United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
ANDREW MOYNIHAN, et al. Plaintiffs, pro se
THE WEST CHESTER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT Defendant
I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, U.S.D.C. J.
Andrew and Karen Moynihan (“Plaintiffs”), the
parents of C.M., filed this pro se action against
Defendant the West Chester Area School District
(“Defendant”) under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C.
§§ 1400 et seq. [ECF 2]. Subsequently,
Defendant filed a motion for judgment on the
pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
(“Rule”) 12(c), arguing that Plaintiffs'
claims are precluded by pre-existing agreements between the
parties. [ECF 22]. Plaintiffs filed a response in
opposition to Defendant's motion. [ECF 23].
the pending motion, this Court has an independent obligation
to examine whether jurisdiction exists over any action and
may do so sua sponte. In fulfillment of that duty, this
Court has carefully considered the facts in this matter and,
for the reasons set forth herein, finds that subject-matter
jurisdiction does not exist. As such, this case is dismissed.
March 31, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a series of due process
complaints with the Pennsylvania Office for Dispute
Resolution against Defendant, alleging that their then-minor
child, C.M., who has Asperger Syndrome, was denied a free
appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in his
ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade school years. (Compl. pp.
2-3, 11, 21). In support of these claims, Plaintiffs
allege, inter alia, that the school: (1) denied C.M.
a spot on the baseball team, (2) gave C.M. adapted tests in
Chemistry class but no additional support, (3) put forth
insufficient effort to address bullying that C.M. was
experiencing at school, (4) provided an unqualified tutor for
science and math classes, (5) recommended that C.M. enroll in
lower-level classes than Plaintiffs thought were appropriate
for C.M., (6) held an insufficient number of meetings to
discuss C.M.'s Individualized Education Program
(“IEP”), and (7) required Plaintiffs to accept
responsibility for any additional support that C.M. might
have required as a result of Plaintiffs' insistence on
overriding the teachers' recommendations and placing C.M.
in more advanced classes. Defendant argues that it did provide
C.M. with a FAPE.
due process hearings were held in 2017 and 2018, presided
over by Hearing Officer Charles W. Jelley (the “Hearing
Officer”), who heard extensive testimony and arguments
from the parties. (Id. at 2, 20). Ultimately, the
Hearing Officer denied Plaintiffs' FAPE claims and found,
inter alia, that Defendant provided C.M. with a FAPE
during the school years at issue. (Id. at 3, 72). On
October 10, 2018, Plaintiffs filed the underlying complaint
appealing the Hearing Officer's decision and requesting
this Court to “completely reverse the [d]ecisions of
[the Hearing Officer] . . . and find in [their] favor in all
matters set forth therein.” (Id. at 13). At the
end of the 2017-18 academic year, C.M. graduated and received
a high school diploma, and later enrolled in community
noted, a federal court has an independent duty to determine
whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists over all matters
before the court. The United States Constitution limits a
federal court's jurisdiction to the adjudication of
actual, ongoing cases and controversies. U.S. CONST. art.
III, § 2; Donovan v. Punxsutawney Area Sch.
Bd., 336 F.3d 211, 216 (3d Cir. 2003). “[A] case
is moot when the issues presented are no longer live or the
parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the
outcome.” Donovan, 336 F.3d at 216 (quoting
Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969))
(internal quotations omitted). Thus, a court's
“ability to grant effective relief lies at the heart of
the mootness doctrine.” Id. at 216. If
developments occur during the course of a case's
adjudication that “eliminate a plaintiff's personal
stake in the outcome of a suit or prevent a court from being
able to grant the requested relief, the case must be
dismissed as moot.” Id. at 216 (quoting
Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690,
698-99 (3d Cir. 1996)).
cases brought on behalf of students that challenge a
school's policy or actions are typically moot upon the
student's graduation because a live case or controversy
justifying declaratory or injunctive relief then ceases to
exist. Id. at 216. However, an “extremely
narrow” exception applies only when a
student's claims are “‘capable of repetition,
yet evading review.' For the exception to apply,
‘the challenged action [must be] too short in duration
to be fully litigated before the case . . . become[s]
moot' and ‘there [must be] a reasonable expectation
that the complaining party will be subjected to the same
action again.'” Mirabella v. William Penn
Charter Sch., 752 Fed.Appx. 131, 133-34 (3d Cir. 2018)
(citing Donovan, 336 F.3d at 217). Notably, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
(“Third Circuit”) has repeatedly held that this
exception does not apply to students who have graduated and
will not be returning to the underlying school. See,
e.g., Mirabella, 752 Fed.Appx. at 134; K.K. v.
Pittsburgh Pub. Sch., 590 Fed.Appx. 148, 154 n.4 (3d
Cir. 2014); Donovan, 336 F.3d at 217.
the IDEA, plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief and, in some
cases, reimbursement for services that a school failed to
provide; however, compensatory and punitive damages are not
available under the statute. Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of
Phila. Bd. of Educ., 587 F.3d 176, 184-86 (3d Cir.
2009). The IDEA entitles a qualifying disabled student to a
FAPE until the student either graduates, or passes the age of
twenty-one. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A) (FAPE required
“between the ages of 3 and 21”); 34 C.F.R. §
300.102(a)(3)(i) (“The obligation to make FAPE
available . . . does not apply with respect to . . .
[c]hildren with disabilities who have graduated from high
school with a regular high school diploma.”);
accord Bd. of Educ. v. Nathan R., 199 F.3d 377, 381
(7th Cir. 2000); Moseley v. Bd. of Educ. of Albuquerque
Pub. Schs., 483 F.3d 689, 692-93 (10th Cir. 2007);
D.C. v. Mount Olive Twp. Bd. of Educ., No. 12-5592,
2014 WL 1293534, at *31 (D. N.J. Mar. 31, 2014). Thus,
injunctive relief is not available once a student graduates,
and “any claim that a FAPE was deficient becomes
moot.” T.S. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 54, 265
F.3d 1090, 1092 (10th Cir. 2001); cf. Mirabella, 752
Fed.Appx. at 134 (finding that any injunctive relief under
the Americans with Disabilities Act would have “no
impact on [a graduated student] whatsoever[, ]” thus
the former student's claims were moot and did not present
an actual case or controversy).
Plaintiffs appeal the Hearing Officer's 2018 decision
that Defendant did not deny C.M. a FAPE during C.M.'s
ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade school years, and request
that this Court “completely reverse the [d]ecisions of
[the Hearing Officer] . . . and find in [their] favor in all
matters set forth therein.” (Compl. p. 13). As
discussed above, the tenor of Plaintiffs' complaint and
subsequent pleadings is for injunctive relief; relief that
cannot be granted.
graduated from high school at the end of the 2017-18 academic
year and received a diploma. Upon C.M.'s graduation,
C.M. ceased to be a high school student whose education falls
under the purview of the IDEA. Therefore, C.M. is no longer
entitled to a FAPE or the protections afforded by the IDEA.
Since Defendant is no longer obligated to provide C.M. with a
FAPE, this Court cannot provide any injunctive relief that
might have stemmed from a review of the Hearing Officer's
decision. Thus, based on the ...