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Alex Shadie v. Gloria Forte and Hazleton Area School District

February 15, 2011

ALEX SHADIE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GLORIA FORTE AND HAZLETON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant Hazleton Area School District's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Doc. 16.) For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The facts alleged in the Complaint are as follows. Plaintiff is an adult individual residing in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff has been diagnosed as having autism, a neurological condition that ranges in severity and impacts development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Plaintiff's condition limits his ability to function, and he has been diagnosed as being moderately mentally retarded. During the relevant time frame, Plaintiff was enrolled in a 12th grade Life Skills class at Hazleton Area High School. At that time, Defendant Gloria Forte was employed by Defendant Hazleton Area School District as a class aide in that class. During the course of performing her duties as a class aide, Defendant Forte repeatedly employed the use of "aversive" techniques, which are techniques designed to establish a negative association with a specific behavior. These techniques are specifically excluded from Title 22 of the Pennsylvania State Codes List of Positive Approaches to Behavior Management, § 14.133(e) -- the regulations for special education devised by the State Department of Education. The techniques used by Defendant Forte on the Plaintiff included: grabbing the Plaintiff by the arm; shaking the Plaintiff; stating to the Plaintiff, "Alex wake up. What's wrong with you?"; striking the Plaintiff in the forehead with the palm of her hand; shoving the Plaintiff into his chair; and knocking the Plaintiff's feet from a chair. These techniques were employed on at least three occasions during the 2007-2008 school year in response to Plaintiff becoming non-responsive in class: January 2, 2008, March 4, 2008, and March 7, 2008, and were reported to Carl Manfredi, the head of special education for the Hazleton Area School District. No action was taken by Mr. Manfredi, and Defendant Forte remained in her position as an aide in the 12th grade life skills classroom. As a result of these actions, Plaintiff suffered regression in his development, physical injuries, including bruising and contusions, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Plaintiff filed his original Complaint in state court. The suit was removed to federal court by Defendants on October 13, 2010. Defendant Hazleton Area School District moved to have the Complaint dismissed on October 19, 2010. (Doc. 2.) Plaintiff then amended his Complaint, which was filed on December 14, 2010. (Doc. 15.) In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant Hazleton Area School District and Defendant Forte for violating his substantive Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the 14th Amendment (Count I); violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") (Count II); violating § 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act (Count VII); Breach of Fiduciary Duty (Count V); and Negligence (Count VI). Plaintiff also brought claims against Defendant Forte for Assault and Battery (Count III) and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count IV).

Defendant Hazleton Area School District filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on December 28, 2010. (Doc. 16.) Specifically, Defendant seeks to have the entire Complaint dismissed for Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies under the IDEA. In the alternative, Defendant seeks to have Plaintiff's 14th Amendment claims, the breach of fiduciary duty and negligence claims, and any claims for punitive damages against the Hazleton Area School District dismissed for failing to state a claim. The Motion has been briefed by both sides 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 if 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).

Further, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss seek dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. In most circumstances, motions for dismissal based on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies are reviewed under Rule 12(b)(6), rather than under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), because the exhaustion requirement normally does not implicate a court's jurisdiction. Anjelino v. New York Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 87-88 (3d Cir.1999); see also D'Amico v. CBS Corp., 297 F.3d 287, 290 (3d Cir.2002). In contrast, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in W.B. v. Matula determined that exhaustion is jurisdictional in the IDEA context. 67 F.3d 484, 493 (1995). Accordingly, the appropriate device by which to consider this jurisdictional challenge is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) (providing for dismissal of complaint where court lacks subject matter jurisdiction). See Falzett v. Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist., 150 F.Supp.2d 699, 701 & n. 2 (M.D.Pa.2001) (Caputo, J.). Therefore, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be construed as pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) to the extent that it challenges Plantiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Unlike dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6), dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is not a judgment on the merits of the plaintiff's case, but only a determination that the court lacks the authority to hear the case. Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir.1977).

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's Failure to Exhaust his Administrative Remedies Plaintiff's Complaint will not be dismissed for failing to exhaust his administrative remedies because Plaintiff is suing for damages, a remedy ...


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