PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A federal judge declined to transfer claims that a boarding school refused enrollment to a boy because he is HIV-positive, siding with the family that emphasized their low-income status against the school’s alleged multibillion-dollar assets.
Mother Smith and Abraham Smith – pseudonyms used in court to protect the pair’s privacy – sued the Milton Hershey School in November, claiming Abraham, then 13, was barred from attending the Hershey, Pa., school because he is infected with the virus.
The school says it decided in June 2011 that the institution “could not accommodate his needs in its residential setting,” and that the decision to stop processing Abraham’s application for enrollment was “a collaborative decision involving key senior administrative personnel, with input from others, including medical personnel.”
Nearly everyone involved in that decision resides in or around Hershey, Pa., the school says.
It also says “the decision not to continue the enrollment process for this potential student was based in large part on the unique, residential and home-like setting of the Milton-Hershey School – a setting so unique that a true understanding of it, and its significance in the decision made here, will require a site visit by the ultimate fact-finder.”
The school said the court should transfer the federal case from Pennsylvania’s Eastern District to the state’s Middle District for the sake of convenience.
But the Smiths’ opposition brief blasted the school for “relying on little more than conjecture and speculation” when it “declared Abraham a direct threat to its students.”
“Now the Milton Hershey School seeks to deny Abraham his choice of venue in the federal district courthouse that is closest to his residence,” the brief states.
The Smiths said granting the transfer request “would simply shift the inconvenience of a two hour commute … to Abraham and his mother, a low-income family represented by a nonprofit public-interest law firm.”
“In contrast, MHS has close to $8 billion in assets and approximately two thousand employees and volunteers,” the brief states, abbreviating Milton Hershey School. “There is no question that MHS is in a better position to bear any inconvenience associated with the commute.”
U.S. District Judge Darnell Jones II denied the motion transfer on Friday, writing that he is “unable to conclude that the potential inconvenience to defendant and its possible witnesses in having to travel to the Eastern District, outweighs that of Plaintiffs and their potential witnesses in having to travel to the Middle District.”
“The issue involved in this case is not uniquely or necessarily tied solely to MHS or the Middle District of Pennsylvania but instead is relevant to the lives of over one million HIV-infected people nationwide, many of whom are currently in congregate-living settings and are not creating a direct threat to others,” the 11-page decision states.