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L.H. v. Hamilton County Department of Education

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

April 27, 2015

L.H., a Minor Student, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HAMILTON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

CURTIS L. COLLIER, District Judge.

Before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Hamilton County Department of Education ("HCDE") and Tennessee Department of Education ("TDOE") (collectively "Defendants") (Court File Nos. 34, 37).[1] Plaintiffs L.H. ("L.H.") and his parents, G.H. and D.H. (collectively "Plaintiffs") responded opposing Defendants' motions to dismiss (Court File Nos. 40, 44) and Defendants replied (Court File Nos. 41, 46).[2] For the following reasons, the Court will DENY Defendants' motion to dismiss (Court File No. 34, 37).

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

L.H. is a child with Down syndrome and qualifies as an intellectually disabled child under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). He attended Normal Park Elementary through his second grade year, the 2012-2013 school year. While attending Normal Park, he attended classes in the regular classroom setting with his nondisabled peers. At the end of his second grade year, school officials found he was not keeping pace with his peers and decided to modify his Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for the 2013-2014 year. This revised IEP removed L.H. from the regular classroom setting at Normal Park and placed him in an alternative development curriculum in a comprehensive development classroom ("CDC") at a different elementary school.

Plaintiffs rejected this IEP and filed a due process complaint with HCDE in May 2013 alleging violations of IDEA.[3] Plaintiffs nonsuited this complaint in June 2013 and enrolled L.H. in the Montessori School of Chattanooga. Plaintiffs refiled their due process complaint in August 2013 alleging violations of IDEA as well as a denial of a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"). An administrative law judge held a hearing on this complaint in October 2013 and issued a Final Order in December 2013 finding HCDE had complied with IDEA and had provided FAPE. Plaintiffs petitioned for judicial review of this order and alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Section 504") in the Chancery Court of Davidson County in February 2014, and HCDE removed to the Middle District of Tennessee. The case was transferred to this district in April 2014. The Court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend their Complaint to add TDOE on November 24, 2014 (Court File No. 21).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted when it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Lewis v. ACB Bus. Servs., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 405 (6th Cir. 1998). For purposes of this determination, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and assumes the veracity of all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint. Thurman v. Pfizer, Inc., 484 F.3d 855, 859 (6th Cir. 2007). The same deference does not extend to bare assertions of legal conclusions, however, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). The Court next considers whether the factual allegations, if true, would support a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief. Thurman, 484 F.3d at 859. Although a complaint need only contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), this statement must nevertheless contain "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678. "[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility as explained by the Court "is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show [n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

III. ANALYSIS

Both Defendants argue Plaintiffs' Section 504 and ADA claims are subsumed by Plaintiff's IDEA claims. Defendants claim that even if these claims are not subsumed, Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Finally, TDOE argues Plaintiffs fail to state a claim against it for failure to provide a less formal resolution procedure or CRP.

A. Section 1415(1)

Defendants argue Plaintiffs' ADA and Section 504 claims are subsumed by Plaintiffs' IDEA claims. For this argument, they rely heavily on Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992 (1984). In Robinson, the Supreme Court held that IDEA constitutes the exclusive remedy for vindicating a handicapped child's right to FAPE. Id. at 1019. However, as HCDE acknowledges, Congress later amended IDEA to add in an express provision overruling this holding of Robinson. In the Handicapped Children's Protection Act, PL 99-372, August 5, 1986, 100 Stat 796, Congress amended IDEA to include 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1) which provides that

[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, title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 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 procedures under subsections (f) and (g) of this section shall be exhausted to the same extent as would be required had the action been brought under this subchapter.

Courts construing this provision have recognized that this provision was intended to overrule Smith v. Robinson . See e.g., Mark H. v. Lemahieu, 513 F.3d 922, 934 (9th Cir. 2008) (noting that, in adding § 1415(1) to the IDEA, "Congress has clearly expressed its intent that remedies be available under Title V of the Rehabilitation Act for acts that also violate the IDEA, overriding the holding of the Supreme Court in Smith v. Robinson "). The purpose section of the statute itself states that it is an act "to clarify the effect of the Education of the Handicapped Act on rights, procedures, and remedies under other laws relating to the prohibition of discrimination, and for other purposes." Handicapped Children's Protection Act, PL 99-372.

Defendants read into Section 1415(1) a limitation that the Court simply cannot locate. In its initial brief on its motion to ...


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