S.D. v. HADDON HEIGHTS BOARD OF EDUCATION
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 3/2/2015. (TH, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
A.D. and R.D., individually
and on behalf of their son,
S.D., a minor,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 14-1880 (JBS/KMW)
HADDON HEIGHTS BOARD OF
Sarah E. Zuba, Esq.
Judith A. Gran, Esq.
FREEMAN CAROLLA REISMAN & GRAN LLC
19 Chestnut Street
Haddonfield, N.J. 08033
Attorney for Plaintiff S.D.
William S. Donio, Esq.
COOPER LEVENSON, P.A.
1125 Atlantic Avenue, Third Floor
Atlantic City, N.J. 08401-4891
-andJoseph F. Betley, Esq.
CAPEHART & SCATCHARD, P.A.
Laurel Corporate Center Suite 300
8000 Midlantic Drive – C.S. 5016
Mount Laurel, N.J. 08054
Attorneys for Defendant
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
In this action, Plaintiffs A.D. and R.D., individually and
on behalf of their son, S.D. (hereinafter, “S.D.” and
collectively, “Plaintiffs”) allege that Defendant the Haddon
Heights Board of Education (hereinafter, “Defendant”) failed to
comply with its statutory obligations to provide S.D., a student
with a disability, with a free and appropriate education
(hereinafter, “FAPE”), and enacted an attendance policy that
deprived S.D. of an education equivalent to that provide to his
Plaintiffs therefore allege that Defendant
violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29
U.S.C. § 791, et seq. (hereinafter, “RA”), Title II of the
Americans with Disabilities Act, 49 U.S.C. § 12132, et seq.
(hereinafter, the “ADA”), the First and Fourteenth Amendments
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and New Jersey’s Law Against
Discrimination, N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-12, et seq. (hereinafter,
Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended
Complaint on an array of jurisdictional and substantive grounds.
(Def.’s Br. [Docket Item 32-2].)
First, Defendant asserts that
the parties’ July 2014 Settlement Agreement and Defendant’s
subsequent accommodations have rendered Plaintiffs’ claims moot
and/or premature for adjudication, thereby depriving the Court
of subject matter jurisdiction. (Id. at 9-13.)
Plaintiffs seek relief available under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.
(hereinafter, the “IDEA”), Defendant insists that Plaintiffs
must comply with the IDEA’s administrative process, despite the
fact that Plaintiffs only assert non-IDEA claims.
Plaintiffs indisputably failed to exhaust the IDEA’s
administrative remedies, Defendant therefore argues that
Plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed for failure to exhaust.
(Id. at 16-22.)
Lastly, Defendant seeks dismissal of
Plaintiffs’ claims on the merits because Plaintiffs purportedly
have not and cannot show that Defendant discriminated against,
or acted deliberately indifferent towards, S.D. on account of
(Id. at 23-34.)
Plaintiffs, however, dispute the Settlement Agreement’s
effect on the justiciability of their claims, and argue that the
terms of the Agreement served to “inflict further
discrimination,” rather than to redress the allegations set
forth in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint.
Item 37], 5-9.)
(Pls.’ Opp’n [Docket
In addition, Plaintiff asserts that the
exhaustion requirements of the IDEA have no application to this
litigation, because Plaintiffs do not—and cannot—claim
entitlement to relief under the IDEA.
(Id. at 10-14.)
Plaintiffs argue that Defendant’s motion should be rejected with
respect to its substantive challenges to Plaintiffs’ claims,
primarily because such challenges rely upon a “conjure[d]”
version of facts entirely different to those averred in the
Amended Complaint. (Id. at 15-30.)
The principal issues before the Court are whether the
parties’ July 2014 Settlement Agreement impacted Plaintiffs’
standing to pursue their claims; and whether, in this non-IDEA
action, the nature of Plaintiffs’ claims nevertheless require
compliance with the IDEA’s administrative exhaustion process.
For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s motion will be
granted on exhaustion grounds.
Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint
will, accordingly, be dismissed without prejudice for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction.
A. Factual and Procedural Background
Because resolution of the pending motion relates
inextricably to the procedural posture of this litigation, the
Court will discuss the factual predicate1 and procedural
circumstances of this litigation in unison.
1. S.D.’s Disabilities
S.D., an eleventh-grade student at Haddon Heights
Junior/Senior High School, suffers from “multiple medical
problems including chronic sinusitis with frequent acute
exacerbations, allergic rhinitis, and intermittent asthma,” all
of which “make it likely that he will have frequent” school
absences and tardiness “due to [his] acute  underlying chronic
The facts set forth herein are drawn from the Amended Complaint
and its exhibits, which the Court accepts as true for the
purposes of the pending motion.
(Am. Compl., Ex. C.)
On October 24, 2012,
Plaintiff’s physician, Dr. Wendy S. Cook, D.O., therefore
advised that S.D. “should qualify for 504 plan modifications for
school” and “should be excused for absences/lateness due to his
(Id. at Ex. A.)
2. Section 504 Accommodation Plans for the 2012-2013
and 2013-2014 Academic Years
For the remainder of the 2012-2013 school year, Defendant,
accordingly, developed a 504 Accommodation Plan, in consultation
with Plaintiffs, on October 25, 2012 (hereinafter, the “initial
(See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 24-25, 29-30.)
Section 504 Plan provided S.D. with “extra time for assignments,
tests, and quizzes when absent,” and directed Plaintiffs “to
communicate” with S.D.’s teachers concerning “any missed work”
(Am. Compl., Ex. A at 2.)
accommodations, however, Plaintiffs allege that the initial 504
Plan failed to “impose any enforceable obligations” upon
Defendant and its teachers, and provided no mechanism for S.D.
“to be instructed in and learn the material” missed during his
absences. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 31.)
Rather, the initial 504 Plan
purportedly required that S.D. instead learn the materials on
Plaintiffs, accordingly, requested a follow-up 504
meeting, in light of their concerns that the initial 504 plan
proved ineffective and too poorly implemented to enable him to
meaningfully participate in and benefit from the educational
opportunities offered by Defendant to other students.
Compl. at ¶¶ 9, 31.)
Defendant thereafter convened a 504 meeting on April 19,
2013, and developed an amended 504 Accommodation Plan
(hereinafter, the “amended 504 Plan”).
(Id. at ¶ 33-34.)
amended 504 Plan continued to provide S.D. “extra time to
complete assignments,” but required all assignments to “be
completed within two weeks from [S.D.’s] return from absence,”
allowing teachers to reduce S.D.’s assignments at their
(Am. Compl., Ex. B.)
