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W.K. v. Pittston Area School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 10, 2017

W.K. and M.G., Plaintiffs
v.
PITTSTON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge

         Pending before the court is the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' amended complaint in part. (Doc. 18). Upon review, the defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         By way of relevant background, the plaintiffs filed the instant action on February 26, 2016. (Doc. 1). On July 20, 2016, the court issued an order granting the plaintiffs' request for leave to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 16). The plaintiffs' amended complaint was filed the same day. (Doc. 17). On July 26, 2016, the defendant filed the pending motion to dismiss, (Doc. 18), along with a brief in support thereof, (Doc. 19). The plaintiffs filed an opposing brief on July 27, 2016. (Doc. 20). On August 2, 2016, the defendant filed a reply brief. (Doc. 21).

         The defendant's motion to dismiss is brought, in part, pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Specifically, the defendant argues that the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust administrative remedies with respect to certain requested relief. “A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the jurisdiction of the court to address the merits of the plaintiff's complaint.” Vieth v. Pennsylvania, 188 F.Supp.2d 532, 537 (M.D. Pa. 2002). The failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a jurisdictional issue and the appropriate device to raise this issue is a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). See Batchelor v. Rose Tree Media Sch. Dist., 759 F.3d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 2014). A Rule 12(b)(1) dismissal is not a judgment on the merits, but only a determination that the court lacks the authority to hear the case. Swope v. Central York Sch. Dist., 796 F.Supp.2d 592, 599 (M.D. Pa. 2011). Because the district court is a court of limited jurisdiction, the burden of establishing jurisdiction always rests upon the party asserting it. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life. Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).

         An attack on the court's jurisdiction may be either “facial” or “factual” and the “distinction determines how the pleading must be reviewed.” Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357 (3d Cir. 2014). A facial attack tests the sufficiency of the pleadings, while a factual attack challenges whether a plaintiff's claims fail to comport factually with jurisdictional prerequisites. Id. at 358; see also S.D. v. Haddon Heights Bd. of Educ., 833 F.3d 389, 394 n. 5 (3d Cir. 2016). If the defendant brings a factual attack, the district court may look outside the pleadings to ascertain facts needed to determine whether jurisdiction exists. Id.

         Reviewing a facial attack, a district court must accept the allegations stated in a plaintiff's complaint and review “only whether the allegations on the face of the complaint, taken as true, allege facts sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the district court.” Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Bd., 458 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus, a facial attack calls for a district court to apply the same standard of review it would use in considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), i.e., construing the alleged facts in favor of the nonmoving party. This is in marked contrast to the standard of review applicable to a factual attack, in which a court may weigh and ‘consider evidence outside the pleadings.'” Aichele, 757 F.3d at 358 (quoting Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000)) (internal citation omitted). An attack on jurisdiction based on a failure to exhaust remedies that is filed prior to answering the complaint is usually, “by definition, a facial attack” on the pleadings unless the defendant has offered factual averments in support of its motion. Haddon Heights, 833 F.3d at 394 n. 5.

         The defendant's motion to dismiss is also brought, in part, pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating “no set of facts” language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. This requirement “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider “undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, “documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered.” Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

         Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). “Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility.” Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

         In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs allege that W.K., a student who resides within the bounds of the Pittston Area School District, has disabilities which impact his life and render him eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §1401, et seq. On May 1, 2014, W.K.'s mother, M.G., filed a special education due process hearing complaint against the School District alleging that the School District violated federal statutes by failing to adequately develop educational evaluations and special education programs for W.K.'s specific needs. On June 20, 2014, M.G. entered into a special education settlement agreement with the School District to resolve the complaint. This settlement resulted from a resolution session held under 20 U.S.C. §1415(f)(1)(b).

         The plaintiffs allege that the settlement agreement required the School District to establish a fund for compensatory education services in the amount of $20, 000 to be used for, inter alia, “special education instruction, remedial and enrichment services provided by certified teachers or in licensed facilities or programs as indicated by the Student's needs.” On August 31, 2015, M.G. requested that tuition be paid for W.K. to attend Holy Cross, a private school. On September 1, 2015, the School District rejected M.G.'s request to access W.K.'s compensatory education fund because the School District believed that “private school tuition for a non-special education placement is not a reimbursable item.” Throughout the Fall of 2015, it was repeatedly requested that the School District reconsider its position, which the School District refused to do.

         On December 9, 2015, the School District's counsel was provided with a list of approximately thirteen accommodations that W.K. was receiving at Holy Cross based upon his disability. Despite receiving this additional information, the School District continued to reject M.G.'s request for tuition payments out of the compensatory education fund/special education settlement agreement. The School District provided notice or information regarding the subsequent refusal to pay tuition to Holy Cross from the compensatory education fund/special education settlement.

         Based upon the above allegations, the plaintiffs have brought the instant action which contains five counts: Count I - Discrimination - Failure to Provide Services through Settlement Agreement (Discrimination Based on Deliberate Indifference under Section 504); Count II - Breach of Special Education Settlement Agreement (IDEA); Count III - Discrimination - ADA; Count IV -Procedural Due Process Violation - Fourteenth Amendment - Section 1983; and Count V - Demand for Attorney's Fees (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(B); RA, 29 U.S.C. §794(a); ADA, 42 U.S.C. §12133; 42 U.S.C. §1988). By way of the pending motion, the defendant has moved to dismiss Counts I, III, and IV of the amended complaint.

         The defendant initially argues in its motion to dismiss that the plaintiffs' discrimination claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, (“Section 504”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), must be dismissed because the plaintiff is seeking to enforce a ...


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