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Price v. Commonwealth Charter Academy - Cyber

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 17, 2018

MARY E. PRICE Plaintiff, pro se
v.
COMMONWEALTH CHARTER ACADEMY- CYBER Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, U.S.D.C. J.

         INTRODUCTION

         On April 25, 2017, Plaintiff Mary E. Price (“Plaintiff”), the parent of minor child T.R., and the aunt and legal guardian of minor child J.H., commenced this action, in her own right and on behalf of T.R. and J.H., against Defendants Commonwealth Charter Academy - Cyber (“Defendant CCA” or “CCA”), Bureau of Special Education (“Defendant BSE”), and Ruth Furman (“Defendant Furman”) (collectively, “Defendants”). [ECF 1]. In her initial complaint (the “Initial Complaint”), Plaintiff asserted claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”), [1] 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504” or “§ 504”), 29 U.S.C. § 794; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983” or “§ 1983”), all premised on Defendants' alleged failure to comply with, implement, and/or enforce the administrative due process decisions that addressed the special education services ordered for J.H. and T.R. On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (“the Amended Complaint”), in which she presented the same claims against Defendants that had been asserted in the Initial Complaint, but only on her own behalf. [ECF 17].

         Pending before this Court is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant CCA pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), which seeks the dismissal of the claims asserted against it in the Amended Complaint. [ECF 21].[2] Defendant CCA also seeks an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(III). Plaintiff has opposed Defendant CCA's motion to dismiss. [ECF 26]. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant CCA's motion to dismiss is granted, and its request for an award of attorneys' fees is denied.

         RELEVANT PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This Court will recite only those portions of the procedural and factual histories necessary to address the instant motion. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, initiated this civil action on behalf of herself, minor J.H., and minor T.R., by filing an application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) and the Initial Complaint. [ECF 1]. By Order dated May 1, 2017, the IFP application was granted and the Clerk of Court was directed to docket the Initial Complaint. [ECF 2]. Defendants were served with the summons and a copy of the complaint by the United States Marshal Service. [ECF 13]. Thereafter, Plaintiff was granted permission to amend the Initial Complaint. [ECF 15].

         On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed the operative Amended Complaint, in which she asserts the same claims against Defendants that had been presented in the Initial Complaint, but only on her own behalf, and not on behalf of J.H. and T.R. [ECF 17]. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant CCA failed to comply with, implement, and/or enforce the administrative due process decisions (the “Decisions”) issued on September 17, 2016, by an independent Pennsylvania special education hearing officer who had held evidentiary hearings and addressed the sufficiency of J.H.'s and T.R.'s education under the IDEA. (See Am. Compl. at Introduction). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant CCA's failure to comply with and implement the Decisions constituted “discrimination” under Title II of the ADA and Section 504, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at ¶ 92).

         Defendant CCA filed the underlying motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), in which it seeks dismissal of all of the claims asserted against it in the Amended Complaint on various grounds, including, inter alia, lack of standing and failure to state a claim. When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), this Court must accept, as true, all relevant and pertinent factual allegations in the Amended Complaint and construe those facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). The salient allegations, as found in the Amended Complaint and attached exhibits, [3] are summarized as follows:

Minors J. H. and T.R. are students enrolled at CCA, a cyber-charter school that serves students in Pennsylvania. (See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 5, 8, 11). Plaintiff is J.H.'s aunt and legal guardian, and T.R.'s mother. (Id. at Introduction). J.H. and T.R. have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a number of other learning disorders, and were deemed eligible for special education services under the IDEA for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. (See Id. at ¶¶ 6-11).
In 2016, Plaintiff filed administrative due process complaints against Defendants on behalf of J.H. and T.R. On September 17, 2016, following nine days of evidentiary hearings, the special education hearing officer assigned to the administrative complaints issued the Decisions, (see Id. at ¶¶ 1, 4), which essentially ordered Defendant CCA to provide each student with up to 990 hours each of compensatory education each calendar year “for as long as it takes for each student to achieve his [individualized education plan goals]” and allowed Plaintiff to select a third-party provider to deliver the ordered compensatory education services. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 5; see also Ex. 2 to Am. Compl. at p. 27; Ex. 3 to Am. Compl. at p. 21). The Decisions also ordered Defendant CCA to pay for the educational services provided by a third party of parent's choice. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 3, 5; Ex. 2 at p. 28; Ex. 3 at p. 22). The Decisions did not, however, expressly order Defendant CCA to pay for J.H. or T.R.'s transportation to and from school, meals, or other expenses associated with the third-party educational provider's services. (See generally Ex. 2 & 3 to Am. Compl.). Neither Plaintiff nor Defendant CCA appealed the Decisions.
On September 26, 2016, Plaintiff informed Defendant CCA that she had selected the Woodlynde School (“Woodlynde”) as the third-party provider. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 18). Woodlynde sent Plaintiff an enrollment packet, which included a contract for Plaintiff to sign, (id. at ¶ 19), and a stipulation that Plaintiff would assume full responsibility for the payment of T.R. and J.H.'s tuitions and any related fees. (Id. at ¶ 27). Defendant CCA informed Plaintiff that, consistent with the Decisions, it would pay for T.R. and J.H.'s tuitions but would not reimburse Plaintiff for the costs of their uniforms, lunches, and transportation to and from school. (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff refused to sign the enrollment contract, and J.H. and T.R. were not enrolled at Woodlynde. (See Id. at ¶¶ 18-22, 24).
On October 27, 2016, Plaintiff informed Defendant CCA that she had selected Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes (“LBLP”) as the alternative third-party provider for J.H. and T.R. (Id. at ¶ 32). On November 22, 2016, Defendant CCA and LBLP entered into an agreement that LBLP would provide educational services to J.H. and T.R. from November 7, 2016, through February 28, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 35). According to Plaintiff, Defendant CCA refused to provide for the daily transportation and lunch costs for J.H. and T.R., and excluded Plaintiff from the contract negotiations with LBLP. (Id. at ¶¶ 33, 34).
On January 11, 2017, and January 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed formal complaints with Defendant BSE on behalf of J.H. and T.R. in which she complained that Defendant CCA had failed to comply with the Decisions. (Id. at ¶ 48; see also Ex. 9 to Am. Compl.). On January 26, 2017, Defendant BSE informed Plaintiff by letter that it had determined that Defendant CCA had fully complied with and implemented the Decision concerning J.H, and that no further action on its part was required. (See Am. Compl. at ¶ 50; see also Ex. 10 to Am. Compl.). Plaintiff alleges that BSE never contacted her or informed her of any determination it made with regard to the complaint she filed on T.R.'s behalf. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 74).

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         As noted, the instant motion to dismiss was filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).[4] A court may grant a motion to dismiss an action under Rule 12(b)(6) if the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must “accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. The court must determine “whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief'” Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). The complaint must do more than merely allege the plaintiffs entitlement to relief: it must “show such an entitlement with its facts.” Id. (citations omitted).

         To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, “a court . . . must take three steps.” Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, a court must “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Second, the court must identify allegations that are merely legal conclusions “because they . . . are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. While a complaint need not assert detailed factual allegations, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Third, a court should assume the veracity of all well-pleaded factual allegations and “then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         A court may determine that a complaint's factual allegations are plausible if the court is able “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)) (alterations in original). In other words, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to 'nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny,515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “Although the plausibility standard 'does not impose a probability requirement, ' it does require a pleading to show 'more than a ...


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