Burton et al v. Cleveland Heights University Heights Board of Education
Memorandum of Opinion and Order: Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. #18 ) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. LaRhonda Burton's claims in Counts III, IV, and V are dismissed for lack of standing. To the extent that Mrs. Burton's retaliation claim in Count VI is based on Amiya having graduated without FAPE, the claim is dismissed for lack of standing. To the extent Amiya's and Mrs. Burton's ADA retaliation claim is based on the fee letter, it is dismissed. All other claims remain pending. Judge Patricia A. Gaughan on 9/29/17. (LC,S)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
LaRhonda Burton, et al.,
Cleveland Heights-University Heights
City School District Board of
CASE NO. 1:17 CV 134
JUDGE PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN
Memorandum of Opinion and Order
This matter is before the Court upon Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
(Doc. 18). Plaintiff Amiya Burton is a former student in the Cleveland Heights-University
Heights City School District (the “District”). This lawsuit arises out of two special education due
process complaints that Amiya and her mother, LaRhonda Burton, filed against the Defendant
Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education in 2015. In their First Amended
Complaint, Plaintiffs appeal the state level review officer’s decision on their due process
complaints. They allege that Defendant violated Amiya’s rights under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §
12101 et seq. Defendant now moves for judgment on the pleadings on four of Plaintiffs’ claims
to the extent they relate to the ADA and Section 504. For the reasons that follow, the motion is
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
Amiya began attending school in the District on September 2, 2014, when she was 16.
Amiya was scheduled to graduate at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. To keep her on track
for graduation, the District determined that she would need to take day and night classes. (First
Am. Compl. ¶ 24). During second semester, Amiya was taking seven day classes and five night
classes. Plaintiffs allege that Amiya’s grades were “initially decent” but then drastically
declined. Because of Amiya’s falling grades, missed assignments, and absences from school,
Mrs. Burton suspected that she was suffering the effects of her depressive disorder. Amiya had
been diagnosed with depression in 2013.1
On December 17, 2014, Mrs. Burton informed two of Amiya’s teachers via email that she
was concerned about Amiya’s academic performance and emotional well-being. (Id. at ¶ 38).
The District’s Student Assessment Team held a meeting on February 18, 2015, “to discuss Mrs.
Burton’s concerns over Amiya’s academic performance.” (Id. ¶ 42). Plaintiffs believed that this
meeting was supposed to be about “whether to evaluate Amiya for an IEP [individualized
education program] or if there was a suspicion of a disability.” (Id. at ¶ 43). But the teachers at
the meeting had not been informed of Mrs. Burton’s request to have Amiya evaluated for a
She was again diagnosed with depression around March of 2015.
disability, and “no discussion of an evaluation for disability was broached.” (Id. at ¶ 48). Mrs.
Burton alerted the team of the reasons she was concerned regarding Amiya’s depression.
Plaintiffs allege that “[d]espite the information [that they] provided, Defendant through gross
misjudgment, attributed Amiya’s academic and behavioral struggles only to [her] attendance.”
(Id., at ¶ 63).
Plaintiffs claim that after the meeting, a District psychologist completed in bad faith a
Prior Written Notice that erroneously stated that the team had considered whether Amiya had a
disability, but the team did not suspect that she did. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68). The notice also indicated that
Plaintiffs had informed the District of Amiya’s 2013 depression diagnosis. Plaintiffs allege that
the team created an intervention plan, but the plan was not provided to everyone or reduced to
writing. (Id. at ¶ 69). The District did not evaluate Amiya for an IEP during the 2014-15 school
year and did not put in place any accommodations, transitional services, or special education
services for her during the school year. (Id. ¶¶ 73-76).
On February 23, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a due process complaint against the District,
alleging that it denied Amiya a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) under the IDEA,
violated the Child Find requirement of the IDEA, refused to evaluate Amiya, denied access to
her educational records, and did not provide appropriate accommodations, protections, or related
services. (Id. ¶ 77). Plaintiffs amended their due process complaint on March 16, 2015, to add a
claim that the District did not provide a detailed explanation as to why it did not timely test
Amiya for disabilities or convene a team meeting to decide if it would test her for disabilities.