In addition, the amended 504
Plan directed S.D.’s teachers to “send weekly updates”
concerning missing assignments and to provide class notes and,
if possible, background information and/or discussion materials
concerning information covered in class.
The amended 504
Plan further imposed various, purportedly onerous
“responsibilities,” by requiring S.D. to create lists in order
to track assignments and to maintain folders to segregate
complete and incomplete work, and directed him to meet,
regularly, with his teachers and guidance counselor.
Compl. at ¶ 39.)
Plaintiffs, however, allege that the amended 504 Plan
similarly failed to provide any “mechanism” or “firm or
enforceable directive” to ensure that S.D.’s teachers provided
class notes and/or exercised their discretion to reduce
(Am. Compl. at ¶ 44.)
Plaintiffs further allege
that the amended 504 Plan failed to ensure that S.D. received
supplemental or alternative instruction (namely, home
instruction), “to enable him to keep up with the curriculum,
[to] complete his assignments in a timely manner,” and to
otherwise enjoy the benefits of, and access to, the educational
opportunities offered by Defendant to S.D.’s “typical peers.”
(Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 35, 41, 46.)
Rather, Plaintiffs allege that
the amended 504 Plan continued to require S.D., in effect, “to
teach himself the curriculum and to  identify and understand
assignments” explained by teachers in his absence—only causing
S.D. to fall “further and further behind” in his academic
assignments. (Id. at ¶ 46.)
3. Defendant Enacts a New Attendance Policy
The attendance policy in effect for the 2012-2013 academic
year prohibited a student from earning credit for a course in
which the student accrued more than 15 absences, unless the
student provided a “medical note from a physician” to
substantiate and excuse the excess absences.2
(Am. Compl., Ex.
The policy provided that “[w]arnings will be issued” to the
students “in danger of exceeding the 15-day limit,” but
In order to be considered excused, however, the policy required
a doctor’s note to be submitted “within 60 days of lateness or
absence.” (Id. at Ex. E.)
cautioned that accruing absences in excess of the maximum would
result in the student being placed in non-credit status.
at Ex. E.)
Moreover, the policy required any student over the
15-day absence maximum to attend “Saturday Credit Completion”
for each day over the prescribed limited, or risk the loss of
credits for the missed course.
“Due to his chronic medical issues, S.D. had over 33
absences during the 2012-2013 school year.”
(Am. Compl. at ¶
Despite such absences, however, S.D. purportedly earned
the credits necessary “for yearly promotion to the Grade 10
(Id. at ¶ 48-53.)
In the summer of 2013, Defendant enacted a new attendance
policy, as follows:
STUDENTS ARE LIMITED TO A TOTAL OF 33 ABSENCES IN A
SCHOOL YEAR (THIS LIMIT INCLUDES ANY ABSENCE,
INCLUDING APPROVED, EXCUSED AND UNEXCUSED ABSENCES)
EXCEPT WHEN HOME BOUND INSTRUCTION IS APPROVED BY THE
DISTRICT’S SCHOOL PHYISICIAN. STUDENTS WITH MORE THAN
33 ABSENCES WILL BE RETAINED.
(Id. at ¶ 53; see also Am. Compl., Ex. E.)
The new policy,
however, left undisturbed Defendant’s existing Saturday Credit
Plaintiff therefore alleges that Defendant
“made a deliberate choice to enact the Policy,” in order to
“target” students, like S.D., “with frequent excused absences,”
and “never” offered the only exception to the new policy, home
instruction, as an accommodation, despite S.D.’s frequent
(Id. at ¶¶ 54-56, 65.)
4. The 2013-2014 School Year
On September 30, 2013, Defendant prepared a 504 Plan for
S.D.’s 2013-2014 academic year—a plan that “simply repeated” the
amended 504 Plan “virtually verbatim,” despite the new 33maximum-absence attendance policy.3
(Am. Compl. at ¶ 40.)
the academic year progressed, however, S.D. quickly accumulated
fifty-eight (58) total absences for the 2013-2014 school year.
(Id. at ¶ 66.)
On March 13, 2014, Ronald F. Corn, the Principal of S.D.’s
High School, thereafter informed Plaintiffs that Defendant’s
“records show that [S.D.] . . . accumulated thirty-seven (37)
unexcused absences for the present school year,” and that
Defendant, accordingly, intended to retain S.D. for the 20132014 school year.
(Id. at ¶¶ 74-76 (emphasis in original).)
so deciding, Mr. Corn referenced Defendant’s new “attendance
policy mandating retention of any student absent more than
thirty-three (33) times for any reason” (id. at ¶ 75), and
Following the September 2013 Section 504 meeting, Plaintiffs
filed a complaint with the United States Department of
Education, Office of Civil Rights (hereinafter, the “DOE”),
seeking relief from the discriminatory impact of the policy.
The DOE, however, dismissed Plaintiffs’ complaint, because it
sought relief for “prospective” discrimination—presumably
because Plaintiffs argued, as here, that Defendant’s new
attendance policy would inevitably result in S.D.’s automatic
retention. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 71-72.)
directed Plaintiffs to promptly contact his office in order “to
develop a plan of action for the remainder of the school year.”
(Ex. F [Docket Item 4-7].)4
Rather than contact Mr. Corn,
however, Plaintiffs filed the initial Complaint in this
litigation on March 25, 2014.5
Nevertheless, Defendant scheduled a 504 meeting for March
24, 2014, in order “to discuss ways [to] accommodate [S.D.]
regarding time missed for attendance for absences related to
[his] underlying disability.”
(Am. Compl., Ex. F.)
however, purportedly failed to provide Plaintiffs with the
requisite notice, and “refused” to reschedule the meeting
The Court will consider Mr. Corn’s letter. It is axiomatic
that the Court generally may not, in resolving a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b), consider “matters extraneous to the
pleadings.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d
1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). Here, as stated below, the Court
need not cabin its review solely to the pleadings and its
exhibits. However, even if such constraint applied, the Court
may consider a public record or a “‘document integral to or
explicitly relied upon in the complaint,’” if such document
forms the basis for the complaint. In re Rockefeller Ctr.
Props., Inc., Sec. Litig., 184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999)
(citations and emphases omitted). Consequently, because
Plaintiffs predicate their Amended Complaint, in part, upon Mr.
Corn’s correspondence, such correspondence may properly be
considered in connection with the pending motion. (See, e.g.,
Am. Compl. at ¶ 74.) The Court, accordingly, reviewed the
letter (in its entirety) from Plaintiffs’ submissions in
connection with Plaintiffs’ earlier motion for preliminary
injunction. (See Ex. F [Docket Item 4-7].)
