American Nurses Association v. O'Connell invalidates as illegal a portion of a class action settlement involving rights of students with diabetes

Class actions involving allegations of discrimination regularly include injunctive relief provisions as part of a settlement or judgment.  However, the complexity of these types of actions increases the likelihood that settlement terms will have unintended consequences.  In American Nurses Association v. O'Connell (June 8, 2010), the Court of Appeal (Third Appellate District) reviewed a challenge to terms of a class action settlement between public school students and Jack O'Connell, in his capacity as the Superintendent of Public Schools for California, the Board of Education of California and the individual members of the Board of Education, the California Department of Education (CDE), and two local school districts and their superintendents.  The students alleged defendants violated various federal laws (ADA and others) by failing to ensure the provision of health care services to students with diabetes, including insulin administration, that was necessary to enable those students to obtain free appropriate public education.  The settlement of that action required, among other things, the issuance of an advisory by the CDE about insulin administration.  The advisory took the position that "in order to comply with federal law, California law should be interpreted to allow, if a licensed person is not available or feasible, trained unlicensed school employees to administer insulin during the school day to a student whose Section 504 Plan or IEP requires such insulin administration."  (Slip op., at 3.)

The American Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association/California filed an action against O'Connell as Superintendent of Public Instruction and the CDE challenging section 8 of the advisory, the portion of the legal advisory that permits unlicensed school employees to administer insulin to students with diabetes.  The Nurses Associations alleged that section 8 is inconsistent with the Nursing Practice Act (NPA) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 2700 et seq.) and is an illegal regulation implemented by the CDE without compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (Gov. Code, § 11340 et seq.).

The trial court agreed with the Nurses Associations, ruling that the NPA prohibited the administration of insulin by unlicensed school employees.  The trial court also rejected the argument that California's laws were preempted by federal law.  Finally, the trial court determined that the challenged portion of the legal advisory was an invalid regulation under the APA.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the finding that current California law does not permit the administration of insulin by unlicensed school employees.  Having so ruled, the Court of Appeal did not reach the alternative basis for the trial court's ruling.

The only moral of the story is that you must craft your injunctive relief language with great care.