The District denied Plaintiffs’ allegations in the complaint and amended complaint, including the
need for Amiya to be evaluated.
On March 24, 2015, the District’s Director of Student Services, Dr. Johnston, led a
meeting to determine if Amiya had a suspected disability. (Id. ¶ 83). On April 2, 2015, the
District sent a Prior Written Notice to Plaintiffs stating that the team would not initiate an
evaluation of Amiya. (Id. ¶ 91). On April 21, 2015, however, Defendant completed a Section 504
Referral Form, which stated that “Amiya has been diagnosed with Depressive Disorder....Her
behaviors and emotional issues adversely affect her education.” (Id. ¶ 92).
Plaintiffs allege that the District did not complete the Section 504 evaluation and did not
provide Amiya with a Section 504 plan. Instead, it moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ due process
complaint as moot because Amiya had earned enough credits to graduate. Amiya graduated on
June 1, 2015. (Id. ¶ 97). Several days later, Plaintiffs filed another due process complaint,
alleging that the District unlawfully retaliated against her by graduating her without providing
her FAPE. Plaintiffs claim that the District responded to the new complaint by threatening
Plaintiffs and their counsel that it “may consider seeking fees pursuant to 20 U.S.C.
141S(i)(3)([B])(ii) and (iii) should Parent continue pursuing the meritless claims.” (Id. ¶ 104).
The independent hearing officer (“IHO”) denied the District’s motion to dismiss on June
5, 2015. The District appealed that decision to the state level review officer, who dismissed the
appeal and remanded the case to the IHO on July 27, 2015. A due process hearing began on
September 17, 2015. The IHO issued his final decision on May 24, 2016.2 He concluded that
In ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court may take notice of
public records and government agencies’ decisions as well as documents
referred to in the plaintiff’s complaint and that are central to the plaintiff’s
claim. Jones v. Lakeview School Dist., 2007 WL 2084341, at * 2 (N.D. Ohio
July 19, 2007) (considering three SLRO decisions in ruling on a motion for
judgment on the pleadings). Here, the IHO’s decision is a public record and
Plaintiffs specifically referred to it in their First Amended Complaint. (First
Plaintiffs had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the District retaliated
against them by sending a notice of intent to consider seeking fees or by graduating Amiya even
though she was not qualified to graduate. With respect to Amiya’s graduation, the IHO held that
Plaintiffs did not prove that Amiya graduated without meeting the requirements for passing her
courses. Rather, the evidence showed that Amiya had earned and received all of the credits
required for graduation. (IHO Decision, Doc. 18-1, at 104-05). The IHO concluded that the
District had failed to provide timely notice of its refusal to evaluate Amiya but that Plaintiffs did
not establish that this failure resulted in any substantive harm. He also concluded that the District
failed to identify Amiya as a child suspected of having a disability and that this failure violated
the Child Find requirements of the IDEA, thereby denying her FAPE. Plaintiffs, however, did
not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Amiya needed special education or related
services. Finally, the IHO determined that the District failed to provide some documents to
Plaintiffs in a timely manner but that this failure did not result in any substantive harm. On
October 21, 2016, the state level review officer affirmed the IHO’s decision on all counts.
Plaintiffs then filed the current lawsuit, bringing seven claims. Count I is a claim for
denial of FAPE under the IDEA; Count II is a claim for procedural violations and substantive
harm under the IDEA; Count III is a claim for violation of the Child Find requirement in Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act; Count IV is a claim for denial of FAPE under Section 504; Count
V is a discrimination claim under the ADA and Section 504; Count VI is a retaliation claim
under the IDEA, ADA, and Section 504; and Count VII is a claim for attorneys’ fees under the
IDEA. Defendant moves to dismiss Counts III-VI to the extent that they relate to the ADA and
Am. Compl., ¶¶ 125-26, 129-30, 132, and 139).