5 Plaintiffs simultaneously filed an additional complaint with
the DOE, in light of the fact that Defendant had at that time
purportedly taken “affirmative action to discriminate against
S.D. on the basis of his disability by retaining him.” (Id. at
despite Plaintiffs’ request.
(Am. Compl. at ¶ 86.)
Defendant convened the meeting, despite Plaintiffs’ absence, and
provided Plaintiffs with a revised 504 Plan on April 14, 2014.
(Id. at ¶ 85.)
The revised 504 Plan required that S.D. make up
excused “absences related to [his] underlying disability” by
attending “Saturday school for credit reinstatement” or by
(Am. Compl., Ex. F.)
Plaintiffs, however, allege that the revised 504 Plan still
failed to provide an appropriate education, because “simply
logging” extra hours in the last six weeks of the school year
purportedly failed to provide S.D. “with the targeted
instruction intended to provide him with equal opportunity to
benefit from Defendant’s educational program.” (Am. Compl. at ¶¶
Plaintiffs further allege that the “credit
reinstatement process” serves as a punitive, rather than
educational, substitute for in-class instruction, given that
Defendant created such process “for students who are repeatedly
truant from school for no identifiable reason deemed worthy of
(Id. at ¶ 94.)
Plaintiffs, accordingly, assert that
these additional efforts similarly failed to provide an
appropriate and enforceable mechanism “to deliver [the]
supplemental instruction and guidance” necessary for S.D.’s
(Id. at ¶ 95.)
5. Motion for Preliminary Injunction and the Parties’
July 2014 Settlement Agreement
Despite Defendant’s policy of automatic retention for
excessive absences, S.D. purportedly earned sufficient credits
in his 2013-2014 courses for promotion to Grade 11.
(Id. at ¶
Given S.D.’s allegedly inevitable retention under the new
attendance policy, Plaintiffs filed for a motion for preliminary
injunction on April 11, 2014.
In their motion, Plaintiffs
requested that the Court enjoin Defendant from enforcing “its
policy to retain students based  solely [upon] the student’s
number of total absences,” including absences excused for
medical reasons, thereby enabling S.D. to Grade 11.
[Docket Item 4-10], 19.)
On June 18, 2014, however, the parties reached a settlement
that resolved the issues presented in the motion for preliminary
injunction without Court intervention.
Specifically, “in order
for S.D. to be promoted to Grade 11,” Plaintiffs agreed to
retake, at Plaintiffs’ expense, an online drivers’ education
course that S.D. had already mastered.
(Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 96-
Plaintiffs, however, agreed to such terms “without waiving
any rights or making any admissions with respect” to the
Settlement’s requirements, and specifically allege that such
requirements amplified, rather than diminished, Defendant’s
(Id. at ¶¶ 96-100.)
Indeed, as alleged in connection with Defendant’s earlier
accommodations, Plaintiffs assert that the Settlement Agreement
(though accepted) failed to “address any harm that results from
student absenteeism, whether excused or unexcused,” or to
provide S.D. with “a free and appropriate public education.”
Plaintiffs further challenge the Settlement to the extent
it required completion of a course “not imposed on typical
students,” and because it otherwise failed to grant him the
opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, educational
services equal to that enjoyed by nondisabled students.
Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs moved to file an Amended
Complaint, in order to clarify and supplement Plaintiffs’
claims. (See Pls.’ Br. [Docket Item 28-3].) In connection with
such submission, Plaintiffs specifically asserted that the
parties’ resolution of the “immediate issues of irreparable
harm” raised in the motion for a preliminary injunction did not
“resolve the dispute in its entirety.”
(See id. at 1.)
Defendant filed no opposition, and the Court, accordingly,
granted Plaintiffs’ motion on August 19, 2014.
6. Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint
In the six-count Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that
Defendant’s various proposed accommodations from September 2012
through the present subjected S.D. to discrimination due to the
nature and severity of his disability, by denying him the
meaningful opportunity to engage in and access the educational
program and services, in violation of the RA, the ADA, and
(Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 102-13, 133-39.)
Plaintiffs allege that Defendant enacted the new attendance
policy in retaliation for Plaintiffs’ engagement in protected
activity, namely, filing this litigation and complaints before
the DOE, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the RA, the ADA, and the NJLAD.
In light of Plaintiffs’ discrimination and
retaliation claims, Plaintiffs seek:
1. A finding that S.D.’s October 2012 Section 504 Plan,
April 2013 Section 504 Plan, September 2013 Section
504 Plan, and March 2014 Section 504 Plan were
2. A finding that the Board failed to implement S.D.’s
October 2012 Section 504 Plan, April 2013 Section
504 Plan, September 2013 Section 504 Plan, and March
2014 Section 504 Plan;
3. A finding that the new attendance policy
discriminates against students with disabilities in
violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with
4. A finding that the Board discriminated against S.D.
by requiring him to take an additional, noneducational course to achieve promotion to Grade 11;
5. A finding that the Board impermissibly retaliated
against Plaintiffs by enacting the new attendance
policy, retaining S.D. in Grade 10, and requiring
that Plaintiffs pay for and S.D. complete the online
course to secure promotion to Grade 11;
6. An Order enjoining the Board from retaining S.D. in
Grade 10 Sophomore Class for the 2014-2015 school
year on the basis of the new attendance policy;
7. An Order enjoining the Board from applying the
Policy to retain S.D. solely on the basis of the
total number of his excused absences at any time;
8. An award of compensatory education for the
instruction S.D. missed as a result of his
inappropriate Section 504 Plans during 2012-2013 and
2013-2014 school years; and
9. An award of compensatory and punitive damages for
Defendant’s alleged violations of federal and state
laws, in addition to an award of reasonable
(See Am. Compl. at 27-28 (setting forth the thirteen
precise forms of requested relief).)
motion followed shortly thereafter.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In this action, Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiffs’
Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under
Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule
When a party moves to dismiss under more than one
Rule 12 ground, the Court must first consider the Rule 12(b)(1)
challenge, “because if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction, all other defenses and objections
become moot.” In re Corestates Trust Fee Litig., 837 F. Supp.
104, 105 (E.D. Pa. 1993).
A. Rule 12(b)(1)
Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,
the party seeking to invoke the court’s jurisdiction bears the
burden of proving the existence of subject matter jurisdiction.
See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) therefore
enables a party, as here, to move to dismiss a complaint for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Under Rule 12(b)(1), the court’s jurisdiction may be
challenged either facially (based on the legal sufficiency of
the claim) or factually (based on the sufficiency of a
(3d Cir. 2000).
