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Smith v. Mid-Valley School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 16, 2019

TAMMY SMITH, individually and on behalf of a minor, S.S., Plaintiff,


          Richard Caputo United States District Judge.

         Presently before me is a Motion to Dismiss (Smith v. Mid-Valley Sch. Dist., 3:19-cv-00064 (“Smith II”), ECF No. 6) filed by Defendant Mid-Valley School District (“Defendant” or “the District”). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         The facts as alleged in the Complaint (Smith II, ECF No. 1) are as follows: Plaintiff Tammy Smith (“Plaintiff” or “Smith”) is the mother of S.S., a minor. (Id. ¶ 2). S.S. is a non-verbal autistic student who was enrolled in the District's Special Education Program with an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) for behavioral support. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7-9). The District referred S.S. to the New Story Throop program for attempted IEP support classes. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10).

         On February 16, 2016, the Throop Police Department received a report of “suspected child endangerment and neglect” at New Story Throop. (Id. ¶ 11). Three days later, after interviewing staff members, the police officer assigned to the matter determined this report involved S.S.'s placement in a “quiet room” for behavioral problems on February 9, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 13). According to New Story Throop employees who observed the incident, S.S. took off all his clothes, urinated on the floor, “stoop[ed] to the ground on his hands and knees[, ]” and “drank his own urine from the ground.” (Id. ¶¶ 14, 15). These employees witnessed but did not attempt to stop S.S.'s behavior. (Id. ¶ 15). The Throop Police Department also found that a similar incident occurred on February 8, 2016, in which New Story Throop employees watched as S.S. took off his clothes, played in, and drank his own urine. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 17).

         Although the District's Special Education Director was informed about both incidents each day they occurred, Smith was not informed of these incidents “until some significant time after [they] occurred.” (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19). Smith immediately requested IEP meetings upon learning of these incidents and S.S. was subsequently removed from New Story Throop at Smith's direction. (Id. ¶ 21). Following these events, S.S. “regressed in his mental progression and development” and was placed in a full-time institution that provides him with educational and living support. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26).

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in February of 2018 against the District and New Story Throop in connection with these events, which was removed to this Court on February 27, 2018. (Smith v. Mid-Valley Sch. Dist. et al., No. 3:18-cv-00478 (“Smith I”), ECF No. 1)). On March 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Id., ECF. No. 10). Both defendants submitted motions to dismiss the amended complaint. (Id., ECF Nos. 11; 12). I granted the District's motion to dismiss as to Counts I, III, V, and VIII on June 22, 2018. (Id., ECF Nos. 23, 24).

         On January 10, 2019, while New Story Throop's motion to dismiss was still pending, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint (Smith II, ECF No. 1) against the District alleging the following: (1) a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; (2) violations of the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection and due process clauses; (3) a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.; and (4) a violation of Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. (See generally id.). The District filed the instant Motion to Dismiss the Smith II Complaint on March 4, 2019 and then filed a Motion to Consolidate both cases on March 18, 2019. (Smith II, ECF Nos. 6, 11). I granted the Motion to Consolidate on April 2, 2019. (Smith I, ECF No. 25). I also granted New Story Throop's Smith I Motion to Dismiss as to Counts IV and VI of the Amended Complaint on the same day. (Smith I, ECF No. 26). The District's Motion to Dismiss the instant complaint (Smith II, ECF No. 1 (“Doc. 1”)) has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). “Under the ‘notice pleading' standard embodied in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must come forward with ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         When resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a court must consider no more than whether the complaint establishes ‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements' of the cause of action.” Trzaska v. L'Oreal USA, Inc., 865 F.3d 155, 162 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir. 2016)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must take three steps: (1) identify the elements of the claim; (2) identify conclusions that are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) assume the veracity of the well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. See Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant argues Plaintiff's claims under Title IX, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act should be dismissed for failure to state claims on which relief may be granted. Defendant, however, has not specifically argued Plaintiff's IDEA claim in Count III should be dismissed. Instead, Defendant argues, and Plaintiff agrees, that Plaintiff is not entitled to compensatory and punitive damages under the IDEA. As such, Count III of the Complaint may proceed. I will address Defendant's arguments in favor of dismissing the remaining claims below.

         A. ...

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