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Janet Batchelor, Individually and On Behalf of Her Son, Ryan v. Rose Tree Media School District

March 28, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, II J.


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Janet Batchelor, individually and on behalf of her son, Ryan Batchelor (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), brings the within action against the Rose Tree Media School District ("District"), and six individual school district employees (collectively, "Defendants").*fn1 Plaintiff Ryan Batchelor is an individual with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq., ("IDEA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) ("Section 504"), and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"). Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint on March 5, 2012, in which they asserted three federal claims: Retaliation/Failure to Provide a Free Appropriate Public Education

("FAPE") in Violation of the IDEA (Count II), Retaliation in Violation of Section 504 (Count III), and Retaliation in Violation of the ADA (Count IV). Additionally, Plaintiffs bring state law claims of Breach of a Settlement Agreement (Count I), Common Law Civil Conspiracy (Count V), and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress ("NIED") (Count VI). Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint and this Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski for a Report and Recommendation.*fn2 *fn3 Judge Sitarski issued a report recommending that this Court grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss because Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing this action. Plaintiffs have filed four objections to Judge Sitarski's Report and Recommendation, which are now ripe for consideration by this Court.*fn4

For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Objections shall be overruled.

II. Background

In December 2008, Ryan Batchelor (hereinafter, "Ryan") was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"), a disability covered under the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA. *fn5 (Pls.' Second Am. Compl. ¶ 20). The District developed a written 504 Plan for Ryan in January of 2009 -- his freshman year at Penncrest High School in the Rose Tree Media School District. (Id. ¶ 21). The Plan provided Ryan support services, counseling, and tutoring for his freshman year. (Id. ¶22). However, Plaintiffs allege that throughout Ryan's sophomore year, his grades fell because he received inadequate support services. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24).

On March 15, 2010, Janet Batchelor met with Vice Principal Harrison to discuss Ryan's struggles. (Id. ¶ 28). Plaintiffs allege that at this meeting, Mr. Harrison interrupted Ms. Batchelor, stated she and Ryan were lying, asked very personal questions, and challenged Ms. Batchelor's parenting abilities. (Id. ¶ 9). In response, Ms. Batchelor and Ryan met with an attorney on March 16, 2010. (Id. ¶ 31). After the meeting, Ms. Batchelor dropped Ryan at school with a signed late notice. That afternoon, Dr. Linda Bluebello, the District's Director of Pupil Services, contacted Ms. Batchelor to discuss support services and request that she not involve an attorney. Ms. Batchelor informed Dr. Bluebello of Mr. Harrison's prior conduct. In alleged retaliation, on March 18, 2010, Mr. Harrison gave Ryan detention for being late three days earlier. (Id. ¶¶ 31-35).

On April 16, 2010, Ms. Batchelor and her attorney met with District representatives to discuss the alleged failure to implement Ryan's 504 Plan. (Id. ¶ 36). As a result of this meeting, Ryan was assigned to the resource room of Ms. Karen Walker (Special Education teacher), apportioned further tutoring, and provided a schedule to undergo further evaluation of his disability. (Id. ¶ 37). An Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") was developed on May 25, 2010, which Plaintiffs allege would have addressed Ryan's disabilities, had it been adhered to. Additionally, in response to Ms. Batchelor's continued implementation complaints, the District entered into a Settlement Agreement, effective September 24, 2010, which provided Ryan with compensatory education services. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40).

Plaintiffs allege Defendants did not implement the Settlement Agreement during Ryan's junior year but rather, engaged in retaliatory acts. (Id. ¶¶ 42-50). For instance, the prior Settlement Agreement provided that Ryan would work with math teacher Mr. Gray. However, after two sessions, the District changed his teacher to Mr. Enterline without notification. Plaintiffs allege Mr. Enterline was sarcastic, impatient, and mean, causing Ryan to "feel badly about himself." (Id. ¶ 43). Plaintiffs further allege that since September 2010, Ryan had not received his IEP support services. However, Ryan had not told his mother for fear of retaliation. In December of 2010, Ryan wrote an essay that discussed bullying by a teacher later identified as Mr. Doyle. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47). In alleged retaliation, Ryan was assigned to Mr. Doyle's class a month later where, on the first day, Mr. Doyle disciplined Ryan for not having books. (Id. ¶¶ 48, 57). As a result, Ryan never went back to Ms. Walker's resource room, received few support services, and experienced failing grades.

Ms. Batchelor contacted Dr. Bluebello in January of 2011 to request private tutoring and an accounting of the compensatory education fund for Ryan's allegedly ineffective IEP. (Id. ¶¶ 52-54). At an IEP meeting on January 25, 2011, Ms. Batchelor complained Ryan was not receiving his IEP support services. (Id. ¶ 55). Defendants allegedly blamed Ryan and Ms. Batchelor for his issues at this meeting. (Id.) From January through April of 2011, Dr. Bluebello refused to reimburse Ms. Batchelor for private tutoring. In response, Ms. Batchelor filed a breach of contract action, which resulted in the District reimbursing her for a portion of the tutoring costs.

Nevertheless, the District continued to not reimburse Ms. Batchelor for the remainder of the tutoring services. Plaintiffs allege that collectively, the District's actions have resulted in a severe detriment to Ryan's educational achievement and health. Plaintiffs further claim the alleged actions of retaliation and bullying forced Ryan to enroll in Twenty First Century Cyber Charter School for his senior year. (Id. ¶ 66). Although Ryan remains a District resident, he alleges that he is denied participation in Penncrest's choir and dance teams, and that this denial constitutes retaliation by the Defendants. (Id. ¶ 67).

III. Standard of Review

a. De Novo Standard

A district court judge may designate dispositive motions for a magistrate's consideration pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § (b)(1)(B) (2012). "A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the [magistrate's] findings or recommendations . . . ." Id. § (b)(1)(C). A court may, "in the exercise of sound judicial discretion . . . ," rely on the findings of a magistrate when making a de novo determination. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980). Under 28 U.S.C. § (b)(1)(C), a court is not required to review de novo portions of a magistrate's recommendation to which a party has not objected. See Nara v. Frank, 488 F.3d 187, 194 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.3d 874, 878-89 (3d Cir. 1987)); cf. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). However, the Third Circuit has cautioned that sound practice entails some level of review to dispositive issues, ...

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