Gould Elecs. v. U.S., 220 F.3d 169, 178
In considering a factual attack, as here, the
Court’s inquiry is not confined to allegations in the complaint.
Rather, the Court may “consider affidavits, depositions, and
testimony to resolve factual issues bearing on jurisdiction.”
Gotha v. U.S., 115 F.3d 176, 179 (3d Cir. 1997); see also
Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 549 F.2d 884, 891–92
(3d Cir. 1977).
Article III of the United States Constitution requires that
“an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of [the
Court's] review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.”
Camesi v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 729 F.3d 239, 247 (3d
Cir. 2013) (quoting Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, ___
U.S. ____, 133 S.Ct. 1523, 1528 (2013)).
applicable administrative remedies is similarly required in
order for the Court to exercise subject matter jurisdiction.
See, e.g., D.E. v. Central Dauphin Sch. Dist., 765 F.3d 260, 274
(3d Cir. 2014) (generally noting that exhaustion constitutes a
prerequisite to the district court’s subject matter
Consequently, mootness and ripeness arguments, as here,
present factual (rather than facial) challenges to the Court’s
subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil
See Holland v. N.J. Res. Corp., No. 12–
07858, 2013 WL 4780763 at *1 n. 2 (D.N.J. 2013); Gordon v. East
Goshan Twp., 592 F. Supp. 2d 828, 837 (E.D. Pa. 2009).
Consequently, the Court need not credit the allegations set
forth in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint, and may instead consider
matters extraneous to the pleadings, if necessary.
Elecs. Inc. v. U.S., 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
B. Rule 12(b)(6)
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), by
contrast, the court must “‘accept all factual allegations as
true, construe the Complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading
of the Complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.’”
Fleisher v. Standard Ins. Co., 679 F.3d 116, 120 (3d Cir. 2012)
A. The Court Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction over
1. Plaintiffs’ Claims Are Not Moot
Defendant argues that, as a result of the parties’ July
2014 Settlement Agreement and S.D.’s most-recent 504 Plan,
S.D.’s disability-related absences no longer affect his
eligibility for promotion to the next grade, and that Defendant
has begun to provide S.D. with home instruction in order “to
make up for instruction he misses” on account of his “chronic
health condition or disability.”
(Def.’s Reply6 at 2-3.)
Defendant therefore argues that no real case or controversy
exists in this litigation, in light of the fact that the
attendance policy no longer disparately impacts S.D., and
because Defendant allowed S.D. to advance to Grade 11.
Br. at 11-12.)
The Court, however, finds Defendant’s position
Defendants filed their reply brief under seal, without
contemporaneously filing a motion to seal in accordance with
Local Civil Rule 5.3. On November 26, 2014, the Clerk of Court
therefore directed Defendant to “submit a certification stating
that this document is to be marked Confidential” or that
Defendant restricted its access “in error.” Defendant filed no
such submission. Having review Defendant’s reply, the Court
does not find that it contains any information necessitating any
restriction on public access. Indeed, the submission largely
reiterates the publicly-available information set forth in
Defendant’s opening submission, and does not otherwise contain
confidential and/or identifying information concerning S.D., the
minor Plaintiff. Consequently, the Court will direct the Clerk
of Court to unseal the submission.
Indeed, the allegations of the Amended Complaint extend far
beyond the narrow issues of absence counting under the new
attendance policy and S.D.’s promotion to Grade 11.
Opp’n at 6.)
Rather, the crux of Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint
concerns Defendant’s repeated development of purportedly
ineffective, discriminatory, and poorly implemented Section 504
plans from September 2012 through the present; Defendant’s
allegedly retaliatory enactment and discriminatory application
of the new attendance policy; and Defendant’s purportedly
retaliatory requirement that Plaintiffs meet advancement
standards (namely, the online driver’s course required by the
Settlement Agreement) not required of other students.
Compl at ¶¶ 102-44; see also Pls.’ Opp’n at 5-6 (summarizing the
nature of Plaintiffs’ claims).)
In connection with such claims,
Plaintiffs seek specific findings concerning the propriety and
implementation of each 504 plan developed for S.D.
Compl. at 27-28 (delineating the relief requested by Plaintiffs’
Moreover, Plaintiffs’ retaliation claims
rest, in part, upon the purportedly retaliatory terms of the
(See generally Am. Compl. at 27-28.)
Consequently, though the parties’ Settlement Agreement may
have partially resolved the effect of certain of the alleged
violations of S.D.’s civil rights, the Agreement does not, by
itself, resolve Plaintiffs’ allegations concerning “two years of
discriminatory treatment,” nor does it dispose of Plaintiffs’
contentions that Defendant enacted the new attendance policy and
required Plaintiff “to pay for and meet additional requirements”
not imposed upon other students, in retaliation for Plaintiffs’
(See Pls.’ Opp’n at 6, 9.)
In addition, the Court notes that Plaintiff specifically
argued in connection with Plaintiffs’ motion to amend that the
Settlement Agreement “resolved the immediate issues of
irreparable harm” with regard to S.D.’s advancement to Grade 11,
but did not resolve “the dispute in its entirety.”
[Docket Item 28-3].)
Despite Plaintiffs’ assertion, however,
Defendant did not oppose the filing of Plaintiffs’ proposed
Amended Complaint on futility grounds, nor file any opposition.
Given these procedural circumstances, Defendant cannot be heard
to dispute the ripeness of Plaintiffs’ claims in the aftermath
of the parties’ Settlement Agreement.
At most, the Settlement
Agreement resolved—and the parties cannot relitigate—the
mechanism for S.D.’s promotion to Grade 11, while not purporting
to resolve other claims in this case.
Consequently, for all of these reasons, the Court rejects
Defendant’s assertion that Plaintiffs’ claims should be
dismissed on justiciability grounds, and turns to the parties’
positions concerning the need for administrative exhaustion in
2. Plaintiffs’ Claims Require Compliance with the
IDEA’s Administrative Process
Defendant also argues, in this non-IDEA action, that
Plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed for failure to first
exhaust the IDEA’s exhaustion requirements.
16-21; Def.’s Reply at 5-9.)
(See Def.’s Br. at
In that regard, Defendant insists
that Plaintiffs must “fully exhaust” the IDEA’s administrative
remedies because Plaintiffs seeks relief “available under the
Plaintiffs counter, however, that no such
exhaustion requirement applies because “they simply do not seek
any relief” available under the IDEA, nor could S.D. claim
entitlement to such relief.7
(Pls.’ Opp’n at 10-12 (arguing that
“S.D. is not a student subject to the IDEA”).)
