2). To that end, Congress created an interactive federal-state scheme whereby a state may receive federal funding for its vocational rehabilitation programs if it submits to its Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration a three-year plan which meets certain federal guidelines. Id. § 721(a).

State participation in the program is voluntary, but if a state chooses to participate it must comply with federal guidelines and regulations implementing the Act. See id. § 721. Ohio participates in the program, and the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission ("ORSC") is the state unit in Ohio designated to provide vocational rehabilitation services to people with disabilities pursuant to Sections 720-753 of Title I of the Rehabilitation Act. See OHIO REV. CODE § 3304(D).

The Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation ("BVR" or "the Bureau") is the division of ORSC that provides rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities other than blindness or other visual impairments.

Title I of the Rehabilitation Act has thirty-six explicit requirements for state plans, one of which is an individualized plan of employment ("IPE"). See 29 U.S.C. § 721(a)(9). Under the terms of the Act, an eligible individual and his vocational rehabilitation counselor must jointly develop and agree to an IPE. Id. § 722(b)(1)(A). Each IPE must be designed to achieve that individual's employment objective, long-term rehabilitation goals, and intermediate rehabilitation objectives, "consistent with the unique strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, and capabilities of the individual." Id. § 722(b)(1)(B)(I). If a dispute arises between an individual and his counselor, the individual may exercise his right to an administrative appeal to a BVR supervisor, an impartial hearing officer, and BVR's administrator. Id. §§ 722(b)(2)(E), (c)(5).

In May of 2005, ORSC promulgated an administrative rule, O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(H) to limit the amount of financial assistance that it will provide to eligible individuals seeking a post-secondary education.As amended, O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(H) reads:

(1) The consumer shall apply for financial aid by completing and submitting the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA), when the school participates in federal student aid programs.

(2) The consumer shall submit a copy of his/her student aid report (SAR) to his/her counselor for each academic year for which RSC is authorizing post-secondary educational training. The EFC [(which stands for Expected Family Contribution)] listed on the SAR shall be used in calculating the consumer's financial need.

(3) The consumer shall be required to contribute fifty per cent of the EFC for the 2005/2006 academic year, and seventy-five per cent of the EFC for the 2006/2007 academic year, and one-hundred percent of the EFC for each succeeding academic year.

(4) Consumers who receive supplemental security income (SSI) or social security disability insurance (SSDI), or those who are excluded pursuant to section 4121.66*fn3 of the Ohio Revised Code, are provided post-secondary educational training services without applying the financial needs test specified in paragraph (H)(3) of this rule.

(5) The RSC contribution to post-secondary educational expenses shall be computed by subtracting the following from the cost of post-secondary educational expenses: the combined total of all grant monies, comparable benefits, and the percentage of the EFC to be paid by the consumer, as described in paragraph (H)(3) of this rule. All awards and scholarships awarded to the consumer shall be applied to the EFC.

See O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(H) (2006).

At the same time, ORSC also amended O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(I) to limit the time permitted for an individual receiving aid pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act to complete each academic year of post-secondary education to a maximum of eighteen consecutive months. As amended, O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(I) reads:

(I) to continue to receiving RSC sponsorship, a consumer shall demonstrate satisfactory progress in accordance with paragraph (B) of this rule and shall have a maximum of eighteen consecutive months to complete each academic year of post-secondary educational training as defined by the degree program. The appropriate area manager and/or designated assistant area manager shall request, with justification, approval from the bureau director and/or his/her designee to extend the time limit.

See O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(I) (2006). Together, O.A.C. 3304-2-58(H) and (I) are referred to as the "college training rule."

B. Procedural History

1. Facts Related to Jackie S.

Plaintiff, Jackie S., who suffers from disorders that limit her ability to comprehend and to follow complex instructions, applied for and was made eligible for BVR rehabilitation services on September 14, 2004. Pls.' Amended Complaint ¶¶ 19, 89. Jackie S.' father alleges that when he contacted BVR in 2004 to discuss the prospect of his daughter going to college, BVR representatives told him that the Bureau would pay for her college tuition, and that Jackie S., through her family, would be responsible for paying the cost of her books. Id. ¶ 91. Jackie S.'s father asserts that based on his conversations with BVR, he placed Jackie S. in Youngstown State University, a private secondary school that could accommodate her disability needs, which cost him approximately $15,000 annually. Id. ¶¶ 92, 94. After ORSC promulgated the amended college training rule, however, Jackie S. was required to contribute 50% of the EFC toward the expenses of her 2005-06 academic year, amounting to $7,500. Id. ¶ 105. Jackie S.'s father argues that had he known that BVR would not cover Jackie S.'s tuition costs, he would not have sent her to a private school. Id. ¶ 93. Moreover, Jackie S.'s father asserts that in making its calculations, BVR failed to list Jackie's IPE allowance of $1,000 per year for transportation costs, and that, had it included that amount, BVR would have been required to contribute more money to Jackie S.'s educational expenses. Id. ¶¶ 106-09.

On June 14, 2005, Jackie S.'s father sent a letter to his daughter's BVR counselor asking if there was any provision allowing the counselor to waive the requirements of O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(H) as amended. Complaint ¶ 110. The counselor responded by letter on June 23, 2005 that he was unaware of any provision in the college training rule to request a waiver except "to file an appeal." Id. ¶ 111.

In late August, Jackie S. learned that Youngstown State University calculates the cost of attendance for a student living at home differently from the manner in which her BVR counselor calculated her cost of attendance under O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(H). Complaint ¶ 118. Accordingly, on August 28, 2005, she contacted her counselor to request that her IPE be amended to take the University's calculation methods into account. Id. ¶ 120. Her request was denied on August 31, 2005, and on that date, a letter was sent to Defendant on Jackie S.'s behalf requesting an administrative appeal to challenge the validity of her BVR counselor's decision not to amend her IPE. Id. ¶¶121-22. By letter, dated September 14, 2005, Defendant, through an agent, sent Jackie

S. a letter denying her request for a hearing.

2. The Initial Complaint

In addition to requesting an administrative hearing from BVR, on or about August 10, 2005, Plaintiff, Jackie S., filed suit against Defendant, John M. Connelly, in his official capacity as Executive Director of ORSC, seeking relief under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act, its accompanying regulations as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. Pl.'s Original Complaint ¶ 1. In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that O.A.C. § 3304-2-58(H), as amended on or about May of 2005, is contrary to federal statutes and regulations. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff sought to declare said administrative code provision in violation of federal law and requested both declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendant to prevent ORSC and BVR from enforcing the newly-adopted regulation. Id.

On or about October 11, 2005, Defendant filed its First Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. In response, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint adding named Plaintiffs,*fn4 Victoria F., Mary W., Quinn M., Zach M., and Steven M, to her action.*fn5 Shortly thereafter, on November 10, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Interim Class Certification.

2. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint

Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint asserts a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and all individuals who have been found eligible or who may in the future be found eligible to receive post-secondary training as a service as part of their individual plans for employment under the vocational rehabilitation provisions of Title I of the Rehabilitation Act. The representative plaintiffs are people with disabilities who have been found eligible to receive rehabilitation services from ORSC.*fn6

Specifically, Plaintiffs challenge the legality of the college training rule, O.A.C. §§ 3304-2-58(H) and (I) under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act and its accompanying regulations, as well as under the Due Process Clause and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.

3. The Parties' Dispute

On or about November 13, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Production of the Record of Administrative Appeal under Seal, and on November 22, 2005, the Court scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing for December 16, 2005. On November 30, 2005, Defendant ...


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