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Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia v. Pocono Mountain School Dist.

March 17, 2010

THE PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CENTER OF PHILADELPHIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
POCONO MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant Pocono Mountain School District's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8.) For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be denied. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(A).

BACKGROUND

The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows: Plaintiff The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia represented Michael Medici ("Medici") in an administrative proceeding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEIA").*fn1 (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff represented Medici in that proceeding against Defendant Pocono Mountain School District ("PMSD"). (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff did not charge Medici for its services and instead Medici signed a retainer agreement assigning the amount of any attorneys' fees awarded to Medici to Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 4.)

Medici requested his son's educational records from PMSD. (Compl. ¶ 10.) PMSD failed and refused to produce all records, and Medici consequently requested a due process hearing. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Medici sought representation from Plaintiff on his subsequent appeal from the hearing officer's determination. (Compl. ¶ 11.) After a series of procedural appeals, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Special Education Due Process Appeals Review Panel ("Review Panel") issued a final order on August 30, 2009, mandating that PMSD provide Medici with "a copy of all correspondence (e-mail, handwritten, typed) maintained by PMST and shared between/among teachers and staff pertaining to the Student or the Parent." (Compl. ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on November 25, 2009. (Doc. 1.) PMSD filed the present motion to dismiss on February 2, 2010. (Doc. 8.) This motion has been fully briefed by both parties and is now ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

I. Statutory Framework

Section 1415 (codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1415) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEIA") requires state and local educational agencies receiving federal assistance to establish and maintain procedures in compliance with the section to ensure that children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a free appropriate public education. Under the section's statutory scheme, a parent may request an impartial due process hearing to enforce the rights and protections afforded by the statute. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1415(b)(6), (f). Included among these is the right to inspect the education records of their children that relate to the identification, evaluation, educational placement or provision of a free appropriate public education to their children. 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.501(a), 300.613. The IDEIA also permits the recovery of attorneys' fees by certain prevailing parties. The statute states in relevant part, ...


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