United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
T.C., and MR. J.C. and MRS. K.C., in their own right, Plaintiffs,
HEMPFIELD AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER RE: ECF NO. 9
Maureen P. Kelly, Chief Magistrate Judge
action was brought under the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Improvement Act (the “IDEA”), 20 U.S.C.
§§ 1400 et seq. by T.C., and his parents,
Mr. J.C. and Mrs. K.C. in their own right, against Hempfield
Area School District (“School District”).
Plaintiffs assert nine causes of actions arising out of
allegations that T.C., a student with a disability, was the
victim of bullying by peers at a Vocational Center where he
received a portion of his education provided by the School
District. The School District has filed a Partial Motion to
Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), 12(b)(7), and 19. ECF No. 9. As more fully
explained below, the School District's motion will be
relevant facts necessary for resolution of the Partial Motion
to Dismiss are as follows. T.C. is a student in the Hempfield
Area School District. ECF No. 1 ¶ 6. He was 19 at the
time of filing of the Complaint. Id. ¶ 22. T.C.
is eligible for special education pursuant to the IDEA based
on his disabilities of Autism and Other Health Impairment.
Id. ¶ 6. T.C. was deemed eligible for special
education since he moved to the School District in 2009.
Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Pursuant to the IDEA, T.C.
had an Individual Education Plan (“IEP”) that was
regularly reviewed and adjusted at IEP meetings by T.C.'s
IEP team. See, e.g., Id.
¶¶ 35, 43, 45, 59, 61, 72, 74, 77. In January 2014,
T.C was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Id.
meeting was held in April 2014. During the meeting, the IEP
team, which included T.C.'s parents, agreed that T.C.
would be enrolled in the Central Westmoreland Career &
Technology Center (the “Vocational Center”), a
county “Vocational Technical Program, ” for the
upcoming school year. Id. ¶¶ 43, 44. T.C.
began attending the Vocational Center at the start of the
2014-2015 school year when he was in the 10th grade.
Id. ¶ 48. The Vocational Center provided
classroom instruction and skills practice instruction in an
open area. Id. ¶ 49.
allege that because employees of the Vocational Center
“provided a portion of the statutorily-mandated
educational services guaranteed T.C. by his Individualized
Education Program[, the Vocational Center] served as an agent
of the [School] District.” Id. ¶ 10.
Plaintiffs also allege that in the implementation of
T.C.'s IEP the “actions of [Vocational Center]
employees . . . are appropriately attributed to [the School
District].” Id. ¶ 12. In addition,
Plaintiffs allege that the relationship between the
Vocational Center include the following items:
• students in ninth grade attend an assembly to learn
about programs at the Vocational Center available to students
starting in 10th grade;
• the School District contracts with the Vocational
Center to provide transition services to students who require
special education services;
• Vocational Center students review the Vocational
Center's student handbook, which contains the
center's bullying policy;
• a School District coordinator is responsible for
overseeing students at the Vocational Center; the Vocational
Center provides quarterly progress reports to the School
• School District and Vocational Center staff
communicated regularly about students as needed; and
• the School District staff believed that Vocational
Center staff would advise the School District of any
Id. ¶¶ 137-141.
IEP meeting held in March 2015, with a special education
teacher from the vocational program participating in the
meeting, T.C.'s parents expressed concerns about
T.C.'s safety. Id. ¶ 61. T.C.'s IEP for
transitioning to the 2015-2016 school year included continued
attendance at the Vocational Center, with an afternoon return
to the high school for certain classes. Id. ¶
62. T.C. attended the Vocational Center at the start of the
2015-2016 school year. Id. ¶ 67. In September
2015, T.C. began to inform his parents about the bullying he
was experiencing at the Vocational Center. Id.
J.C. immediately informed the high school special education
teacher about the bullying incidents. Id. ¶ 70.
The high school special education teacher reached out to the
District representative about the incidents. Id. The
School District then contacted the Vocational Center to
obtain information about the bullying incidents reported by
T.C. Id. ¶ 71. An IEP team meeting to address
the reported bullying incidents was held on September 29,
2015. Id. ¶ 72. At the meeting, the team
learned that while at the Vocational Center T.C. was
physically assaulted by peers, he was locked in a room by
peers, and peers pounded on the restroom door when T.C. was
using the facility. Id. ¶ 73. As a result, the
IEP team revised T.C.'s IEP to provide for him to return
to the high school full time. Id. ¶ 74.
IEP was revised again in March 2016, after T.C.'s parents
provided input regarding T.C.'s medical and
disability-related needs, his difficulty with social
interaction, his tendency to smile at inappropriate times,
and his dislike of large groups. Id. ¶ 77. In
April 2016, due to an increase in anxiety and Crohn's
disease symptoms, T.C. was provided homebound instruction.
