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P.W. v. Delaware Valley School District

December 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)


Before the court are defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. (Docs. 14, 19). Having been fully briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.


This case arises out of the provision of education for minor plaintiff P.W. pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. That act requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") to qualified disabled children. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415. According to the amended complaint, P.W. is a disabled student diagnosed with mental retardation and autism. (Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) (hereinafter "Complt") at ¶ 18).He is otherwise eligible to receive services through the Defendant Delaware Valley Schoool District (the "District"). (Id. at ¶ 19).

On July 2, 2008, plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Defendant Delaware Valley School District and the Office of Dispute Resolution ("ODR"), an independent agency of the Defendant Department of Education ("the Department" or "PDE"). The complaint alleged that the district had failed to provide P.W. a free appropriate public education in violation of federal law. (Id. at ¶ 20). An ODR hearing officer held a special education due process hearing at the school district on November 20-21, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 21). The officer rendered a decision on December 20, 2008, finding that the school district failed to provide a FAPE. (Id. at ¶ 22). The officer also found that P.W. was entitled to 132 hours of compensatory education because of this failure. (Id. at ¶ 23). This failure to provide FAPE, plaintiffs allege, meant that plaintiff was denied a meaningful educational benefit. (Id. at ¶ 24).

The Pennsylvania Department of Education had provided direct supervision and monitoring of P.W. for the district in the previous school year. (Id. at ¶ 25). The quality of this supervision is in dispute in another lawsuit before the undersigned judge. (Id.). Plaintiffs allege that PDE violated the IDEA by failing to monitor and supervise instruction of P.W. during the 2007-2008 school year. (Id. At ¶ 26).

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this court on March 16, 2009. (See Doc. 1). After being served with the complaint, both the PDE and the District filed motions to dismiss the action. (See Docs. 5, 8). Before the parties completed briefing those motions, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on June 4, 2009. (See Doc. 11). The amended complaint raises five causes of action. Count I alleges that the school district violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by discriminating against P.W. because of his disability. Count II raises a discrimination claim pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the District. Count III alleges that the Department violated the IDEA by failing to supervise, monitor and enforce P.W.'s educational rights. Count IV accuses the Department of discrimination in violation of Section 504. Count V is a demand for attorney's fees pursuant to the IDEA, Section 504 and Section 1983. The defendants filed motions to dismiss that amended complaint and the parties briefed the issues, bringing the case to its present posture.


As this case is brought pursuant to federal statutes, the court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.").

Legal Standard

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When a defendant files such a motion, all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine whether "under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663, 665-66 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Estate of Bailey by Oare v. County of York, 768 F.3d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985), (quoting Helstoski v. Goldstein, 552 F.2d 564, 565 (3d Cir. 1977) (per curium)). The court may also consider "matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).

The federal rules require only that plaintiff provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" a standard which "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,'" but a plaintiff must make "'a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief' that rises 'above the speculative level.'" McTernan v. City of York, 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Such "facial plausibility" exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged." Id.


Both the District and the Department have filed motions to dismiss. The court will address each in turn.

A. The Statutory Background

Initially, the court will provide a brief overview of the various statutes invoked by the plaintiff. As noted above, plaintiffs have brought suit pursuant to the IDEA. The purpose of the IDEA is to "assure that all handicapped children have available to them ... a free appropriate public education." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c). In order to receive federal funding to aid in the education of the disabled, states must provide programs that comply with IDEA requirements. 20 U.S.C. § 1412. Included in the requirements is that the state must have in effect "a policy that assures all children with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(1).

The congressional goal of providing a free appropriate education is implemented through the use of an IEP, which is established for each disabled child. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(4). The IEP is developed by the parents, representatives of the school and where appropriate, the disabled child. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(b). It sets out "the child's present educational performance, establishes annual and short-term objectives for improvements in that performance, and describes the specially designed instruction and services that will enable the child to meet those objectives." Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988). A ...

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