Plaintiffs argue that this action concerns theories of recovery
separate and distinct from those provided under the IDEA.8
the alternative, Plaintiffs insist that exhaustion would be
Plaintiffs do not dispute that they did not pursue
administrative remedies under the IDEA prior to proceeding with
this federal litigation. (See generally Pls.’ Opp’n.)
8 “The IDEA governs the affirmative duty to provide a public
education to disabled students, while the ADA and RA embody the
negative prohibition against depriving disabled students of
public education.” C.G. v. Pa. Dep’t of Educ., 734 F.3d 229, 2
34 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). The IDEA therefore
provides a remedy for “‘inappropriate educational placement
decisions, regardless of discrimination,’ while the ADA and RA
prohibit and provide a remedy for discrimination.” Id.
(citations omitted). Despite this, the statutes are, in
practical application, substantively identical. See D.K. v.
Abington Sch. Dist., 696 F.3d 233, 254 n.8 (3d Cir. 2012)
(noting the substantive identity).
futile, thereby excusing any applicable exhaustion requirement.
(Id. at 13.)
Statutory Framework of the IDEA
At the outset, the Court addresses Plaintiffs’ threshold
assertion that S.D. does not constitute “a child with a
disability that adversely affects his educational performance,”
as required to fall under the purview of the IDEA.9
In that regard, the Court notes that the IDEA aims to
“‘ensure that all children with disabilities have available to
them a free appropriate public education [“FAPE”] that
emphasizes special education and related services designed to
meet their unique needs.’”
Batchelor v. Rose Tree Media School
Dist., 759 F.3d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting 20 U.S.C. §
1400(d)(1)(A)); see also 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a) (emphasis added).
The IDEA, in turn, defines “child with a disability” to mean
a child with intellectual disabilities, hearing
impairments (including deafness), speech or language
The Court could, arguably, have viewed Plaintiffs’ assertion as
an argument concerning the purported futility of pursuing
administrative remedies, e.g., as an argument that such remedies
would be unproductive because the administrative hearing officer
would promptly find that S.D. does not have a qualifying
disability, thereby eroding any potential benefits of such
process. (See Pls.’ Opp’n at 13 (discussing this argument).)
The Court, however, finds this issue appropriate to consider at
the beginning of the analysis, for if there could be no dispute
that S.D. would invariably be found ineligible under the IDEA,
any remaining discussion of the IDEA and/or its exhaustion
requirements would appear unnecessary.
impairments, visual impairments (including blindness),
serious emotional disturbance (or referred to in this
chapter as “emotional disturbance”), orthopedic
impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other
health impairments, or specific learning disabilities;
and who by reason thereof needs special education and
20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A) (emphasis added).
The IDEA similarly
defines “other health impairments” as
having limited strength, vitality or alertness,
including a heightened alertness to environmental
stimuli, that results in limited alertness with
respect to the educational environment, that—(i) [i]s
due to chronic or acute health problems, including but
not limited to a heart condition, tuberculosis,
rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell
anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning,
leukemia, diabetes, attention deficit disorder or
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Tourette
syndrome; and [a]dversely affects a student's
34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(9)(i)-(ii).
Disability under the IDEA
therefore extends beyond solely students with learning
disabilities, and expressly includes health impairments that
limit a student’s ability to attend regular classes and which
adversely affect his or her educational performance.
Batchelor, the Third Circuit has held that the IDEA governs
actions seeking relief that could be obtained under the IDEA,
regardless of the statutory basis of the claims pleaded in the
complaint, 759 F.3d at 274-75.
Here, Plaintiffs allege that S.D. suffers from acute and
chronic medical problems, including sinusitis, allergic
rhinitis, and asthma. (See Am. Compl., Ex. A.)
further allege that such conditions adversely impact his ability
to learn, and necessitate frequent school absences.
Compl. at ¶¶ 3-4, 26-27, 56.)
In light of these conditions, the
amended Section 504 plan expressly provided S.D. with “the right
to 10-15 minute breaks during the day,” presumably due to the
fact that S.D.’s conditions result, on occasion, in his
(Id. at ¶ 38.)
In that regard,
Plaintiffs’ own allegations concede the presence of both
statutory prerequisites for the IDEA’s application, namely, a
qualifying disability (here, asthma10) that adversely affects
educational performance (here, by impacting S.D.’s ability to
learn and attend school) and requires special accommodation.11
Asthma constitutes a condition expressly identified as a
qualifying condition under the IDEA. See 34 C.F.R. §
300.8(c)(9)(i)-(ii) (identifying “asthma” as a qualifying
condition). There is, however, no indication that sinusitis
and/or allergic rhinitis, S.D.’s other conditions, would not
similarly qualify. Nevertheless, because the regulations
promulgated under the IDEA expressly identify asthma as a
qualifying condition, the Court need not address S.D.’s
additional health impairments.
11 For the same reasons, the Court finds the record sufficiently
supportive at this time of the inference that S.D’s impairment
may require a “special education and related services.” 20
U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A); see also D.S. v. Neptune Twp. Bd. of
Educ., 264 F. App’x 186, 189 (3d Cir. 2008) (“Written in the
conjunctive, the [IDEA] should not be read to protect children
with an impairment but not requiring special education.”).
Under the IDEA, a “special education” is one “specially designed
instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a
disability.” 20 U.S.C. § 1401(29). However, “no precise
standard” governs the determination of whether a student needs a
special education, and “well-settled precedent counsels against
invoking any bright-line rules for making such a determination.”
Consequently, the record before the Court supports, at this
time, the conclusion that Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint
potentially implicates the statutory entitlements of the IDEA.12
See Rose v. Yeaw, 214 F.3d 206, 210 (1st Cir. 2000) (describing
a complaint concerning a student with “asthma-related absences”
which “interfered with regular [school] attendance” as “relating
unmistakably to the evaluation and educational placement of [the
student] in the [ ] school system and to the provision of a free
appropriate education”); Weixel v. Bd. of Educ. of N.Y., 287
F.3d 138, 150 (2d Cir. 2002) (finding allegations that student
W. Chester Area Sch. Dist. v. Bruce C., 194 F. Supp. 2d 417, 420
(E.D. Pa. 2002). Here, S.D.’s asserted need for special
scheduling and/or home instruction clearly satisfies this
minimal standard, and the Court finds Plaintiffs’ arguments to
the contrary unconvincing. (See Defs.’ Opp’n at 12-13.)
