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July 16, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: D. Brooks Smith, Chief Judge.


These actions are brought by two minor students and their parents against the Blacklick Valley School District, its school board, and various individual officers of the school district. The defendants have moved to dismiss both actions. Because of the substantial similarity between these actions, I resolve both motions to dismiss in this single opinion. In short, I will grant the motions to dismiss only in small part, dismissing the claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities. The remaining claims will stand, and the balance of the motions to dismiss will be denied.


Because the parties are already familiar with the allegations in the complaints, I will not rehearse them in detail here. Briefly, both Clifford and Damian McCachren have a history of educational and disciplinary difficulties in different schools within the Blacklick Valley School District. According to the complaints, both boys should have received learning support services from Blacklick. However, the school district and its officers failed to provide such learning support, as required under federal laws.

Seeking to recover compensatory and punitive damages for the injuries they have already suffered, Clifford and Damian, through and with their parents, filed two separate actions on May 21, 2001. The complaints allege that the defendants failed to comply with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 700, et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which the plaintiffs seek to enforce via an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition to the Blacklick Valley School District, the complaints also name as defendants the Blacklick Valley School Board and various individuals in both their personal and official capacities. The individual defendants include the following: Donald Thompson, Superintendent of the school district; Thomas Kupchella, principal of the Blacklick Valley Junior/Senior High School;*fn1 Carole Kakabar, principal of the Blacklick Valley Junior/Senior High School; Deborah Pollino, Director of Special Education and Section 504 Coordinator; and Frank Frontino, At-Risk/Academic Attention Coordinator.

The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaints, raising various arguments under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The most important argument appears in the defendants' supplemental motions to dismiss, which assert that the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust administrative remedies as required by statute. The individual defendants also assert that they have qualified immunity against the § 1983 claim and that they cannot be individually liable under either the Rehabilitation Act or the ADA. In addition, the defendants claim that they cannot be liable for punitive damages.


When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), I must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Independent Enterprises, Inc. v. Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Auth., 103 F.3d 1165, 1168 (3d Cir. 1997); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990); D.P. Enterprises, Inc. v. Bucks County Community College, 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984). I must also presume at the pleading stage that general factual allegations "embrace those specific facts necessary to support the claim." Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed., 497 U.S. 871, 889, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990); National Org. for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249, 256, 114 S.Ct. 798, 127 L.Ed.2d 99 (1994).

In order to prevail on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the movant must establish that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that the plaintiff could prove. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3d Cir. 1988).


The first argument the defendants raise in their motions to dismiss is the plaintiffs' failure to exhaust the available administrative remedies. The IDEA mandates exhaustion prior to filing any civil action: "before the filing of a civil action . . . seeking relief that is also available under this subchapter, the procedures under subsections (f) and (g) of this section shall be exhausted to the same extent as would be required had the action been brought under this subchapter." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1); see also Jeremy H. v. Mount Lebanon Sch. Dist., 95 F.3d 272 (3d Cir. 1996). According to the defendants, the plaintiffs here have not even attempted to invoke the administrative remedies available under the IDEA, and therefore these civil actions are barred by § 1415(1). On this basis, the defendants contend that all of the claims against both Blacklick and the individual defendants must be dismissed.

This argument has already been conclusively rejected by the Third Circuit, however. In W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484 (3d Cir. 1995), the Third Circuit looked to the plain language of § 1415 and found that the exhaustion requirement is limited to actions seeking relief that is "also available" under the IDEA.*fn2 See id. at 496. According to the Third Circuit, the IDEA itself makes no mention of damages as an available type of relief, though damages are available in a § 1983 action for violations of the IDEA. See id. Thus, monetary damages are not "relief that is also available" under the IDEA, see 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1), and therefore the IDEA's exhaustion requirement does not apply to actions seeking such relief. See Matula, 67 F.3d at 496. Because the IDEA does not itself make damages available, recourse to the IDEA's administrative remedies is effectively futile. See id.; see also Lester H. v. Gilhool, 916 F.2d 865 (3d Cir. 1990).

The defendants' make various protestations about the propriety of first seeking administrative relief under the IDEA, but the fact remains that the plaintiffs here have sought only compensatory and punitive damages under § 1983 for the defendants' alleged violations of the plaintiffs' rights under the IDEA. Under the holding of Matula, the exhaustion requirement of § 1415(1) does not apply to such an action. The plaintiffs' ...

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