Plaintiffs, Ronald and Diane D., initially instituted this
action on behalf of their son, Timothy D., against the
Titusville Area School District and various officials and
administrators of the school district, for compensatory and
punitive damages for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act
of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Title IX of the Education
Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat. 373, as amended, 20 U.S.C. § 1681,
et seq. Presently pending before the Court is a motion by the
Plaintiffs to amend their complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that
follow, the Plaintiffs' motion shall be granted.
Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint on June 8, 2000.
Plaintiffs alleged a five-year pattern and practice on the part
of the School District and various school administrators of
deliberate indifference to recurrent verbal and physical
harassment of their son Timothy, while he was a student in the
Titusville Area School District. Complaint ¶¶ 2-6, 27-29.
Plaintiffs claim a denial of equal protection of the law, a
violation of substantive due process under the Fourteenth
Amendment of the United States Constitution, and a denial of
educational benefits on the basis of gender. Complaint ¶ 1.
Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as
compensatory and punitive damages.
On March 19, 2001, Plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their
original Complaint with a proposed Amended Complaint
attached.*fn1 Plaintiffs assert that during discovery, they
took the deposition of Thomas Hancock, the school psychologist
for Defendant School District. See Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend
the Complaint to Add Thomas Hancock as a Defendant and to add
Two New Causes of Action, ¶ 1 [Doc. No. 17]. According to the
Plaintiffs, Mr. Hancock's testimony "indicated his liability and
that of the School District in failing to determine that Timothy
D. was entitled to school services" pursuant to the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401, et
seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("the
Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794. See Id. at ¶ 2.
Plaintiffs seek to amend their Complaint to add Thomas Hancock
as a Defendant, and assert causes of action under IDEA and the
In their proposed Amended Complaint, the Plaintiffs reiterate
in detail the conduct to which Timothy was allegedly subjected
during the sixth through tenth grades of school in the School
District, during the 1994-1995 through 1998-1999 school years.
Amended Complaint §§ 3469.
In February 1999, the Plaintiffs were advised by their
attorney to request that the School District to conduct an
educational and psychological evaluation of Timothy to determine
his eligibility for
special education and related services. Amended Complaint ¶ 180.
The School District concluded in a Comprehensive Evaluation
Report ("the CER") dated April 19, 1999, that Timothy had
willfully chosen not to be academically successful. Amended
Complaint ¶ 82. The CER contained no recommendation of any types
of aids or services for Timothy. Amended Complaint ¶ 82. Two
meetings were held in May 1999 to discuss the School District's
CER conclusions with the Plaintiffs. Amended Complaint ¶¶ 83-84,
88. After the second meeting, the School District issued a
Notice of Recommended Assignment ("NORA") that Timothy attend a
regular education program with no aids or services. Amended
Complaint ¶ 90. Timothy attended Oil City Area High School
during the 1999-2000 school year, until February 2000 when he
quit due to emotional problems. Amended Complaint ¶ 92.
Plaintiffs allege that as a result of the Defendants' actions,
the Defendants have deprived Timothy of his right to a free,
appropriate public education as guaranteed by IDEA and the
Rehabilitation Act, by failing to provide him with services
which would protect him from sexually oriented harassment by
schoolmates so that he felt comfortable attending school.
Amended Complaint ¶¶ 108-109.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that leave to
amend a pleading "shall be freely given when justice so
requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Although the decision to grant or
deny leave to amend a complaint is committed to the sound
discretion of the district court, leave should, consistent with
the command of Rule 15(a), be liberally granted. Gay v.
Petsock, 917 F.2d 768, 772 (3rd Cir. 1990); Coventry v. U.S.
Steel Corp., 856 F.2d 514, 518-19 (3rd Cir. 1988). The United
States Supreme Court has articulated the following standard to
be applied in evaluating whether to grant or deny leave to
In the absence of any apparent or declared reason —
such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on
the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue
prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of
allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment,
etc. — the leave sought should, as the rules require,
be "freely given."
Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 183, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222
Pursuant to IDEA, "children with disabilities" are entitled to
"a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special
education and related services designed to meet their unique
needs. . . ." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d). The Rehabilitation Act, while
phrased differently, guarantees the same "free appropriate
public education" to each qualified handicapped person. W.B. v.
Matula, 67 F.3d 484, 492-93 (3rd Cir. 1995). "Children with
disabilities" includes not only those traditionally recognized
as handicapped, such as those children with mental retardation,
hearing impairments, speech or language impairments and visual
impairments, but also those with "serious emotional disturbance
. . . who by reason thereof, need special education and related
services." 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A). IDEA requires state and local
educational agencies receiving federal assistance under the Act
to establish and maintain procedures to ensure that children
with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural
safeguards with respect to the provision of a free appropriate
public education. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a).
In Pennsylvania, the statutory vehicle for special education
is found in the
Public School Code of 1949, 24 P.S. § 131371, et seq. Section
13-1372 provides for the adoption of regulations by the State
Board of Education for the education of "exceptional children."
These regulations appear at 22 Pa.Code §§ 14.1 through 14.74.
