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D.E. v. Central Dauphin School District

March 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania

(Chief Judge Kane)


Before the Court is Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Doc. No. 27.) Both parties have submitted briefs (Doc. Nos. 28, 29, & 30), and the motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied in part and granted in part.


At the time of filing, D.E. was a minor diagnosed with a severe learning disability enrolled in school at the Central Dauphin School District (the "District"). D.E. claims that while enrolled in the District he was deprived of a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"), as required by the IDEA, and that he was discriminated against based on his various disabilities. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3.)

In 1994, D.E. was enrolled in a special education program outside the District, but he transferred into regular Kindergarten classes in the District in 1995. (Doc. No. 1-1, ¶ 34.) Although D.E.'s school file indicated that he should have been placed in special speech and language therapy courses, he was not. (Compl. ¶ 35.) Seven months into the school year, the District evaluated D.E. for speech and language therapy, but did not test him for any other potential learning disabilities. (Compl. ¶ 36.) D.E. had an extremely difficult time in school; he was forced to repeat Kindergarten at another school within the District. (Compl. ¶¶ 37, 38.)

In 1996, D.E. was re-evaluated, and although more problems were found, the reevaluation failed to address D.E.'s potential Attention Deficit Disorder. (Compl. ¶ 41.) In response to the evaluation, he was placed in a learning support room and was provided speech therapy. (Compl. ¶ 43.)

In 1997, D.E. moved on to first grade, and his individualized education program ("IEP") was modified to recommend that he be placed in a full-time learning support room and that he continue to receive speech therapy. (Compl. ¶¶ 43-46.) To meet these needs, D.E. transferred from his original school. (Compl. ¶ 47.) At this point, D.E.'s behavior became more erratic, and his parents, concerned, obtained both wrap-around services and therapeutic support staff ("TSS") to attend school with him. (Compl. ¶¶ 49, 50.)

D.E.'s parents continued to have concerns and eventually had D.E. evaluated by Pinnacle Health Services. D.E. was diagnosed as having borderline retardation, extreme difficulties with visual and motor skills, and bi-polar disorder. (Compl. ¶¶ 51, 52.) Pinnacle recommended that the District re-evaluate D.E. within the year. (Compl. ¶ 52.) When the time for re-evaluation arose, the District merely re-assessed D.E. based on information in the Pinnacle report; no new evaluation was conducted. (Compl. ¶ 54.) Nonetheless, the District determined that D.E. needed emotional support services. (Compl. ¶ 54.)

D.E. started second grade in 1998 in a full-time support program, which separated him from the children with whom he had previously attended school. (Compl. ¶ 55.) During the school year, D.E.'s second grade teacher expressed concern about whether the emotional support class was appropriate for D.E. since he did not seem to need his TSS and he did not display aggressive behavior. (Compl. ¶ 56.) D.E.'s behavioral problems increased throughout the second grade, and he was eventually diagnosed with depression. (Compl. ¶ 58.) Despite D.E.'s increasing behavioral issues, the District never developed a behavioral support program for him. (Compl. ¶ 59.)

In 1999, when D.E. began third grade, his IEP was again modified to read "seriously emotionally disturbed," a classification usually associated with mental retardation, and he was mistakenly placed in a Life Skills Program. (Compl. ¶¶ 61, 62.) D.E. remained in the Life Skills Program throughout third and fourth grade.

In 2001, D.E.'s IEP was again changed, and it was recommended that D.E. participate in regular education courses for his fifth-grade year, with an emphasis on his specific learning disability. (Compl. ¶¶ 66, 69.)

In 2003, when D.E. began sixth grade, his IEP was further modified, and all behavioral and social issues were removed. (Compl. ¶ 73.) At the end of his sixth-grade year, for the first time, D.E. became eligible for extended school year ("ESY") education. (Compl. ¶ 74.) His eligibility was premised on the fact that he was performing two to three grades below where he should have been performing. (Compl. ¶ 74.)

D.E. continued to receive inadequate or inappropriate educational services throughout his seventh-grade year until 2004 when D.E.'s family moved to another county and removed him from the District. (Compl. ¶ 75-77, 79.)

In June 2004, D.E.'s parents requested a due process hearing to determine whether D.E. had been provided with FAPE during his time in the District. (Compl. ¶ 87.) A due process hearing was held in January and February of 2006 before an impartial hearing officer. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. A.) On March 23, 2006, the hearing officer entered an order awarding D.E. compensatory education in the amount of "one hour for each hour of each school day for each year he attended the Central Dauphin School District [and] fifteen hours for each of six weeks for missed summer programs for the years from 2000 to 2004." (Doc. No. 1, Ex. A, at 24-25.) Neither party appealed the order of the hearing officer.*fn1

On December 18, 2006, Plaintiffs D.E. and his parents brought this action against the District, seeking to recover a monetary equivalent of the nearly 10,000 hours of compensatory education awarded to D.E. by the hearing officer's March 2006 order. Plaintiffs also seek compensatory damages under the ADA, IDEA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. On February 12, 2007, Defendant filed an answer to Plaintiffs' complaint. (Doc. No. 6.) Pending before the Court, fully briefed and ripe for disposition, is Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Doc. No. 27.)


At any time after the pleadings close and before the trial commences, a party may move for a judgment on the pleadings. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The Court should accept the non-movant's allegations as true, and view all reasonable facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214 (3d Cir. 2005). The standard is generally comparable to a motion to dismiss. Id. "Judgment will not be granted unless the movant clearly establishes there are no material issues of fact, and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 220 (quoting Soc'y Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1991).


The District first argues that D.E.'s parents lack standing to bring claims on behalf of D.E. In addition, Defendant claims that the failure to exhaust administrative remedies bars Plaintiffs' claims, whereas Plaintiffs claim they were not aggrieved by the hearing officer's decision and, therefore, had no reason to appeal the decision at the administrative level. Furthermore, the District avers that neither D.E. nor his parents should be allowed to collect compensatory damages under the IDEA, ...

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