12 The Court therefore rejects Plaintiffs’ assertion that the
IDEA has no application to this action, because the FAPE
referenced in the Amended Complaint differs from the FAPE
required under the IDEA. (See Pls.’ Opp’n at 12.) Rather, “there
appears to be ‘few differences, if any,’ between the
requirements imposed under Section 504 and those provided under
the IDEA.” T.F. v. Fox Chapel Area Sch. Dist., No. 12-1666,
2013 WL 5936411, at *9 n.4 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 5, 2013) (quoting W.B.
v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484, 492–93 (3d Cir. 1995)), aff’d, 2014 WL
4674635 (3d Cir. Sept. 22, 2014). Indeed, both evaluate whether
the school district provided the education, services, and
support necessary in of the student’s disabilities. See D.K.,
696 F.3d at 254 n.8 (finding that a FAPE under the IDEA and
Section 504 require essentially the same thing, namely, that a
school district “‘reasonably accommodate the needs of the
handicapped child so as to ensure meaningful participation in
educational activities and meaningful access to educational
benefits’”) (citation omitted). The Court therefore agrees with
Defendant that “the FAPE under the IDEA and Section 504” would
appear “essentially the same.” (Def.’s Reply at 6 (citing
diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia had
“disabling physical ailments that limited her strength, vitality
and alertness and made it impossible for her to attend school”
adequate to plead a disability under the IDEA).
concluding, however, the Court makes no finding as to the merits
of any IDEA-related claim on behalf of Plaintiffs, nor has the
Court recharacterized Plaintiffs’ claims to include an express
Rather, because the Court has an obligation to
prevent circumvention of the IDEA, as stated below, the Court
simply rejects Plaintiffs’ position that the IDEA lacks any
arguable application to this litigation on account of the nature
of S.D.’s health conditions.
See, e.g., Batchelor, 759 F.3d at
274-75 (noting that the IDEA applies to actions seeking relief
that could be obtained under the IDEA, regardless of the
statutory basis of the plaintiff’s claims); M.S. ex rel.
Shihadeh v. Marple Newtown Sch. Dist., ___ F. Supp. 3d ____, No.
11-5857, 2015 WL 70920, at *4-*5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 5, 2015)
(finding the IDEA implicated by the plaintiffs’ RA and ADA
claims, despite the lack of any reference to the IDEA in the
plaintiffs’ amended complaint).
The Court therefore turns to
whether the exhaustion requirements of the IDEA apply to
Plaintiffs’ non-IDEA claims.
Application of the IDEA’s Exhaustion
The IDEA requires, in relevant part, that states receiving
federal funds “make available a FAPE to children with
disabilities” and “implement specified procedural safeguards to
ensure children with disabilities and their parents” receive due
Batchelor, 759 F.3d at 272.
collectively known as the IDEA’s administrative remedies,
provide “an elaborate procedural mechanism,” which includes “a
due process hearing before an administrative official.” Komninos
v. Upper Saddle River Bd. of Educ., 13 F.3d 775, 778 (3d Cir.
1994); 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f).
Congress required plaintiffs to complete the administrative
process prior to resorting to federal court, “because allowing a
‘claim without requiring exhaustion ... would not only ‘render
superfluous most of the detailed procedural protections outlined
in the statute, but, ... would also run counter to Congress’
view that the needs of handicapped children are best
accommodated by having the parents and the local education
agency work together to formulate an individualized plan for
each handicapped child's education.’”
M.G. ex rel. LG v.
Caldwell-West Caldwell Bd. of Educ., 804 F. Supp. 2d 305, 313
(D.N.J. 2011) (quoting Komninos, 13 F.3d at 778 (quoting Smith
v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1011–12 (1984))).
affords the education agencies an opportunity “to apply their
expertise and correct their own mistakes.”
Woodruff v. Hamilton
Twp. Pub. Sch., 305 F. App’x. 833, 837 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing
McKart v. U.S., 395 U.S. 185, 194–95 (1969)).
Consequently, parties may only commence a civil action in
district court following “the findings and decision” of an
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(i)-(iii)
that time, the reviewing court may grant “such relief as [it]
determines appropriate,” see id., including “attorneys' fees,
reimbursement for a private educational placement, and
compensatory education.” Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila. Bd. of
Educ., 587 F.3d 176, 185 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation
Though Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint does not identify a
claim under the IDEA, in Batchelor v. Rose Tree Media School
District, 759 F.3d at 272, the Court of Appeals found that
“[e]xhaustion of the IDEA’s administrative process is also
required in non-IDEA actions where the plaintiff seeks relief
that can be obtained under the IDEA.”
Indeed, Section 1415(l)
of the IDEA expressly provides a rule of construction, which
[n]othing in this chapter shall be construed to
restrict or limit the rights, procedures, and remedies
available under the Constitution, the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 [42 U.S.C. §§ 12101–12213],
title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [29 U.S.C.
§§ 791–794f], or other Federal laws protecting the
rights of children with disabilities, except that
before the filing of a civil action under such laws
seeking relief that is also available under this
subchapter, the [IDEA administrative process] shall be
exhausted to the same extent as would be required had
the action been brought under this subchapter
Id. (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l)).
This provision therefore
“‘bars plaintiffs from circumventing [the] IDEA’s exhaustion
requirement by taking claims that could have been brought under
IDEA and repackaging them as claims under some other statute—
e.g., section 1983, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or
Id. (quoting Jeremy H. v. Mount Lebanon Sch. Dis.,
95 F.3d 272, 281 (3d Cir. 1996)); see also W.B., 67 F.3d at 495–
96 (citing the legislative history of § 1415(f) as stating that
“parents alleging violations of section 504 [of the
Rehabilitation Act] and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are required to exhaust
administrative remedies before commencing separate actions in
court where exhaustion would be required under” the IDEA);
Hornstine v. Twp. Of Moorestown, 263 F. Supp. 2d 887, 901-02
For that reason, the Court rejects Plaintiffs’ assertion that
requiring administrative exhaustion under the IDEA “would
undermine the important federal rights for the disabled
guaranteed by Section 504 and Title II of the ADA.” (Pls.’ Opp’n
at 13.) Notably, compliance with an administrative process does
not undermine federally-protected rights, or otherwise bar a
plaintiff from proceeding on the merits of his or her claims.
Rather, it simply constitutes a statutory prerequisite to
pursuing such rights in federal district court, recognizing the
congressional finding that the pursuit of dialogue and review in
the local administrative process is most likely to promptly
resolve the educational dispute without resort to federal court.
