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Derrick v. Glen Mills Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 19, 2019

DERRICK, THROUGH AND WITH HIS NEXT FRIEND AND MOTHER TINA, et al.
v.
GLEN MILLS SCHOOLS, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          BARTLE, J.

         Now pending before the court are various motions of defendants challenging plaintiffs' complaint. There are motions to strike plaintiffs' entire complaint under Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, to strike plaintiffs' class action allegations under Rule 12(f) and Rule 23(d)(1)(D). Certain defendants have also moved to dismiss the complaint in part under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In addition, several defendants have moved to sever the claims against them.

         Plaintiffs Derrick, through and with his next friend and mother Tina, Walter, through and with his next friend and mother Janeva, Thomas, through his next friend and mother Michelle, and Sean, through his next friend and grandmother Andrea, are four minors[1] who were placed at defendant Glen Mills Schools (“Glen Mills”) after being adjudicated delinquent in the state courts of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs allege that they were subject to physical and mental abuse at the hands of Glen Mills staff and administrators. The complaint also avers that Glen Mills failed to provide them with an adequate education and discriminated against students with disabilities. Plaintiffs, seeking injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief, have commenced this putative class action on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated individuals.

         The defendants, as set forth in the complaint, can be divided into several groups. First are the Glen Mills defendants, which include the School itself, Randy Ireson (“Ireson”), former Executive Director of Glen Mills Schools, former employees of Glen Mills Schools Andre Walker (“Walker”) and Robert Taylor (“Taylor”), and various John Doe staff members. In addition, there are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defendants. They are Teresa D. Miller (“Miller”), as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (“PA-DHS”) in her individual capacity, TheodoreDallas (“Dallas”), as former Secretary of the PA-DHS in his individual capacity, Cathy Utz (“Utz”), as Deputy Secretary for the Pennsylvania Office of Children, Youth, and Families (“PA-OCYF”) in her individual capacity, Pedro A. Rivera (“Rivera”), as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (“PA-DOE”) in his official capacity, and the PA-DOE itself. Finally, plaintiffs have asserted claims against a local educational agency, the Chester County Intermediate Unit (“CCIU”).

         Plaintiffs' complaint contains eighteen counts alleging the following causes of action: (1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of their rights to be free from excessive force, to be protected from harm, and to receive adequate food and medical treatment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (Counts One, Two, Twelve, Fourteen, Sixteen, and Eighteen); (2) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of an education in violation of the procedural due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count Three); (3) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of an education in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count Four); (4) for violation of the right to a public education under Pennsylvania law (Count Five); (5) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (Counts Six through Eight); (6) under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq. (Count Nine); (7) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (Count Ten); (8) for common law negligence (Count Eleven); and (9) for assault and battery (Counts Thirteen, Fifteen, and Seventeen).

         I

         Rule 8 provides, in relevant part, that a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and that “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1). Under Rule 10, “[a] party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(b).

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008); Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Servs., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). We must then determine whether the pleading at issue “contain[s] 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 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim must do more than raise a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Under this standard, “[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. On a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court may consider “allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing 5A Charles Allen Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (2d ed. 1990)).

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), a court must grant a motion to dismiss if it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear a claim. Defendants have raised a facial, as opposed to factual, challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. In reviewing a facial challenge, which contests the sufficiency of the pleadings, “the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto.” In re Schering Plough Corp. Intron/Temodar Consumer Class Action, 678 F.3d 235, 243 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Gould Elec. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000)). We apply the same standard as that applicable to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 358 (3d Cir. 2014). Accordingly, we accept as true all material allegations set forth in the complaint and construe those facts in favor of the nonmoving party. In re Schering Plough Corp., 678 F.3d at 243.

         II

         The following facts are alleged in the complaint and are taken as true for present purposes. Glen Mills is a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation. It is registered with the PA-DHS as a private residential rehabilitative institution (“PRRI”), a facility that provides “educational services as part of a total rehabilitative package” required in conjunction with the court placement of a child pursuant to a contractual agreement with a local education agency or intermediate unit. See 24 Pa. Stat. § 9-914.1-A(a), (c).

         Defendant Randy Ireson was Executive Director of Glen Mills from 2013 until he resigned on February 28, 2019. John Does 1-6 were members of the Glen Mills leadership team and respectively supervised the six different departments at the school. Glen Mills staff defendants Andre Walker, Robert Taylor, Chris Doe 1, Chris Doe 2, Sean Doe, and John Does 7-12 were counselors and other staff members who allegedly physically assaulted plaintiffs Derrick, Walter, and Thomas. Glen Mills staff defendants John Does 13-20 failed to provide adequate treatment and food to plaintiff Sean.

