State appeals injunction in Warren County ESC special education lawsuit

Magistrate also denied motion for Disability Rights Ohio to intervene in the case, which deals with the services provided to students with intensive needs

The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce is appealing a Warren County Common Pleas Court magistrate’s order in favor of the Warren County Educational Service Center in the parties’ lawsuit about alleged violations of special education law.

The magistrate on April 2 denied the state’s motion to dismiss the Warren ESC’s lawsuit and issued a preliminary injunction in the ESC’s favor.

At the center of the dispute is the Wellness Center on Old Irwin Simpson Road in Deerfield Twp., a day-treatment program Warren County operates for students with intensive behavioral and mental health needs. The injunction stopped corrective actions that were issued by ODEW after an investigation by Disability Rights Ohio alleged several violations of special education law in May 2022. However, ODEW paused corrections after Warren County ESC raised concerns about the fairness of the previous findings.

In its appeal filed April 16, the state is asking for Warren County Common Pleas Judge Timothy Tepe to overrule Magistrate Markus Moll’s decisions made April 2.

The state is objecting to the magistrate’s finding that there is “clear and convincing evidence that there is substantial likelihood that (the ESC) will prevail on the merits of declaratory judgment, mandamus, due process claims and injunctive relief.”

Also, the state objected to the magistrate’s finding that a preliminary injunction will not harm third parties as well as the Magistrate’s finding that the public interest would be served by issuing the preliminary injunction.

The state is also objecting to the magistrate’s finding that the court has jurisdiction over the claims in this case.

The appeal remains pending in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

In a related issue, Moll also denied a motion by Disability Rights Ohio and by parties listed by the initials B.H. and K.H. on behalf of D.H. to intervene as defendants in the case on April 17.

Moll found that DRO “is not a real party of interest” and does not have standing to intervene in the case. He said “a real party in interest is one who receives a direct benefit or injury based on the outcome of the case.” He also wrote, citing case law, that one who merely possesses an interest in the action itself is not a real party of interest.

Kristin Hildebrant, senior attorney for Disability Rights Ohio, said, “The magistrate at the Warren County Common Pleas Court denied the motion to intervene. Court rules allow a party to file objections to a magistrate’s decision. DRO intends to file objections to the magistrate’s decision which will require the judge to review and decide on the motion to intervene.”

A spokesperson for DRO said the organization plans to file their objections no later than May 1.

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