Section 504. Plaintiffs oppose the motion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A “motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is generally reviewed under
the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Mellentine v. Ameriquest Mortg. Co., 2013 WL
560515 (6th Cir. Feb. 14, 2013) (citing EEOC v. J.H. Routh Packing Co., 246 F.3d 850, 851 (6th
Cir.2001)). “For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded
allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be
granted only if the moving party is nevertheless entitled to judgment.” JPMorgan Chase Bank,
N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir.2007).
Thus, “[w]e assume the factual allegations in the complaint are true and construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Comtide Holdings, LLC v. Booth Creek
Management Corp., 2009 WL 1884445 (6th Cir. July 2, 2009) (citing Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate
Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir.2008)). In construing the complaint in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party, “the court does not accept the bare assertion of legal
conclusions as enough, nor does it accept as true unwarranted factual inferences.” Gritton v.
Disponett, 2009 WL 1505256 (6th Cir. May 27, 2009) (citing In re Sofamor Danek Group, Inc.,
123 F.3d 394, 400 (6th Cir.1997). As outlined by the Sixth Circuit:
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “Specific facts are not
necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the ...
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93
(2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
However, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level” and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. A plaintiff must “plead[ ] factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Keys v. Humana, Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir.2012). Thus, Twombly and Iqbal require that
the complaint contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face based on factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570;
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint must contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Parental standing under Section 504 and the ADA
Defendant first argues that Mrs. Burton lacks standing to prosecute ADA and Section 504
claims on Amiya’s behalf. In support, they cite Leonard v. Cleveland Metropolitan School Dist.,
where a judge of this district noted that a parent “may lack standing to bring claims under the
ADA and the Rehabilitation Act for any alleged discrimination against his [child].” 2011 WL
5869606, at * 3 (Nov. 16, 2011) (Gwin, J.) (raising the issue of standing sua sponte). He
recognized that “[t]he Sixth Circuit has not joined other courts that have extended parents’ rights
to pursue claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act on behalf of their child” but stated
that “[p]ersuasive authority suggests that parents lack” such standing. Id. (citations omitted). At
least one other district court in the Sixth Circuit has expressly held that parents do not have
standing to prosecute claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act on their own behalf. Link
v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, 2012 WL 4506028, at *5 (M.D.
Tenn. Sept. 28, 2012). In Link, the court noted that federal courts have disagreed over whether
the Supreme Court’s decision in Winkelman v. Parma City School District, 550 U.S. 516 (2007),
which held that parents possess standing to prosecute IDEA claims on their own behalf, extends
to claims brought by parents under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. The court declined to
extend Winkelman to such claims, explaining that the Supreme Court’s decision was “rooted in
the text and statutory structure of the IDEA.” Id. (citing cases that have declined to extend
Winkelman to the Rehabilitation Act and ADA). In responding to Defendant’s standing
argument, Plaintiffs confuse the issue of standing with the statute of limitations. They argue that
Plaintiffs both have standing because they filed their claims within the applicable statute of
The Court agrees that Mrs. Burton does not have standing to assert personal claims under
the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act based on violations of Amiya’s rights. Counts III, IV, and V
allege only violations of Amiya’s rights–i.e., Defendant violated the Child Find provision of the
Rehabilitation Act by failing to identify Amiya as a child with a disability; Defendant deprived
Amiya of FAPE by failing to evaluate her for a 504 plan; and Defendant discriminated against
Amiya on the basis of her disability. Although Mrs. Burton alleges that she suffered
consequential damages, including pain, suffering, and emotional distress as a result of
Defendant’s actions, (First Am. Compl. ¶ 181), even liberally construed, these counts do not
allege that Mrs. Burton herself was discriminated against or denied benefits or services based on
In fact, Plaintiffs state that they “do not have an issue with Amiya going
forward solely with Counts III, IV and V, as long as exhaustion or lack of
standing prior to her reaching the age of majority are not raised as defenses by
the Defendant.” (Doc. 22, at 8-9). The District, however, has not waived any
exhaustion requirements with respect to Plaintiffs’ Section 504 and ADA
claims. (See Doc. 23, at 9, n.5).