Id. ¶ 79. During therapy, T.C. disclosed that
while at the Vocational Center he was sodomized with a
broomstick by other students. Id. ¶ 80.
Westenford, the then-principal of the Vocational Center
initiated an investigation into the incidents reported by
T.C. Id. ¶ 83. He interviewed students,
reviewed available surveillance video, and talked with
teachers. Id. ¶ 84. Interviews of students
revealed that a student had held a classroom door shut with
T.C. inside; students would pound on restroom door when T.C.
(and another student) were inside; some students would touch
or poke other students on a private body part; a student
dared T.C. to pick up food from the floor and eat it; and
students would throw other students backpacks down the
stairs. Id. ¶¶ 85-88, 90. T.C.'s
Vocational Center teacher confirmed that students would pound
on the restroom door when T.C. and another student were
inside. Id. ¶ 86. The only relevant incident
found on videotape during the investigation was a student
holding the restroom door open so that T.C. could not close
the door. Id. ¶ 89. (Video surveillance
equipment retains only two to three weeks of footage before
it is recorded over.) The Vocational Center
“administrator determined that none of the incidents
described through the investigation, as verified by the video
surveillance footage, rose to the level of bullying according
to its policy.” Id. ¶ 92.
transferred to an Intermediate Unit program at the start of
the 2016-2017 school year after an IEP team meeting in July
2016. Id. ¶¶ 104, 105, 109. On March 6,
2017, Plaintiffs filed a request for an administrative Due
Process hearing with the Office of Dispute Resolution.
Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiffs alleged that the School
District violated the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§
12101 et seq., by failing to provide T.C. with a
free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”), and
sought declaratory relief, reimbursement of private expenses,
and compensatory education. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.
Hearing Officer issued a decision dated August 21, 2017,
finding that the School District failed in its FAPE
obligations during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years;
that the School District did not discriminate against T.C. or
act with deliberate indifference toward him; and that the
School District was not obligated to reimburse T.C.'s
parents for counseling and mental health services.
Id. ¶ 20. The Hearing Officer ordered the
School District to provide 2.25 hours of compensatory
education per day for each day T.C. attended during the years
the School District failed in its FAPE obligations.
Id. ¶ 20.
Hearing Officer concluded that “critically, the record
evidence is also plain that there was inadequate supervision
of [T.C.] and peers at the [Vocational Center], such that
[T.C.] was the victim of a number of instances of bullying
that were directly related to [T.C.'s] disabilities
despite school-wide policies to prevent such
occurrences.” ECF No. 1-2 at 24 (Hearing Officer
Decision, Aug. 21, 2017). The Hearing Officer noted that the
above conclusion was reached under both the Vocational Center
and the School District's bullying policy and definition
of bullying. Id. at 24 n. 11. The Hearing Officer
also stated that “[t]here can be no doubt on this
record that the bullying to which [T.C.] was subject[ed]
resulted in substantial restriction of [T.C.'s]
opportunities for learning . . . and, thus, amounted to a
denial of FAPE for which compensatory education will be
awarded.” Id. at 25-26.
November 17, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant Complaint
alleging, in part, that the Hearing Officer made an error of
law in finding that the School District was not deliberately
indifferent to T.C. and thus did not violate Section 504 of
the Rehabilitation Act. ECF No. 1 ¶ 2. Plaintiffs also
seek monetary damages for the School District's denial of
FAPE in addition to compensatory education alleging that the
compensatory education awarded by the Hearing Officer is in
error as insufficient to address the School District's
violation. Id. ¶ 3.
assert nine claims against the School District. Plaintiffs
allege that the School District violated T.C.'s rights
under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Count I) and
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Count II).
Mr. J.C. and Mrs. K.C. assert associational discrimination
claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Count
III) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(Count IV). Plaintiffs also assert four claims pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983, alleging breach of a special custodial
relationship (Count V), state created danger in violation of
the Fourteenth Amendment (Count VI), violation of Mr. J.C.
and Mrs. K.C.'s liberty interest (Count VII), and failure
to train (Count [VIII]). Finally, Plaintiffs assert a claim
for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Count [IX]) due to their
prevailing party status in the administrative proceeding
against the School District.
pending Partial Motion to Dismiss, the School District seeks
dismissal of the Complaint insofar as Plaintiff alleges that
the Vocational Center was acting as the School District's
agent. The School District argues that Plaintiffs have failed
to assert a proper factual basis to sustain a claim of
agency. Next, the School District argues that Plaintiff's
Section 1983 failure to train claim must be dismissed because
it lacks any factual basis. The School District also presents
a Rule 12(b)(7) argument that Plaintiffs have failed to join
a necessary party under Rule 19; namely, the Central
Westmoreland Career & Technology Center. ...