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Jackson v. Pocono Mountain School District

November 23, 2010

KINCHASA JACKSON, ON HER OWN BEHALF OF HER CHILDREN Y.J. AND K.J., ET. AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
POCONO MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 5) Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On June 2, 2010, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint against Defendants. (Doc. 1.) In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege the following. Defendant Pocono Mountain School District ("School District") granted a charter to the Plaintiff Pocono Mountain Charter School ("Charter School") on February 19, 2003. (Doc. 1. ¶ 11.) The Charter School is publicly-funded, organized and existing under Pennsylvania Charter School Law. (Id. ¶ 5.) The school currently has three-hundred and twenty-five students (325), more than ninety percent (90%) of which are African-American, Hispanic, or a member of another minority group. (Id. ¶ 17.) A majority of the Board of Directors of the Charter School are African-American (Id. ¶ 18), and several members of the Board of Trustees and the CEO of the Charter School belong to Shawnee Tabernacle Church. (Id. ¶ 19.) The Charter School provides its students with an individualized curriculum, a high staff to student ratio, and small class sizes. (Id. ¶ 21.)

While the Charter school has performed well and its students have made significant economic progress, the School District is in contrast one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state of Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ ¶ 22-24.)

When the Charter School's charter was renewed in 2006, sixty-five (65) conditions were attached to the charter, which the Charter School had to agree to in order to obtain the renewal. (Id. ¶ 31.) The charter was renewed in 2006 but now the School District seeks to revoke it. (Id.) In contrast, the Evergreen Charter School ("Evergreen"), the student population of which is predominately Caucasian, was only required to agree to thirty (30) conditions when its charter was up for renewal. (Id. ¶ ¶ 33-34.)

In approving the original charter and its renewal, the School District has treated the Charter School differently then it treated Evergreen, primarily by making the Charter School comply with more onerous conditions than Evergreen, based on the School District's racial and religious animus to the Charter School. (Id. ¶ 36.) These conditions include: 1) dictating the composition of the Board and what church the Board members can attend; 2) imposing overly detailed requirements regarding Adequate Yearly Progress, truancy practices, and the Assessment Plans; 3) requiring the Charter School to prepare a Professional Development Plan for its faculty; and 5) requiring documentation of staff shared by the Charter School and Shawnee Tabernacle. (Id.) The School District has also treated the Charter School differently from Evergreen by, among other things, donating equipment to Evergreen and not to the Charter School, submitting frequent requests for federal monitoring of the Charter School, and providing technical assistance on the public bidding process to Evergreen and not to the Charter School. (Id. ¶ 37.)

On May 21, 2008, the School District instituted charter revocation proceedings against the Charter School for alleged violations of the Pennsylvania Charter School Law. (Id. ¶ 38.) This proceeding was initiated in bad faith, since some of the allegations were baseless, some were made regarding matters that were known to the School District at the time of the 2006 renewal of the Charter School's charter and not objected to, and some were based on issues that only happened after the revocation proceeding was initiated. (Id.)

The impetus for the School District's particularly harsh treatment of the Charter School is a prior bad experience the School District had with another minority-run charter school, the Pocono School for Excellence ("Excellence"). Excellence was closed in 2003-4 do to financial irregularities and poor academic performance. However, the Charter School has no connection or relationship with that school. (Id. ¶ ¶ 39-42.)

The School District has also made repeated complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Education regarding the Charter School's alleged violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and made this a ground for having the Charter School's charter revoked, despite the fact that an investigation was carried out by the state and the Charter School was found to be in compliance with all requirements. (Id. ¶ ¶ 49-52.) The Department of Education also received an anonymous letter on February 22, 2010 claiming that Charter School administrators had coached students in changing their answers on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test. After receiving the results of an internal investigation into this charge, the Department of Education found the allegation to be unfounded. (Id. ¶ 54.) As a result of the well-publicized allegations against the Charter School, enrollment has dropped dramatically, leading to a significant financial loss for the school. (Id. ¶ 55.)

In their Complaint, Plaintiffs claim violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I); violation of their First Amendment rights (Count II); violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses (Count III-IV); violations of Article I, § § 3 and 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Counts V-VI); and Defamation (Count VII). Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss on August 13, 2010. (Doc. 5.) The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

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. 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

A. First Amendment, Due Process, and Equal Protection Claims ...


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