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Smith v. Mid-Valley School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 22, 2018

TAMMY SMITH, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A MINOR, S.S., Plaintiff,
v.
MID-VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT, and SALISBURY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, INC., d/b/a NEW STORY THROOP Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge.

         Presently before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Mid-Valley School District (“the District”). The IDEA requires exhaustion of administrative procedures before the filing of a civil action in federal court, and Plaintiff Tammy Smith (“Plaintiff”) admits she failed to exhaust these procedures before commencing this action. Because exhaustion of these procedures is not futile, this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the claims raised by Plaintiff against the District. For this reason, I will dismiss Counts I, III, V, and VIII of the Amended Complaint without prejudice.[1]

         I. Background

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff Tammy Smith is the mother to S.S., a minor. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 2.) S.S. is an autistic student who was enrolled at the District with an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) for behavioral support. In evaluating S.S., the District believed that he would be best served by enrolling in the New Story Throop Program, operated by Defendant Salisbury Behavioral Health, Inc. (“New Story Throop”). (Doc. 10, at ¶¶ 10-11.) New Story Throop is a private entity licensed to offer education to students upon referral from participating school districts. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 4.) S.S. was placed in this program.

         B. “Quiet Room” Incidents

         On or about February 16, 2016, the Throop Police Department received a report of suspected child endangerment and neglect at the New Story Throop facility. Three days later, an officer was dispatched to the New Story Throop facility to investigate the report. During his investigation the officer discovered that S.S. had been placed in a “quiet room” on February 8, 2016 and again on February 9, 2016 for alleged behavioral problems. While in the quiet room, school employees observed S.S. taking off all his clothes and urinating on the floor. They continued to stand idle as he began to play in the urine on his hands and knees and, ultimately, drink the urine from the ground. (Doc. 10, at ¶¶ 12-18.) Both of the quiet room incidents happened on school property and during school hours. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 42.)

         On both days, the District's Special Education Director was informed of S.S.'s conduct and the associated lack of action by staff. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 19.) With this knowledge, the Director, along with other school district officials, conducted an investigation into the incidents. Shockingly, this investigation concluded with no findings of fault and triggered no change in S.S.'s IEP. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 36.)

         C. Removal from the New Story Throop Program & the Mid-Valley School District

         Tammy Smith was informed of the quiet room incidents by the District at some time following the District's investigation. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 20.) S.S. was unable to inform his mother of the quiet room incidents because he is non-verbal. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 9.) After learning of the incident, Tammy Smith immediately requested IEP meetings as she believed-and still believes-that the District's IEP was insufficient and denied her son the free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) he was entitled to under the law. As a result of Tammy Smith's involvement, S.S. was removed from the New Story Throop Program. (Doc. 10, at ¶¶ 22-23.)

         S.S regressed in his mental progression and development due to the quiet room incident. In an effort to enhance his development, his mother elected to remove him from the District, and he was placed in a full-time institution providing education services tailored to support students living with autism. (Doc. 10, at ¶¶ 26-27.) Plaintiff also alleges that S.S. suffered severe emotional distress, exhibited aggressive behavior, and continued to require counseling as a result of his placement in the New Story Throop Program. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 45.)

         D. Procedural History

         To date, Plaintiff has not exhausted the administrative procedures set forth in the Individuals with Disability Education Act (“IDEA”). Namely, she has not requested a due process hearing. (Doc. 10, at ¶ 31.) Plaintiff claims that such a hearing would have been futile because those procedures could not remedy the “educational violations that have occurred in the past and that are no longer on-going.” (Doc. 20, at 8.)

         Yet, as a result of S.S.'s treatment in the New Story Troop Program, Tammy Smith, individually and on behalf of her son, filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 10.) on March 23, 2018 alleging: (1) a Violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972[2]; (2) Retaliation Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972[3]; (3) a Violation of the 14th Amendment[4]; (4) a Violation of the Individuals with Disability Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.[5]; (5) a Breach of a Fiduciary Duty[6]; and (6) a Violation of § 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act[7]. The District has filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Doc. 11.) This Motion if ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Motion to ...


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