Amiya’s disabilities.4 See R.S. v. Butler Cty., Pennsylvania, No. 16-3194, 2017 WL 2787615, at
*3 (3d Cir. June 27, 2017) (affirming dismissal of parents’ Rehabilitation Act and ADA claims
based on their son’s disability because the complaint contained no factual allegations from which
it could be inferred that the parents were personally subjected to discrimination because of their
son’s disability) (citing McCullum v. Orlando Reg’l Healthcare Sys., Inc., 768 F.3d 1135, 1142
(11th Cir. 2014) (holding that a nondisabled person “has standing to bring suit under the ADA
only if she was personally discriminated against or denied some benefit because of her
association with a disabled person”)).
Similarly, to the extent that Mrs. Burton’s retaliation claim in Count VI is based on the
District graduating Amiya even though it did not provide her an appropriate education, she does
not have standing to pursue such a claim because it is based on an alleged violation of Amiya’s
rights. On the other hand, Mrs. Burton would have standing to assert a retaliation claim insofar
as it is based on the allegation that Defendant threatened to seek fees if “Parent [i.e., Mrs.
Burton] and her counsel” continued to pursue the due process claim before the IHO. This claim
relates to an alleged threat of retaliation against Mrs. Burton directly as a result of her actions in
pursuing claims on behalf of Amiyah.
Thus, Counts III, IV, and V are dismissed with respect to Mrs. Burton. Count VI is
dismissed with respect to Mrs. Burton only insofar as it is based on the District graduating
Amiya without having provided her FAPE.
The Sixth Circuit has held that associational discrimination claims are viable
under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Popovich v. Cuyahoga Cty. Court
of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Div., 150 F. App'x 424, 427–28 (6th
B. Child Find, FAPE, and discrimination claims (Counts III, IV, and V)
Defendant next moves for judgment on the pleadings on Counts III (violation of Child
Find under Section 504), IV (violation of FAPE under Section 504), and V (discrimination under
the ADA and Section 504). The Court evaluates the merits of Amiya’s ADA and Section 504
claims together. S.S. v. E. Kentucky Univ., 532 F.3d 445, 452-53 (6th Cir. 2008) (“Apart from
[Section 504’s] limitation to denials of benefits ‘solely’ by reason of disability and its reach of
only federally funded—as opposed to ‘public’—entities, the reach and requirements of both
statutes are precisely the same.”) (citations omitted). To state a claim under either the ADA or
Section 504 against a school receiving federal financial assistance, a plaintiff must allege “that
he or she is (1) disabled under the statute, (2) ‘otherwise qualified’ for participation in the
program, and (3) being excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to
discrimination under the program by reason of his or her disability.” Id. at 453.
Defendant argues that Amiya has failed to plausibly allege the third element. To prove
discrimination in the education context, Defendant asserts that “something more than a mere
failure to provide the free appropriate education under the IDEA” must be shown. (Doc. 18, at 5)
(quoting Sellers v. Sch. Bd. of Manassas, 141 F.3d 524, 528-29 (4th Cir. 1998)). Defendant
argues that, under this standard, Amiya may not rely on the denial of FAPE to state a claim but
must allege, and ultimately prove, “bad faith” or “gross misjudgment.” (Id.) (quoting Sellers, 141
F.3d at 529). Defendant asserts that Amiya’s ADA and Section 504 claims fail because they
allege only education-related concerns–that the District failed to evaluate her, identify her as a
student with a disability, or provide her with FAPE–none of which amounts to bad faith or gross
misjudgment. It argues that the claims also fail because Plaintiffs’ own allegations show that the
District did not take any unfavorable or discriminatory action toward Amiya because of her
disability. Rather, they explicitly aver that the District’s Student Assessment Team made its
decision because of Amiya’s poor attendance and its effect on her studies.