(D.N.J. 2003) (“[I]n cases in which it appears that a plaintiff
has cloaked an IDEA claim as an ADA, Rehabilitation Act, or
Section 1983 action in an effort to avoid application of the
IDEA'S distinct exhaustion requirement, courts will require that
plaintiff to exhaust the state administrative remedies mandated
for IDEA claims”); Hope v. Cortines, 69 F.3d 687, 688 (2d Cir.
1995) (finding claims asserted under the ADA subject to the
IDEA’s exhaustion requirement, if such claims seek relief
available under the IDEA).
Determining whether the IDEA’s administrative process must
be exhausted prior to bringing claims in federal court therefore
turns on “whether the parties could have asserted the claims
under the IDEA” and “whether the claim could have been remedied
by the IDEA’s administrative process.”
Id. at 273.
words, claims under Section 504, the ADA, Section 1983, or any
state analogue, will require exhaustion, if such claims seek
relief “available under the IDEA.”
In that regard, the
Court again finds the Third Circuit’s Batchelor case
In Batchelor, the plaintiffs, a mother and son, filed suit
against the school district, primarily alleging that the school
district retaliated against them “‘for their advocacy with
respect to [the son’s] legally protected right’” to a FAPE.
at 270, 274 (citation omitted).
The plaintiffs specifically
asserted three claims: retaliation and failure to provide a FAPE
under the IDEA; retaliation in violation of Section 504; and
retaliation in violation of the ADA.
Id. at 270.
plaintiffs argued, as here, that they need not exhaust
administrative remedies with regard to their Section 504 and ADA
Upon review of the plain language of the statute—which
“affords parents of a disabled child the opportunity to present
a complaint ‘with respect to any matter relating to the
identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the
child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education
to such child’”—the Court of Appeals, however, found “a logical
path to be drawn” from the claims of retaliation to the school
district’s failure to provide, and plaintiffs’ efforts to
obtain, “‘a free appropriate public education.’”
(emphasis in original).
Id. at 274-75
Because of the “‘unmistakabl[e]’”
relationship between the retaliation claims and the provision of
a FAPE under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6), the Batchelor court
concluded that such claims must be exhausted under the IDEA.
Id. at 274-75.
In the wake of Batchelor, district courts throughout this
Circuit have found non-IDEA actions subject to IDEA exhaustion
requirements, where the asserted claims bear relation to the
IDEA’s guarantee of a FAPE. See, e.g., M.S. ex rel. Shihadeh,
___ F. Supp. 3d ____, 2015 WL 70920, at *4-*5 (finding in a nonIDEA action that, under Batchelor, the plaintiffs’ ADA and
Section 504 claims required IDEA exhaustion); S.B. v. Trenton
Bd. of Educ., No. 13-0949, 2014 WL 5089716, at *5 (D.N.J. Oct.
9, 2014) (finding in a non-IDEA action that, under Batchelor,
the plaintiffs’ claims under the ADA, the RA, and the New Jersey
Special Education Statute, required IDEA exhaustion).
Here, as in Batchelor, Plaintiffs’ retaliation and
discrimination claims are inextricably linked to the key benefit
secured by the IDEA—a free and appropriate public education.
(See generally Am. Compl.)
Indeed, although discrimination
claims may not ordinarily be provided for under the IDEA, see
Hornstine v. Twp. Of Moorestown, 263 F. Supp. 2d at 901-02,
Plaintiffs’ discrimination claims in this instance explicitly
center upon the appropriateness of the education provided to
S.D. in light of his disabilities.
Indeed, Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint principally alleges
that Defendant failed to provide S.D. “the opportunity to
participate in and benefit from the educational services and
programs,” and limited “his enjoyment of the right and
opportunity to receive a free, appropriate public education
equal to the opportunity enjoyed by his nondisabled or
differentially disabled peers.”
(Id. at ¶¶ 5, 9, 14, 64.)
so alleging, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant failed to prepare
and implement a Section 504 Plan sufficient “to identify the
reasonable accommodations necessary to allow S.D. to access the
free, appropriate public education,” despite the fact that
S.D.’s medical disabilities “necessitate frequent excused
absences from school.”
(Id. at ¶¶ 4, 22, 95, 98.)
Consequently, though couched in slightly varied terms, it
is clear that Plaintiffs’ allegations principally concern: (1)
whether Defendant appropriately identified S.D. as a student
with a disability; (2) what constitutes a free appropriate
public education for S.D.; and whether, and to what extent, the
various accommodations sufficiently addressed S.D.’s right to a
(See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 102-13, 133-39.)
In that regard,
Plaintiffs’ discrimination claims squarely relate to the core
provision of the IDEA: Defendant’s obligation to provide a FAPE,
and therefore fall within its ambit.
See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6)
(noting that the IDEA applies to “any matter relating to the
identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the[ir]
child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education
to such child”) (emphases added); Polera v. Bd. of Educ. Of
Newburgh Enlarged City Sch. Dist., 288 F.3d 478, 488 (2d Cir.
2002) (finding that the plaintiff’s claim for “failure to
provide her with the free appropriate public education” sought
redress under the IDEA); Cave v. East Meadow Union Free Sch.
Dist., 514 F.3d 240 (2d Cir. 2008) (rejecting plaintiffs’
argument that their claims rested upon unlawful discrimination
and not a violation of the IDEA, because the FAPE discrimination
claims all could have been addressed within the framework of the
IDEA); Baldessarre v. Monroe-Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist., 820 F.
Supp. 2d 490, 505 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing a multitude of cases,
and finding that “all of [p]laintiffs’ claims of discrimination
relate to the interplay between [the child’s] disability and his
education,” and therefore require IDEA exhaustion).
Plaintiffs’ retaliation claims similarly turn upon the
educational placement of S.D. and the enforcement of rights
available under the IDEA, namely, the provision of a free and
(See id. at ¶¶ 114-32.)
Plaintiffs specifically allege that Defendant took “adverse
action” as a result of “Plaintiffs’ advocacy on behalf of S.D.
and their efforts to vindicate S.D.’s right to a FAPE.”
¶¶ 120-23, 129-32.)
These retaliation claims therefore squarely
state the sort of claims that the Court of Appeals in Batchelor
found subject to the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement.
