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Yu v. Idaho State University

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 27, 2017

JUN YU, Plaintiff,


          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Production of Student Records (Dkt. 21) and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) (Dkt. 22). Having carefully considered the record and otherwise being fully advised, the undersigned enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order.


         Plaintiff Jun Yu, a citizen of the People's Republic of China, is a former graduate student at Idaho State University (“ISU” or “the University”) and brings a discrimination case against the University in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et. seq. Plaintiff was one practicum away from receiving his Ph.D in Clinical Psychology when he was dismissed from the doctoral program. Plaintiff alleges his rights under Title VI were violated because the University discriminated against him due to his national origin and he also alleges that he was denied procedural due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, generally, Complaint, Dkt. 1.


         In his motion to compel, Plaintiff seeks the complete student records of all students who were enrolled at the University and pursuing a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology between 2008 and 2015.[1] Plaintiff seeks these documents to prove that his treatment as an Asian international student as compared to non-minority students enrolled in the same doctoral program violated Title VI standards in regard to assessment, placement, remediation, and other academic factors.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) allows parties to obtain discovery:

[R]egarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         If an answering party fails to adequately respond to discovery requests or fails to make a required disclosure by Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a), the propounding party can move for an order compelling discovery under Fed. R. Civ. 37(a).

         ISU responds that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(2)) requires Plaintiff to satisfy a “significantly higher burden” to gain access to student information and Plaintiff has not satisfied this burden because he has not demonstrated that it would be “impossible” to prove his case without this discovery.

         Among other things, FERPA provides for the withholding of federal funds from educational institutions which have policies or engage in practices that result in the disclosure of students' educational records or personally identifiable information without the written consent of their parents. The purpose of FERPA is to “assure parents of students . . . access to their education records and to protect such individuals' right to privacy by limiting the transferability (and disclosure) of their records without their consent.” Rios v. Read, 73 F.R.D. 589, 597 (E.D.N.Y. 1977) (quoting 120 Cong. Rec. S21497 (daily ed. Dec. 13, 1974) (joint remarks of Sen. Buckley and Sen. Pell)).

         FERPA does not provide a privilege that prevents disclosure of student records. Id. at 598. Rather, “by threatening financial sanctions, it seeks to deter schools from adopting policies of releasing student records.” Id. Under the provisions of the statute, a school is not subject to sanctions for disclosure of education records covered by FERPA when such disclosure was made pursuant to judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena. Id.; see also 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(2)(B).

         The “privacy violations” that result from any disclosure of FERPA-protected education records are “no less objectionable simply because release of the records is obtained pursuant to judicial approval unless, before approval is given, the party seeking disclosure is required to demonstrate a genuine need for the information that outweighs the privacy interests of the students.” Rios, 73 F.R.D. at 599. A party seeking disclosure of education records bears a “significantly heavier burden . . . to justify disclosure than exists with respect to discovery of other kinds of information, such as business records.” Id. at 598. Courts have allowed disclosure of education records when the moving party has met this “significantly heavier burden” to show its interests outweigh the students' privacy interests. See, e.g., Craig v. Yale Univ. Sch. of Med., 2012 WL 1579484, *2 (D. Conn. May 4, 2012) (court allowed discovery of names and personnel files of all medical school residents in the OB/GYN Residency Program who were subjected to discipline or performance improvement plans in plaintiff's case for discrimination on the basis of race and color); Ragusa v. Malverne Union Free Sch. Dist., 549 F.Supp.2d 288, 292-93 (E.D.N.Y. 2008) (allowing disclosure of student records in a teacher's lawsuit against school district for discrimination based on disability, age, and national origin); Davids v. Cedar Falls Cmty. Sch., 1998 WL 34112767, *3 (N.D. Iowa Oct. 28, 1998) (finding plaintiff's need for disclosure of records, which would help him attempt to prove his allegations that his school “engaged in a practice of disparate discipline of minority and non-minority students, ” outweighed the students' privacy interests).

         Plaintiff contends it is necessary for him to compare the progress of individual students in ISU's doctoral program in Clinical Psychology during the relevant period of 2008-2015 so that he can provide his case of disparate treatment. Plaintiff argues he must be able to compare his treatment to that of non-minority students in the same program. The University asserts that Plaintiff has failed to meet his heavy burden of “impossibility” - that is, Plaintiff must show that his claim would be impossible to prove without the educational records he seeks. See Def.'s Resp. (Dkt. 23), pp. 6-7 (citing to Rios v. Read, 73 F.R.D. 589, 599 (E.D.N.Y. 1977) (plaintiff had met required showing of need by showing that “[i]f the educational treatment of Hispanic children in Patchogue-Medford violates Title VI standards, it nonetheless would be impossible to provide unless the plaintiffs could trace the progress of the individual students.”)). Courts that have followed the Rios decision, while relying on it, have not adopted an “impossibility” standard. Instead, the courts have described the burden in seeking such education records as a “heavier” one but one that is met when the documents were relevant to the claims and ...

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