In response, Amiya disputes that she must show anything more than a violation of the
IDEA to establish a Section 504 or ADA violation. She asserts that, at most, she would have to
establish that the District acted with deliberate indifference. Amiya believes her allegations are
sufficient because she alleges that Plaintiffs alerted the District to Amiya’s need for
accommodations but the District failed to act.
The Sixth Circuit has consistently held that a violation of FAPE and IDEA is not enough
to establish an ADA or Section 504 claim. Rather, such claims “further require that the
[plaintiff] must ultimately prove that the defendant’s failure to provide [the plaintiff] with a free
appropriate public education was discriminatory. Surmounting that evidentiary hurdle requires
that either bad faith or gross misjudgment must be shown before a § 504 violation can be made
out, at least in the context of education of handicapped children.” G.C. v. Owensboro Public
Schs., 711 F.3d 623, 635 (6th Cir. 2013) (emphasis in original) (quoting Campbell v. Bd. of Educ.
of Centerline Sch. Dist., 58 Fed. Appx. 162, 167 (6th Cir. 1988)). Thus, an IDEA violation or
even deliberate indifference does not suffice for an ADA or Section 504 violation. Rather, the
complaint must contain facts that plausibly allege and allow the Court to draw the reasonable
inference that Defendant acted in bad faith or with gross misjudgment. Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555, 570; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
At this early stage of the litigation, the Court finds that Amiya has alleged enough to
meet this burden. Defendant argues that “the gravamen of [Plaintiffs’] Amended Complaint is
simply that Amiya didn’t get the evaluation and FAPE that the Burtons wanted.” (Doc. 18, at 7).
But a close reading of the complaint reveals that Amiya is not merely alleging that Defendant did
not give her an evaluation. Rather, she alleges that Defendant deliberately ignored information
regarding her depression and refused Plaintiffs’ requests to have her evaluated based on the
predetermined decision that she did not have a disability. Plaintiffs allege that they put
Defendant on notice of their concerns about Amiya’s emotional well-being as early as December
17, 2014. Defendant did not hold a meeting regarding Amiya until February 18, 2015, and the
teachers at this meeting had not been informed of Mrs. Burton’s request to have Amiya
evaluated for a disability. Despite Plaintiffs alerting Defendant to their concerns about Amiya’s
depression, the Student Assessment Team did not discuss an evaluation at the February 18
meeting. Not until April 21, 2015–more than four months after Plaintiffs first notified Defendant
of their concerns–did Defendant begin a 504 evaluation referral form. But it ultimately graduated
Amiya without having completed the 504 evaluation or providing her with a 504 plan. The
allegations in the First Amended Complaint are sufficient to allow the inference that, through
bad faith or gross misjudgment, Defendant ignored information regarding Amiya’s depression
and Plaintiffs’ requests to have Amiya evaluated for a disability until shortly before her
graduation, leaving them no time to complete the evaluation and an excuse for not having
provided her with any accommodations or services.