         Boys were involuntarily placed at Glen Mills by court orders from various jurisdictions in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the country when they were adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court proceedings.[2] Plaintiffs allege a culture of violence and intimidation which included almost daily violence by Glen Mills staff, as well as Glen Mills staff encouraging boys to fight other boys. Glen Mills leadership failed to train, discipline and supervise staff adequately. Staff slapped in the face, assaulted or jumped, improperly used physical restraints, choked and punched, and threw objects such as tables and chairs at students. These actions resulted in injuries including broken arms, broken jaws, body blows, and black eyes. According to plaintiffs, Glen Mills leadership knew of the violence and failed to stop it. Glen Mills and its leadership also failed to provide students with adequate medical treatment, to supervise the boys properly, and to maintain proper ratios of staff to students.

         The complaint further alleges that if boys tried to run away from Glen Mills, they would receive escape charges. If they fought back in self-defense during assaults by Glen Mills employees, they would receive charges for harassment or assault. These charges could lengthen the amount of time spent at Glen Mills. Boys were intimidated and discouraged from speaking out about the violence and mistreatment. Staff were encouraged to remain silent regarding abuse and were terminated for reporting abuse. Boys were coerced into lying to any outside auditors or investigators, including PA-DHS representatives, and would be reprimanded if they did not portray Glen Mills favorably. Glen Mills staff also monitored the boys' phone calls.

         On April 8, 2019, all of Glen Mills' licenses were revoked by PA-DHS. In a letter to Glen Mills, PA-DHS cited “gross incompetence, negligence, and misconduct in operating the facilities” and “mistreatment and abuse of children in care” as the reason for the license revocations.

         The complaint contains the following allegations specific to the named plaintiffs. Derrick was a student at Glen Mills from March 2018 to March 2019. He has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) and is currently eligible for an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) under the IDEA. In or about September 2017, Derrick was adjudicated delinquent and placed on probation for one year. In March 2018, he was placed at Glen Mills for violating his probation.

         Three weeks after being placed at Glen Mills, Derrick began a computer-based credit recovery educational program, which was not specialized to him and did not accommodate his disabilities. He received reading assistance for only one hour per week, the same and sole intervention offered to other students with disabilities. He did not receive any other instruction or support from a teacher and repeatedly failed tests.

         For months at a time Derrick was designated as a student on “Concern Status” and, as a result, was not permitted to attend vocational programming or the special educational resource room. He did not make progress on his IEP goals, and his mother did not receive specific progress monitoring. After more than nine months at Glen Mills, a staff member removed Derrick from the computer-based program and provided him with packets of worksheets to complete his coursework. He did not receive any instruction and was expected to progress independently through the worksheets. During his time at Glen Mills he was provided with an IEP that was not individualized and was inadequate or incorrect. Glen Mills failed to follow the appropriate process under the IDEA for designing and implementing IEPs and excluded his mother from meaningful participation in the IEP process.

         Derrick was also physically abused by staff and other students during his time at Glen Mills. He was punched repeatedly by staff. One night, he was punched while asleep in his bed and awoke to find more than a dozen other boys beating up his roommate, who was screaming for help. Derrick tried but was unable to help his roommate. He ran out of the building to escape the abuse. When staff found him, he received a charge for attempting to run away. He was also head-butted multiple times by defendant Walker and was tightly restrained by four staff members after he refused to tie his shoes. After breaking up a fight between Derrick and another boy in a classroom at Glen Mills, a staff member grabbed Derrick, slammed him on a desk, pushed the desk over, dragged him across the floor, and hit his mouth with his knees. Derrick was rarely seen by medical staff at Glen Mills.

         Although he witnessed over two hundred fights among boys while at Glen Mills, Derrick and his parents were warned not to speak out about the abuse. His mother Tina witnessed a significant change in his demeanor and personality as he became reserved, quiet, secretive, and disengaged. Tina observed bruising and suspicious injuries on Derrick. Staff listened in on his calls and monitored his visits with his parents.

         Plaintiff Walter is a “child with a disability” under the IDEA and an individual with a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA and is a “protected handicapped student” under Chapter 15 of the Pennsylvania School Code. He is eligible to receive special education and related services through an IEP and has previously received full-time special education instruction at a private school for students with disabilities. In March 2018, when he was sixteen years old, Walter was sent to Glen Mills.

