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

April 5, 2011

J.C., A MINOR, AND R.P., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF J.C., PLAINTIFFS
v.
LAKELAND SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Lakeland School District's motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs' complaint. The motion has been briefed and is ripe for disposition.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff J.C. ("J.C.") is a minor who lives with his mother, Plaintiff R.P. in Jermyn, Pennsylvania.*fn1 (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 2 (Doc. 1)). J.C. is a special education student with an emotional disturbance disability. (Id. ¶ 14). On October 21, 2010, J.C. filed a special education due process hearing complaint alleging that Defendant Lakeland School District (the "School District" or "District") denied J.C. a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") in the least restrictive environment within the meaning of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq ("IDEA"). (Id. ¶ 15).

A special education due process hearing was held on May 30, 2010. (Id. ¶ 16). The hearing officer made the following findings of fact and rulings:

The Student was denied a FAPE from October 22, 2007 through September 16, 2009 less August 20, 2008 through October 21, 2008. . . . The Student is awarded compensatory education not to exceed 423 days. . . . The IEP team is directed to convene [. . .] to determine a plan of remediation and the consequent appropriate application of the award of compensatory education [. . . .] The Students [sic] rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act were not violated. . . . (Id. ¶ 16). Plaintiffs allege that the District failed to provide a FAPE which resulted in discrimination based upon disability. (Id. ¶ 17). Plaintiffs also allege that the District segregated J.C. based upon his disability which resulted in discrimination based upon disability. (Id. ¶ 18). According to the plaintiffs, the District has not implemented the hearing officer's decision. (Id. ¶ 39, 40). The Plaintiffs allege that the District treated J.C. dissimilar from other students. (Id. ¶ 41).

Plaintiffs' complaint was filed on August 24, 2010. (Doc. 1). The complaint raises six claims. Count I alleges that the District discriminated against J.C. by failing to provide a FAPE under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794. Count II alleges that the District discriminated against J.C. by not educating J.C. in the least restrictive environment under the Rehabilitation Act. Count III alleges discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count IV alleges failure to implement the hearing officer's decision under § 1983, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Rehabilitation Act and the IDEA. Count V appeals the hearing officer's decision regarding the Rehabilitation Act. Count VI demands attorney's fees under the IDEA, Rehabilitation Act, ADA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985.*fn2

The District filed its motion to dismiss on November 22, 2010, seeking dismissal of each of the Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. 5). The parties filed respective briefs in support and opposition to the District's motion. Because the District did not file a reply brief-- and the time for its filing has elapsed-- the motion is ripe for disposition.

JURISDICTION

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this case brought under the Rehabilitation Act, IDEA, ADA, § 1983, and the Fourteenth Amendment. See 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."); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief).

LEGAL STANDARD

Before the court is the District's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint is tested. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The plaintiff must describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaints. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35.

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [cannot be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id.

The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). However, "we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). The Supreme Court has counseled that a court examining a motion to dismiss should, "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. Next, the court should make a context-specific inquiry into the "factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

To decide a motion to dismiss, a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

DISCUSSION

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.

This 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 to J.C. The court will address the School District's motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs' complaint, taking each count in order.

1. Plaintiffs' Claims Under the Rehabiliation Act

Counts I and II of the Plaintiffs' complaint raise claims under the Rehabilitation Act and we will address them jointly, as the parties addressed them jointly in their briefs. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service. 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).

"[A] plaintiff can prove an [Rehabilitation Act] violation where (1) he is 'disabled' as defined by the Act; (2) he is 'otherwise qualified' to participate in school activities; (3) the school or the board of education receives federal financial assistance; and (4) he was excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subject to discrimination at, the school." Andrew M. v. Delaware Cnty Office of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, 490 F.3d 337, 350 (3d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation and citation omitted). As the District admits, the Plaintiffs have alleged that J.C. is a qualified individual with a disability. (See Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 5 (Doc. 8); Compl. ¶ 14, 20). The District also does not dispute that it receives federal funds. (Compl. ¶ 21). Accordingly, the only contested element of the prima facie case of a Rehabilitation Act violation is whether J.C. was denied the benefits of the school or subjected to discrimination at the school. Specifically, the District argues that a plaintiff must allege that he was denied the benefits of his school because of his disability, citing Andrew M., 490 F.3d at 349. The Plaintiffs argue that the "because of" requirement is a distinct hurdle only to those children under three who fall under Part C of the IDEA, not those between three and twenty-one years of age who fall under Part B. Compare 20 U.S.C. § 1431, et seq. with § 1412, et seq. For plaintiffs under Part B, an IDEA violation is almost always a violation of the ...


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