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S.F. v. School District of Upper Dublin

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 18, 2018

S.F., by his parents, K.F. and E.I., Plaintiff,


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         S.F. is a fourth grade student with cerebral palsy who attends Maple Glen Elementary School in the Upper Dublin School District. S.F. uses a power wheelchair for mobility and a computer to communicate. In the fall of 2019, he will begin middle school, which spans grades six through eight. The District's middle school program is located at Sandy Run Middle School. Unlike Maple Glen, the buildings at Sandy Run are not wheelchair accessible and do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, something S.F. contends the District fully acknowledges.

         To ensure that the District's middle school program is accessible to S.F., the District will need to renovate Sandy Run, build a new middle school, or make programmatic changes to the middle school program. Whatever solution the District implements will require an agreed upon and approved plan, funding and, acutely relevant here, time. There is currently no plan in place because the District has not decided how it will make its middle school program accessible to S.F.

         Through his parents K.F. and E.I., S.F. asks the Court to declare the District in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and ADA and compel the District to provide equal access to its middle school program. The District moves to dismiss the Complaint, asserting that S.F. lacks standing to sue and that his claims are not ripe for adjudication. The District contends that since S.F. will not begin the middle school program until the fall of 2019, he has not suffered an “injury in fact” necessary for him to have standing and that any harm to him is neither imminent nor certain, precluding his claims from being ripe. The District's arguments are superficially appealing, but unavailing when applied to the particular facts alleged by S.F. The Court accordingly denies the District's Motion.


         S.F. has lived in the Upper Dublin School District since he was a baby. (Compl. ¶ 17.) He has made meaningful friendships by virtue of attending Maple Glen, the District's only wheelchair accessible elementary school. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 21.) In October 2015, S.F.'s parents bought a new house in Ambler, Pennsylvania (within the Upper Dublin School District) and invested in the necessary renovations to make it accessible for their son. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 17, 20.) S.F. and his parents intend for him to attend Sandy Run, the District's only middle school. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         Sandy Run consists of two buildings-the annex, built in 1965, and main building, constructed two years later[1]-neither of which is wheelchair accessible. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) In January of 2016, S.F.'s mother spoke to the District's then Supervisor of Secondary Education, Dr. Ian Sandberg, about the lack of accessibility at Sandy Run, something S.F.'s mother had initially discussed with Sandberg earlier in that school year. (Id. ¶ 26.) S.F.'s mother asked Sandberg to meet and also set up a tour of the middle school. (Id.) In March 2016 and May 2017, S.F.'s parents met with District officials and toured Sandy Run. (Id. ¶ 27.) After the May 2017 tour, the District's Director of Facilities, Robert Lester, acknowledged and compiled a list of numerous ADA deficiencies throughout the school buildings.

         Lester's list noted, for example, that the entrance to the annex and doorways to the classrooms in the annex are too narrow for a wheelchair and there are no automatic doors or wheelchair accessible classrooms or bathrooms. The breezeway exit vestibule leading to the main building is also not configured for wheelchair access. (Id. ¶ 29.) In the main building, the slope of the breezeway ramp does not comply with the ADA and the entrance leads to a hallway without access to a ramp. Additionally, none of the bathrooms located near the classrooms or cafeteria are wheelchair accessible. While the “cafeteria bus entrance” is the most suitable for wheelchair access, it lacks automatic doors. (Id.) Lester told S.F.'s parents that he had spoken to School Superintendent Deborah Wheeler and District Business Administrator Brenda Brae about what needed to be done to address these barriers. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         After a December 2016 School Board Facilities Committee meeting, S.F.'s parents learned that the School Board was reviewing a contract with an engineering firm to upgrade the school. (Id. ¶ 31.) Sometime thereafter however, they “learned that any plans to renovate [the school] had been abandoned in favor of ultimately building a new middle school building on the site of the existing middle school buildings.” (Id. ¶ 32.) In August 2017, the Sandy Run Project Review Committee issued a report which confirmed that the Sandy Run buildings “do not serve our educational program needs or meet ADA compliance.” (Id. ¶¶ 2, 33.) The Committee recommended that the District develop “a long-term district wide capital plan that integrates the funding required for projects to be implemented, including the cost of a new building” at Sandy Run. (Id. ¶ 34.) S.F.'s parents thereafter contacted the District once again to request that Sandy Run make the necessary accommodations such that S.F. could attend the school in September 2019. (Id. ¶ 37.) In September 2017, Wheeler informed the community that “no decisions” had been made about plans to either renovate or build a new facility. (Id. ¶ 36.) She noted that “the Board is committed to due diligence in taking the time necessary to fully consider all possibilities” and that the District intended to apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for funds which could reimburse the District for school construction costs. (Id.)

         S.F. filed suit shortly thereafter. The District moves to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of standing and Rule 12(b)(6) for lack of ripeness. The District, also pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), contends that there is no private right of action to enforce self-evaluation or transition plan regulations under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. (Mot., ECF No. 7.) In S.F.'s Response to the District's Motion, he clarifies that he “does not assert claims against the district based on its violations of the self-evaluation and transition plan regulations, ” and the Court will thus address only the standing and ripeness challenges. (Pl's Resp. in Opp., at 21, ECF No. 9.)



         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) “may be treated as either a facial or factual challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction.” Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) modified, Simon v. United States, 341 F.3d 193 (3d Cir. 2003). Here, the District makes a facial attack. (Mot., at 7.) When presented with a facial attack, the Court “must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Gould Elecs. Inc., 220 F.3d at 176. The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the action is properly in federal court. Samuel-Basset v. Kia Motors Am., Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (citation omitted). While a complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide ...

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