         Walter was initially placed in Glen Mill's computer-based credit recovery educational program with no live instruction. After Walter informed Glen Mills staff that he could not learn in this manner and refused to participate in the computer program, he was placed on “Concern Status.” Glen Mills failed to provide any alternative educational instruction for Walter. Instead, staff permitted Walter to continue without any educational program for two months. While Walter was on “Concern Status, ” he was not permitted to leave his unit to access the special education resource room or vocational programming. Walter's mother Janeva was never consulted about the education provided to Walter at Glen Mills.

         On or around April 26, 2018, Walter took a metal pin from a weight machine to use for self-defense. When Sean Doe, a unit staff member, discovered the metal pin, he threw Walter against a refrigerator so hard that the refrigerator dented from the impact with Walter's head. Glen Mills did not provide him with medical attention. Thereafter, staff ordered all of the boys on the unit to line up. Chris Doe, another unit staff member, grabbed Walter by the throat and choked him. He could not breathe and believed he might die.

         On May 3, 2018, Walter and another boy attempted to run away from Glen Mills. Defendant Taylor caught Walter and dragged him back through thorn bushes, resulting in a laceration on his lower back. Walter received no medical treatment for the laceration and now carries a scar. After Walter was brought back, Taylor assaulted Walter while two staff supervisors stood by and watched with threats to Walter not to fight back. Walter again was provided no medical treatment and received a delinquency charge for the attempted escape.

         Thereafter, Walter was transferred to another unit. He began a General Educational Development (“GED”) program because he was told it was the only alternative to the computer-based program. Glen Mills did not obtain his mother's consent for him to participate in the program. In the GED program, Walter used workbooks that were several years old and did not accommodate for his disabilities. He received no live instruction from teachers. He did not receive all the courses and hours of instruction required by state law through either the computer-based program or the GED program. Glen Mills did not provide him with an IEP that was substantively and procedurally adequate and excluded his mother from the IEP process.

         In November 2018, Walter completed his independent GED study. Glen Mills made available to him no other educational services from November 2018 through March 2019. Glen Mills administered to Walter a GED exam on three occasions. Walter did not pass and does not have a GED.[3]

         On November 13, 2018, Walter woke up to find his roommate on top of him with his hands around his throat and fought back in self-defense. Staff failed to protect Walter from the attack and did not provide medical care. His mother witnessed a significant change in his demeanor during his time at Glen Mills. He became reserved and quiet, secretive, and disengaged. He was fearful for his safety and that of his family. Walter reports that he witnessed more than thirty improper physical restraints performed on boys and many assaults on boys that included slapping, punching, choking, and otherwise harming boys. Walter was discharged from Glen Mills in March 2019 when the Philadelphia Department of Human Services removed all those within its jurisdiction from Glen Mills. He was transferred to another residential institution for adjudicated youths in Pennsylvania where he currently remains.

         Plaintiff Thomas was a student at Glen Mills from May 2018 through March 2019. He was placed at Glen Mills on May 8, 2018 after an adjudication of delinquency in Philadelphia. He was fifteen years old. After arriving at Glen Mills, Thomas was placed in the computer-based credit recovery program. He reports that unit staff or “counselors” are the only staff available to assist boys with this program. None or almost none of these staff members was a licensed teacher. Thomas objected to the computer-based program based on his previous experience with online learning but was provided no alternative. Although Thomas's mother requested that Thomas receive an IEP, he was never evaluated and thus did not receive services under the IDEA.

         In October 2018, Thomas accidentally bumped into Chris Doe, a staff member, who responded by hitting him in the eye. Thomas hit back in self-defense, and the staff member jumped on top of Thomas and hit him a second time. As a result of this altercation, Thomas had a black eye. He did not receive medical attention for his injuries until the following day. He received another delinquency charge, was placed on “Concern Status, ” and lost his opportunity for a home pass. He was then transferred to another hall at Glen Mills. While there, he continued to work on the computer-based learning program. The hall had a classroom with unit staff available, but again none or almost none of the staff was a licensed teacher.

         Throughout his time at Glen Mills, Thomas also witnessed staff physically abusing other boys, including slapping, hitting, and punching. He reports that staff would instigate fights with boys by swearing at them. Thomas's mother Michelle suspected that he was in danger while at Glen Mills and found it extremely difficult to speak with staff. Michelle observed that Thomas became reserved, fearful, and watchful of his surroundings after his time at Glen Mills. On March 5, 2019, he was discharged from Glen Mills.

         Plaintiff Sean was a student at Glen Mills from February 2019 to March 2019. He was placed at Glen Mills on February 7, 2019 after an adjudication of delinquency in Luzerne County. He was sixteen years old. While at Glen Mills, Sean did not access any educational program. Although other students on his unit were enrolled in the computer-based credit recovery program, Sean was never provided with a computer. The unit staff eventually gave Sean worksheets but told him “you don't have to do any of this.” During his one-month stay at Glen Mills, Sean was on “Concern Status” and could not access any vocational programming.