Regulations concerning the "procedural safeguards" are found at
22 Pa.Code §§ 14.61 through 14.68. The regulations allow
parental involvement in matters concerning the child's
educational program, and allow parents to obtain administrative
review of decisions they deem unsatisfactory or inappropriate.
IDEA permits aggrieved parties who are dissatisfied with the
outcome of the administrative process to bring a civil action in
either state court or in a federal district court.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). However, IDEA also requires that "before the
filing of a civil action . . . seeking relief that is also
available under this subchapter," a plaintiff must exhaust the
IDEA procedures. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l).
Defendants argue that the proposed Amended Complaint attempts
to add claims over which the Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction because the Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their
administrative remedies under IDEA, and therefore the allowance
of the proposed amendment would be futile. A court may justify
the denial of a motion to amend if the amendment is found to be
futile. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. 227. An amendment is
considered futile "if the amendment will not cure [any]
deficiency in the original complaint or if the amended complaint
cannot withstand a motion to dismiss." Jablonski v. Pan
American World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 292 (3rd Cir.
1988). In determining futility, the court "applies the same
standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6)."
In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434
(3rd Cir. 1997). Therefore, a court must take all well pleaded
facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Id.
At oral argument, the nature of the Plaintiffs' claim was
THE COURT: . . . [T]he narrow issue . . . seems
to be whether or not 1983 permits a cause of action
in a situation where the claim is based upon . . .
alleged reckless or . . . indifferent conduct on
the part of the district in failing to isolate or
pinpoint a child who is in need of IEP services, is
that essentially it?
MR. ROSENFIELD: I think that's a good way to
frame the issue, yes.
THE COURT: Implicit in that question is whether
or not under those circumstances exhaustion is
See Hearing on Pending Motions Transcript, April 23, 2001, pp.
19-20 [Doc. No. 28]. Plaintiffs argue that under the unique
circumstances of this case exhaustion is not required consistent
with the Third Circuit's holding in W.B. v. Matula,
67 F.3d 484 (3rd Cir. 1995).
In Matula, the plaintiff brought suit on behalf of her son
pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act and IDEA, alleging that her
son had been deprived of his right to a free appropriate public
education. After proceeding through the administrative process,
the plaintiff ultimately succeeded in having her son evaluated,
classified as neurologically impaired and provided with special
education services. She then sought damages for the defendants'
alleged persistent refusal to evaluate, classify and provide
necessary educational services to her son for the period of time
before the school agreed to provide these services. Matula, 67
F.3d at 488.
In examining the exhaustion requirement, the Third Circuit
first noted that the
exhaustion requirement may not be circumvented by casting an
IDEA claim as a § 1983 action predicated on IDEA. Matula, 67
F.3d at 495. The court then found exhaustion unnecessary based
on the following rationale:
Beginning with the plain language of [§ 1415(l)]
. . . it is apparent that the exhaustion requirement
is limited to actions seeking relief "also available"
under IDEA. We held supra that damages are
available in a § 1983 action, but IDEA itself makes
no mention of such relief. Hence by its plain terms
[§ 1415(l)] does not require exhaustion where the
relief sought is unavailable in an administrative
Moreover, the legislative history of [§ 1415(l)]
clarifies that "[e]xhaustion of the [IDEA]
administrative remedies would . . . be excused where
. . . resort to those proceedings would be futile."
Accordingly, we have held that, where the relief
sought in a civil action is not available in an
IDEA administrative proceeding, recourse to such
proceedings would be futile and the exhaustion
requirement is excused. (citation omitted).
Matula, 67 F.3d at 496. The court held that it would be futile
for the plaintiffs to exhaust their administrative remedies
because the relief sought was unavailable in the IDEA
administrative proceedings. Id. The court also excused
exhaustion on the basis that the child's classification and
placement had been resolved in numerous administrative
proceedings, and therefore a factual record had been developed.
Like the plaintiffs in Matula, the Plaintiffs' present
educational situation is not at issue. Amended Complaint ¶
92.*fn3 Defendants agreed to transfer Timothy to the Oil City
Area High School. Amended Complaint ¶ 92.*fn4 Importantly,
the relief sought here is not prospective, but solely
retrospective in nature in order to compensate Timothy for his
injuries allegedly caused by the Defendants. Cf. Padilla v.
School District No. 1, 233 F.3d 1268 (10th Cir. 2000) (stating
that IDEA's administrative remedies are oriented to providing
prospective educational benefits; plaintiffs ADA suit made no
claim relative to the current educational situation, exhaustion
not required). We agree with the Plaintiffs that the
administrative process is not capable of providing the relief
they request and exhaustion is not required under these
circumstances. Therefore, the Plaintiffs' motion to amend the
complaint shall be granted.
An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this 6th day of July, 2001, and for the reasons set
forth in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend the
Complaint to add Thomas Hancock as a Defendant and to add Two
New Causes of Action [Doc. No. 17] is GRANTED. The Plaintiffs
shall file an Amended Complaint within ten (10) days from the
date of this Court's Order.