Defendant argues that the IHO’s decision proves that the District did not exclude Amiya
or deny her any benefits based on her disability because he determined that Amiya had passed
her courses and met all other high school graduation requirements so that her graduation was not
a sham. But, at this stage of the proceedings, the Court cannot accept as fact the IHO’s factual
conclusions. Rather, in an educational discrimination case, a district court reviews the decisions
of the due process hearing officer under a “modified de novo” standard, “whereby a plenary
independent judicial re-examination of the evidence is tempered by an accord of ‘due weight’ to
the administrative findings.” Campbell, 58 Fed. Appx. at 165, n.3. The Court cannot conduct
such a plenary re-examination of the evidence in ruling on a motion for judgment on the
Defendant also cites to the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Sellers as support for its argument
that the failure to timely assess and diagnose a student’s disability does not amount to bad faith
or gross misjudgment. But in Sellers, the court affirmed dismissal of the plaintiffs’ Section 504
claim because the plaintiffs had alleged only that their son’s low test scores from as early as
fourth grade “should have alerted” the school to his disability.5 141 F.3d at 529. The court held
that the allegation–which at best presented a negligence claim–was “virtually indistinguishable
from a complaint that a student has been incorrectly evaluated.” Id. In rejecting these allegations
as insufficient to show bad faith or gross misjudgment, the court explained:
The reference in the Rehabilitation Act to “discrimination” must require, we
think, something more than an incorrect evaluation, or a substantively faulty
individualized education plan, in order for liability to exist. Experts often disagree
on what the special needs of a handicapped child are, and the educational
placement of such children is often necessarily an arguable matter. That a court
may, after hearing evidence and argument, come to the conclusion that an
incorrect evaluation has been made, and that a different placement must be
required under [IDEA], is not necessarily the same thing as a holding that a
handicapped child has been discriminated against solely by reason of his or her
Id. (quoting Monahan v. Nebraska, 687 F.2d 1164, 1170 (8th Cir. 1982)). See also Campbell, 58
At the time the Sellers filed their complaint, their son was 18 and had recently
been diagnosed as learning disabled and emotionally disturbed.
Fed. Appx. at 167 (affirming grant of summary judgment to school district because plaintiffs
failed to produce any evidence that the accommodation offered by the school was not reasonable
or that the district’s decision-makers had failed to exercise a reasonable degree of professional
judgment in determining the appropriate accommodation); G.C. v. Owensboro Public Schs., 711
F.3d at 635 (affirming grant of summary judgment to school where plaintiffs cited no evidence
to support their assertion of bad faith).
At summary judgment, the District may well prove that Amiya’s Section 504 and ADA
claims are purely education-related and simply a restatement of her IDEA claims. As discussed
above, however, Amiya has alleged more than an incorrect evaluation, a faulty individualized
education plan, or that the District acted with only negligence. At this stage of the litigation,
where the Court is confined to the pleadings, Amiya has alleged enough to allow the reasonable
inference that Defendant acted with gross misjudgment or in bad faith in ignoring Plaintiffs’
pleas for an evaluation until she graduated and it could argue that there was nothing more that it
could do for her. Thus, Defendant’s motion is denied with respect to Amiya’s claims in Counts
III, IV, and V.
C. Retaliation (Count VI)
Finally, Defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings on Count VI, which alleges that
Defendant retaliated against Plaintiffs for exercising their IDEA, ADA, and Section 504 rights.
As noted above, Defendant’s motion is directed only at the ADA and Section 504 portion of this
To state a retaliation claim under the ADA or Section 504, Plaintiffs must allege a prima
facie case of retaliation. To do so, they must allege that: (1) they engaged in activity protected
under the ADA and Section 504; (2) Defendant knew of the protected activity; (3) Defendant
took adverse action against Plaintiffs; and (4) a causal connection exists between the protected
activity and the adverse action. A.C. ex rel J.C. v. Shelby Cty. Bd. of Educ., 711 F.3d 687, 697
(6th Cir. 2013). “The burden of establishing a prima facie case in a retaliation action is not
onerous, but one easily met.” Id. (quoting Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 563 (6th
Plaintiffs allege that Defendant retaliated by denying Amiya an evaluation for a
disability, graduating her improperly, threatening to seek rescission of the diploma, and
threatening to “seek fees pursuant to 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(3)([B])(ii) and (iii) should Parent
continue pursuing ... meritless” due process claims (“the fee letter”). (First Am. Compl. ¶ 196).
Defendant’s motion focuses on the allegations regarding Amiya’s graduation and the fee letter.
With respect to the fee letter, Defendant argues that the ADA’s protections against
intimidation do not extend to Plaintiffs’ attempts to exercise rights under the IDEA. Plaintiffs do
not specify whether Count VI is brought under the ADA’s anti-retaliation provision or its antiintimidation provision. The anti-retaliation provision states that “[n]o person shall discriminate
against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by
this chapter or because such individual made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any
manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this chapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a)
(emphasis added). The anti-intimidation provision makes it “unlawful to coerce, intimidate,
threaten, or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his or
her having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any
other individual in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by this chapter.”