759 F.3d at
274-75 (finding that a retaliation claim for the school
district’s failure to provide, and plaintiffs’ efforts to
obtain, a free appropriate public education must be exhausted
under the IDEA before a court may assert subject matter
For all of these reasons, the Court concludes that, under
Batchelor, Plaintiffs’ claims fall within the ambit of the IDEA,
and therefore require exhaustion of the IDEA’s administrative
See Batchelor, 759 F.3d at 274-75 (concluding that
“retaliation claims related to the enforcement of rights under
the IDEA must be exhausted before a court may assert subject
matter jurisdiction”); M.S. ex rel. Shihadeh, ___ F. Supp. 3d
____, 2015 WL 70920, at *4-*5; S.B., 2014 WL 5089716, at *5;
R.S. v. Glen Rock Bd. of Educ., No. 14-24, 2014 WL 7331954, at
*4 (D.N.J. Dec. 19, 2014) (dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint
without prejudice, because failure to first exhaust “would deny
Nor does Plaintiffs’ assertion of a retaliation claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 alter this result. (See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 114-23.)
To the contrary, the IDEA exhaustion requirement applies equally
to such claims. See Cave v. East Meadow Union Free Sch. Dist.,
514 F.3d 240 (2d Cir. 2008) (noting that, “[t]he language of
Section 1415(l) of the IDEA is sufficiently broad and
encompasses complaints asserted under any federal statute, as
long as they seek relief available under the IDEA”); Mrs. W. v.
Tirozzi, 832 F.2d 748 (2d Cir. 1987) (finding that the IDEA’s
exhaustion requirement is the “same for 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ...
actions” and that the administrative “remedies must be exhausted
prior to instituting a civil action in federal court pursuant to
... § 1983”). Logically, this requirement might similarly
envelop Plaintiffs’ state law claim. However, because the Court
will, as stated below, dismiss Plaintiffs’ federal claims for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Court need not reach
this issue. Rather, given that this case remains in its
pleadings phase, the Court, in its discretion, declines to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state law
claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); Byrd v. Shannon, 715 F.3d
117, 128 (3d Cir. 2014) (affirming the district court's decision
to decline supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims upon
the dismissal of all federal claims).
administrative personnel an opportunity to exercise their
The Court next considers whether the circumstances
of this action excuse compliance with the IDEA’s administrative
Exceptions to the IDEA’s Exhaustion Requirement
Plaintiffs need not comply with the IDEA’s exhaustion
requirements if “exhaustion would be futile or inadequate,” if
“the issue presented is purely a legal question,” or if “the
administrative agency cannot grant relief.”
Komninos, 13 F.3d
at 778 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Plaintiffs argue that, even if their claims fall within the
scope of the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement, the futility
exception applies to the extent Plaintiffs seek monetary relief
not available under the IDEA.
(Pls.’ Opp’n at 12-13; see also
Am. Compl. at 28 (setting forth Plaintiffs’ request for an award
of compensatory and punitive damages).)
Though compensatory and punitive damages, as sought in this
action, “‘are not available under the IDEA and cannot be awarded
in the context of a Due Process hearing,’” the remedies sought
in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint do not constrain the relief the
Court “is authorized to grant.”
Batchelor, 759 F.3d at 276.
Rather, “‘the theory behind the grievance may activate the
IDEA's process, even if the plaintiff wants a form of relief
that the IDEA does not supply.’”
Id. (quoting Charlie F. v. Bd.
of Educ. of Skokie Sch. Dist. 68, 98 F.3d 989, 992 (7th Cir.
Plaintiffs may not therefore “sidestep the exhaustion
requirements of IDEA,” by seeking monetary damages.
F.3d at 488.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals in
Batchelor expressly rejected the argument that a demand for
monetary damages exempted a plaintiff from exhaustion
Batchelor, 759 F.3d at 276.
Here, although Plaintiffs seek incidental monetary
damages,15 the genesis of this litigation concerns the interplay
between S.D.’s disability and his education.
See Batchelor, 759
F.3d at 278 (noting that the IDEA provides the appropriate
mechanism where “‘both the genesis and the manifestations of the
problems are educational’”) (citations omitted).
Plaintiffs specifically seek relief in the form of FAPE
challenges, including declaratory and injunctive relief, and a
“compensatory education,” (Am. Compl. at 27-28), recovery
Critically, of the thirteen forms of relief requested by
Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint, only two forms request monetary
damages. (See Am. Compl. at 28.) Moreover, the monetary claims
turn upon Defendant’s failure, retaliatory or otherwise, to
provide a FAPE—a theory that Plaintiffs similarly rely upon in
seeking a compensatory education and an array of declaratory
findings. (See id. at 27-28.) As stated herein, these monetary
requests therefore inextricably relate to Plaintiffs’ claims for
relief available under the IDEA and require exhaustion. See
Patrick B. ex rel. Keshia B. v. Paradise Protectory & Agric.
Sch., Inc., 858 F. Supp. 2d 427, 431-32 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (noting
that monetary damages only constitute an excuse for exhaustion
where the monetary damages constitute the only form of requested
relief, and where some administrative proceedings have
unequivocally available under the IDEA.
Phila. Bd. of Educ., 587 F.3d at 185.
See Sch. Dist. of
with the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement is not excused by
Plaintiffs’ request for monetary damages.
See Hesling v. Avon
Grove Sch. Dist., 428 F. Supp. 2d 262, 274-76 (E.D. Pa. 2006)
(finding exhaustion required for plaintiff’s entire retaliation
claim, even though the IDEA only provided “some of the relief
sought”); Falzett v. Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist., 150 F. Supp. 2d
699, 705 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (finding that section 1415(l) of the
IDEA “implies that the entire action must be dismissed for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction whenever any part of the dispute
might be resolved at the administrative level”) (citation
For all of these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’
claims fall within the ambit of the IDEA and require exhaustion.
In addition, the Court finds, under the facts presented, that no
exception excuses compliance with the IDEA’s exhaustion
requirement.16 Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction will, accordingly, be granted on exhaustion
The Court therefore need not reach the Defendant’s position
concerning dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims on Rule 12(b)(6)
grounds. (See, e.g., Defs.’ Br. at 22-33.)
Moreover, because Plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust deprives
this Court of subject matter jurisdiction, Plaintiffs’ Amended
Complaint will be dismissed in its entirety without prejudice.17
See Batchelor, 759 F.3d at 281; see also M.A. v. Jersey City Bd.
of Ed., __ F. App’x ____, 2014 WL 6656328, *5 (3d Cir. Nov. 24,
2014) (citing Batchelor, and affirming dismissal of a Section
504 retaliation claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
due to a failure to exhaust administrative remedies).
An accompanying Order will be entered.
March 2, 2015
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
As stated above, having dismissed the federal claims without
prejudice, the Court declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ analogue state law claims. See 28
U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). See R.S., 2014 WL 7331954, at *6.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?