         During his time at Glen Mills, Sean witnessed daily verbal abuse of boys. This abuse included threats of violence and insults directed at boys and their families. Sean also witnessed physical abuse, including a staff member slamming a boy against a wall. Sean also witnessed roughly twenty fights between boys. On one occasion, he was punched in the face three times. As a result of the assault, his orthodontic braces were bent, his tooth chipped, and his forehead and mouth bled. Four days after the assault, Sean was taken to an outside dentist who confirmed that he had a broken jaw. Sean's jaw was then wired shut during the remainder of his stay at Glen Mills. Sean was not capable of consuming solid food with a wired jaw but was not provided with a nutritional alternative. Instead, he was provided only milk and on occasion Gatorade. The only other nutrition he received was through two staff members who risked their employment by sneaking in yogurt and applesauce to him. After the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a piece on Glen Mills in February 2019, Sean was informed by staff that he was not to speak to anyone about Glen Mills and was warned “don't say anything and be quiet.”

         Plaintiffs seek to represent a “General Class” consisting of all youths and young adults who were adjudicated delinquent and placed by state or local juvenile justice systems at Glen Mills at any time in the past two years prior to the date of filing of the complaint, or who were placed by state or local juvenile justice systems at Glen Mills at any time and turned 18 within two years of the date of filing of the complaint, or were placed by state or local juvenile justice systems at Glen Mills at any time and have not yet turned 18, as well as the parents of those youths and young adults. Plaintiffs have also described a putative “Education Subclass” consisting of all class members who, while at Glen Mills, were deprived of an education in accordance with the requirements of the Pennsylvania School Code, a “Special Education Subclass” of all class members who were identified as children with disabilities as defined by the IDEA, and a “Suspected-to-be-Eligible Special Education Subclass” of all class members suspected of being students with disabilities who were never identified and/or evaluated at Glen Mills as required by the IDEA. In addition, the complaint avers a “Special Education Parent Subclass” of all parent class members whose children were placed at Glen Mills and are identified as children with disabilities under the IDEA. Finally, plaintiffs name a “Disability Subclass” of all class members placed at Glen Mills who have qualifying disabilities as defined under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA.

         III

         We begin with the motions of Glen Mills, Ireson, and CCIU to strike plaintiffs' complaint under Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8 provides, in relevant part, that a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and that “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1). Under Rule 10, “[a] party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(b). Defendants characterize the complaint, which spans 149 pages and includes 506 paragraphs, as “Dickensian” and assert that it “requires hours to read” and “is virtually impossible to answer.” According to defendants, this court should strike the complaint and require plaintiffs to file a complaint that conforms to the requirements of Rules 8 and 10 before defendants are forced to answer plaintiffs' allegations.

         We decline to strike the complaint on these grounds. This is a complex case involving four named plaintiffs who have asserted claims on behalf of themselves and a putative class of similarly situated individuals, including several proposed subclasses. The complaint includes eighteen counts and thirteen named defendants. While lengthy, the complaint is well-organized and is not vague, rambling, or incoherent such that is fails to provide notice to defendants of plaintiffs' claims or that it meaningfully impedes defendants' ability to answer. Motions to strike are disfavored and are granted sparingly. See, e.g., McInerny v. Moyer Lumber & Hardware, Inc., 244 F.Supp.2d 393, 402 (E.D. Pa. 2002).

         Accordingly, the motions of defendants Glen Mills, Ireson, and CCIU to strike the complaint under Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will be denied.

         IV

         We turn next to the motion of defendants Glen Mills and Ireson to strike and dismiss plaintiffs' class action allegations under Rule 23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[4] See Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, No. 12-929, 2015 WL 401443, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 28, 2015); Semenko v. Wendy's Int'l, No. 12-0836, 2013 WL 1568407, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 12, 2013). Rule 23(c)(1)(A) provides that “[a]t an early practicable time after a person sues or is sued as a class representative, the court must determine by order whether to certify the action as a class action.” Under subsection (d)(1)(D) of that rule, a court may issue orders to “require that the pleadings be amended to eliminate allegations about representation of absent persons and that the action proceed accordingly.”

         As stated above, plaintiffs bring this lawsuit as a putative class action under Rules 23(a), (b)(2), and (b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs have alleged claims on behalf of a putative general class of youths and young adults who were adjudicated delinquent and placed at Glen Mills, and their parents. They also ...


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