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Sheils v. Pennsubry School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2014



PETRESE B. TUCKER, District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendant Pennsbury School District's Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 23) and Plaintiff Denis F. Sheils's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 24). Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted.


Plaintiff Denis F. Sheils ("Mr. Sheils") brings the instant action on behalf of his minor child, M.D.S., a child with a disability. Mr. Sheils and M.D.S.'s mother, Ms. Sheils, are divorced, but share legal custody of M.D.S. and their other children. In March 2007, M.D.S. was evaluated for special education services and was classified as a student with a speech and language impairment prior to commencing kindergarten in the 2007-08 school year. He received an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") offering him related services and a one-on-one aide in a mainstream setting. In February 2012, M.D.S.'s IEP was revised to remove his one-on-one aide and reduce his related services.

Mr. Sheils alleges that on three occasions Ms. Sheils had M.D.S. examined by a developmental pediatrician, Dr. Mary Pipan, without Mr. Sheils's knowledge or consent. In a November 2011 report, Dr. Pipan suggested that M.D.S. was autistic and recommended that M.D.S. undergo an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule assessment. Mr. Sheils requested a second opinion and alleges that this request prompted Ms. Sheils to accuse him of child abuse. Mr. Sheils alleges that at Ms. Sheils's prompting, their youngest son informed the school guidance counselor that Mr. Sheils "slaps them [his children] at his house for misbehaving." Am. Compl. ¶ 22f. Consequently, Defendant Pennsbury School District ("School District") contacted social services to follow up on the child's report. Id . Thereafter, Mr. Sheils requested that the guidance counselor "no longer have any involvement with the children, including M.D.S." Id . at ¶ 22h.

In April 2013, the School District sought to perform various evaluations on M.D.S., including a Functional Behavioral Assessment ("FBA") and an Autism Spectrum Evaluation. Mr. Sheils objected to these assessments and claims that the School District agreed it would not conduct the assessments. However, Mr. Sheils states that the School District proceeded to perform a behavioral assessment despite his objections.

In June 2013, the School District convened an IEP meeting and in July 2013, all members of the IEP team agreed that M.D.S. would participate in co-taught inclusion classes for all academic subjects and spend 94% of the school day in the regular education classroom. M.D.S. began attending middle school in the 2013-2014 school year and is currently receiving services pursuant to the June 2013 IEP.

In December 2013, the School District convened another IEP meeting to discuss revisions to M.D.S.'s IEP. The December 2013 IEP noted that the parents would receive a permission-to-evaluate form to grant the School District approval to conduct an FBA. The December 2013 IEP also recommended that M.D.S. receive mathematics, reading, and writing instruction in a resource room environment, which would reduce the amount of time he spent in regular education to 53% of the school day. Am. Compl. Ex. A, at 9. Ms. Sheils agreed to these changes, but Mr. Sheils objected and filed a request for a due process hearing on December 17, 2013. On December 20, 2013, the School District issued a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement in which M.D.S. was no longer mainstreamed. Mr. Sheils objected on that same day and filed another request for a due process hearing.

A due process hearing was held over several days in March 2014 and the Hearing Officer rendered his decision on April 23, 2014. The Hearing Officer ordered the School District to perform an FBA on M.D.S. in an educational setting. The Hearing Officer required the School District to select three independent evaluators and to send their curriculum vitae to Mr. Sheils so that he could select one evaluator to conduct the FBA. The Hearing Officer also ordered the School District to convene an IEP meeting following the FBA to consider the results of the FBA. Regarding M.D.S.'s program and placement, the Hearing Officer found that the least restrictive environment for M.D.S. to receive instruction is

a split-program where the student receives some instruction in a resource room setting and some in an inclusive regular education classroom.... Instruction in reading and writing shall take place in a resource room setting. Instruction in mathematics shall take place in an inclusive regular education setting. Instruction and therapeutic techniques in speech and language shall take place where the student's IEP team determines this instruction would allow the student to gain meaningful education benefit from the instruction.

Am. Compl. Ex. A, at 15. Mr. Sheils alleges that he was denied due process at the impartial hearing and appeals the decision.

Mr. Sheils's Amended Complaint (Doc. 21) asserts the following eleven causes of action against the School District: violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (Counts I and II); violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III); violation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Counts IV); violation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V); violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Count VI); violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VII); violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VIII); violation of due process and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IX); violation of equal protection of the law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count X); and conspiracy to violate 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count XI). In its Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 23), the School District seeks to dismiss Mr. Sheils's Amended Complaint as to Counts III through XI, as well as his request for compensatory damages in his Prayer for Relief and his demand for a jury trial.


A court may dismiss a plaintiff's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) only when it does not state a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp. , 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010)). All well-pleaded factual allegations contained in a plaintiff's complaint must be accepted as true and must be interpreted in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Argueta v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement , 643 F.3d 60, 74 (3d Cir. 2011). A complaint is plausible on its face when its factual allegations allow a court to draw a reasonable inference that a defendant is liable for the harm alleged. Santiago , 629 F.3d at 128.

To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, courts of the Third Circuit are required to perform a three-step analysis. Id . at 130. First, a court must identify plaintiff's claims and determine the required elements of those claims. Id . Next, a court must identify, and strike, conclusory allegations contained in plaintiff's complaint. Id . Conclusory allegations are those that are no more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, labels and conclusions, a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, or naked assertion[s]." Argueta , 643 F.3d at 72 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (internal quotation marks omitted). Finally, a court must determine if the remaining factual allegations, "plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." Id . at 73.

The focus of a court's inquiry into the sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint is always plausibility of relief. Bistrian v. Levi , 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012). Plausibility does not require a plaintiff's complaint to demonstrate entitlement to relief is likely or probable. Argueta , 643 F.3d at 72.

A plaintiff's complaint must only plead facts sufficient "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." McTernan v. City of York, Pa. , 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). "A complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." McTernan , 564 F.3d at 646 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555-56).


A. Count III (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and Count V (Rehabilitation Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983)

In Count III of his Amended Complaint, Mr. Sheils attempts to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEIA")[1] by way of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. For the following reasons, Mr. Sheils's claims in Count III of his Amended Complaint fail.

Section 1983 generally provides a remedy for a violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right. See Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of L.A. , 493 U.S. 103, 105 (1989). However, Section 1983 does not provide a remedy for the violation of a federal statute where: (1) Congress has foreclosed enforcement of the statute in the statute's express language or (2) "the statute did not create enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of § 1983." S. Camden Citizens in Action v. New Jersey Dep't of Envtl. Prot. , 274 F.3d 771, 779 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Wright v. City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Hous. Auth. , 479 U.S. 418, 423 (1987)). Congress may foreclose a § 1983 remedy "by creating a comprehensive enforcement scheme that is incompatible with individual enforcement under § 1983." Blessing v. Freestone , 520 U.S. 329, 341 (1997).

The Third Circuit has explained that "[t]he IDEA includes a judicial remedy for violations of any right relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of [a] child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child." A.W. v. Jersey City Public Schools , 486 F.3d 791, 803 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)6)). Given its comprehensive remedial scheme, the Third Circuit found that Congress did not intend § 1983 to be available to remedy violations of IDEIA-created rights. Id . ...

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