Id. at § 12203(b) (emphasis added).
Defendant cites C.W. v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 784 F.3d 1237, 1247 (9th Cir.
2015), as support for its position that these provisions do not apply to Plaintiffs’ claims arising
under IDEA. There, the plaintiffs brought an intimidation claim under the ADA in federal court.
They alleged that the school district had violated the ADA’s anti-intimidation provision when it
wrote a letter to the plaintiffs’ counsel threatening to seek sanctions if the plaintiffs appealed an
administrative law judge’s determination that the district had not violated the IDEA. Citing the
portion of the ADA’s anti-intimidation provision highlighted above, the Ninth Circuit held that,
by its own terms, the provision “does not extend to a plaintiff’s attempts to exercise rights
granted or protected by the IDEA.” Id. at 1247.
In response to Defendant’s argument, Plaintiffs cite several cases that recognize an
IDEA-based retaliation claim, (see Doc. 22, at 31), but do not cite any cases holding that a
plaintiff can state an ADA retaliation claim stemming from the exercise of IDEA-based rights.
Because Plaintiffs pursued only IDEA and Section 504 claims before the IHO, the Court agrees
with Defendant that they may not bring an ADA retaliation claim in this lawsuit. Thus, to the
extent that Count VI claims that Defendant violated the ADA by sending the fee letter, it is
Defendant’s initial motion does not specifically address Plaintiffs’ Section 504 retaliation
claim. In their reply brief, they note that Section 504's anti-retaliation contains similar language
to the ADA limiting the claim to the exercise of rights under the Rehabilitation Act. See 34
C.F.R. § 100.7(e); 34 C.F.R. § 104.61 (incorporating the remedies, procedures, and rights set
forth in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act). Unlike their ADA retaliation claim, however, Plaintiffs
did exercise their rights under Section 504 before the IHO. (See IHO Decision, Doc. 18-1, at 15)
(listing the issues, which included Plaintiffs’ claim that the District unlawfully retaliated against
them for exercising their rights under Section 504). For this reason, the Court denies Defendant’s
motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiffs’ Section 504 retaliation claim to the extent
it is based on the fee letter.
With respect to Amiya’s graduation, Defendant argues that the claim must be dismissed
because “the IHO’s factual findings in its Decision and Order demonstrate” that Defendant did
nothing to retaliate against them. (Doc. 18, at 9). It cites the IHO’s findings that: the District
completed a Section 504 evaluation; the District scheduled a meeting for May 27, 2015; by then,
Amiya had passed the requisite classes and met all graduation requirements; and Amiya’s
graduation was not a sham. (Id. at 11). According to the District, Amiya “[r]eap[ed] the benefits
of the District’s programming, [and] ... graduated before the team met, obviating any need for
Section 504 services or accommodations.” (Id. at 9). As discussed earlier, however, the Court
must review the IHO’s findings under a “modified de novo” standard, which requires an
independent re-examination of the evidence, something that the Court cannot do in ruling on a
motion for judgment on the pleadings. Thus, at this point, the IHO’s determinations that the
District completed the 504 evaluation and that Amiya’s graduation was not a sham cannot be the
basis for finding that the District did not retaliate against Amiya. Because this is Defendant’s
sole argument with respect to the retaliation claim based on Amiya’s graduation, their motion is
denied as to this portion of the claim.
For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
(Doc. 18) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. LaRhonda Burton’s claims in
Counts III, IV, and V are dismissed for lack of standing. To the extent that Mrs. Burton’s
retaliation claim in Count VI is based on Amiya having graduated without FAPE, the claim is
dismissed for lack of standing. To the extent Amiya’s and Mrs. Burton’s ADA retaliation claim
is based on the fee letter, it is dismissed. All other claims remain pending.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Patricia A. Gaughan
PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN
United States District Court
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