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J.S., A Minor, and R.P., Individually and As Parent and Natural Guardian of J.S v. Lakeland School District

February 14, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)


Before the court is defendant's motion to dismiss the instant complaint. Having been fully briefed, the matter is ripe for disposition.


This case arises from disputes about the means for providing Plaintiff J.S., a minor student with a disability, a Free and Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE").

J.S. is a special education student who resides in Defendant Lakeland School District. (Complaint (Doc. 1) (hereinafter "Complt.") at ¶ 14). This year, J.S. is a fourth-grade student. (Id. at ¶ 15). During the 2008 and 2009-10 school years, J.S. attended school at the Mid-Valley partial hospitalization program. (Id. at ¶ 16). That program is administered by the Northeastern (Pa.) Intermediate Unit and Northwest Human Services. (Id.). J.S.'s parent, Plaintiff R.P. eventually requested a special education due process hearing. (Id. at ¶ 17). R.P. alleged that J.S. had been denied a FAPE in the least restrictive setting. (Id.). This special education due process administrative hearing took place on January 5, March 11-12 and April 15, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 18). The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether the district denied J.S. special education services. (Id. at 19).

The hearing officer issued a decision on May 10, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 19). The hearing officer ordered the school district to "'convene student's I[ndividualized] E[ducation] P[lan] within 15 days . . . to consider and assess, in consultation with Student's treatment team," whether student could participate in certain programs. (Id. at ¶ 20). The plaintiffs allege that the school district failed to carry out this order. (Id. at ¶ 21).

Plaintiffs also point to several alleged "'errors'" in the hearing officer's decision. First, plaintiff contends that "the hearing officer erroneously concluded that J.S. 'does not suggest that the partial hospitalization program failed to address Student's behavioral and emotional needs,'" when J.S. had made such claims during the hearing and in his written closing statement. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-24). Second, plaintiffs contend that the hearing officer erred in concluding that the evidence in the case established that the J.S.'s "'behavioral and emotional needs were and are throughly and systematically addressed in the therapeutic component of the partial hospitalization program,'" and that the school district had fulfilled its obligations to support J.S. in this program. (Id. at ¶ 25). Third, plaintiffs insist that the hearing officer's decision did not address their concern that the J.S.'s deficits in adaptive and social skills had not been addressed. (Id. at ¶ 26). Fourth, plaintiffs alleged that the hearing officer erred in finding that the district had provided adequate behavioral and emotional support, as well as support for social skills and adaptive skills. (Id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiffs point to several failings by the hearing officer to consider evidence in the record that would support their claims on this matter. (Id.). Fifth, plaintiffs contend that the hearing officer failed to provide a remedy for violations of the requirement that plaintiff be subjected to the least restrictive environment ("LRE"). They also point to several pieces of evidence which allegedly support these claims. (Id.).

Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint in this court on August 3, 2010. The complaint contains seven counts. Count I alleges that defendant was "delibertaely indifferent" in failing to provide J.S. with a FAPE in violation of the Rehabilitation Act ("RA") , 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Count II complains that defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act by segregating J.S. based on his disability. Count III alleges that defendant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by failing to provide J.S. with necessary services because of his disability. Count IV alleges that defendant violated J.S.'s rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, by failing to implement the order of a hearing officer. Plaintiffs also allege that defendant violated J.S.'s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. Count V appeals the hearing officer's decision that J.S. was not entitled to compensatory education under the Rehabilitation Act. Count VI appeals the hearing officer's decision that J.S. was not entitled to compensatory education because his right to the least restrictive environment had not been violated. Count VII seeks attorney's fees under the IDEA and Rehabilitation Act.

After plaintiff served the complaint, defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss. The parties briefed the issues, bringing the case to its present posture. Jurisdiction Plaintiff brings its claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other federal statutes. The court therefore 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

Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When a defendant files a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), 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 curiam)). 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)).


Defendant raises several grounds for granting their motion to dismiss. The court will address those grounds in turn.

As a preliminary matter, the court notes that "[i]n 1975 Congress provided that it would make funds available for state special education programs on the condition that states implement policies assuring a 'free appropriate public education' for all their disabled children." Susan N. v. Wilson Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 751, 755-56 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting 20 U.S.C. ¶ 1412(1)). The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) thus mandates an education for disabled children that "'consists of educational instruction specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported by such services as are necessary to permit the child 'to benefit' from the instruction." Id. at 756 (quoting W.B. v. Matual, 67 F.3d 484, 491 (3d Cir. 1995)). The IDEA implements this mandate through the creation of an "Individual Education Program ("IEP"), for each child classified as disabled." Id. These IEPs contain "a specific statement of a student's present abilities, goals of improvement, services designed to meet those goals, and a timetable for reaching the goals via the services." Id. While special services are available to such students, "[t]o the extent possible, however, a school must 'mainstream' disabled students--that is, instruct them in a regular, not special, education setting." Id. (quoting 20 U.S.C. ¶ 1412(5)).

Parents have a variety of procedural rights under the IDEA: they "may examine all relevant records concerning evaluation and placement of their children"; "must receive prior written notice when a school proposes or refuses to alter a placement; "may contest in an impartial due process hearing decisions regarding the evaluation of their child or the appropriateness of the child's program"; "may appeal the decision from such a hearing to the state education agency"; and "may obtain judicial review of the administrative decision." Id. The case involves, in part, such a review of an administrative decision, as well as other statutory and constitutional claims related to the provision of education for J.S., a disabled student.

A. Claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA in Counts I, II and III

Defendant argues that plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA should be dismissed. Plaintiffs have alleged that J.S. was disabled and denied services, but they have not alleged that these denials were motivated by J.S.'s disability.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected discrimination under any program or activity" funded by the federal government. 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The ADA also prohibits discrimination because of disability. The Act provides that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Like the RA, the ADA "[has] been interpreted to prevent students with disabilities from being denied a free appropriate public education by a school district." J.L. v. Ambridge Area Sch. Dist., 622 F. Supp. 2d 257, (W.D. Pa. 2008) (citing Ridgewood, 172 F.3d at 253). The ADA "extends the nondiscrimination rule ...

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