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A.G. v. Tennessee Department of Education

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division

January 10, 2017

A.G. and C.F., Plaintiffs,


          WILLIAM J. HAYNES, JR. Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs, A.G., a minor, and C.F., his mother, filed this action against the Defendants Tennessee Department of Education ("TDOE") and Lewis County School System ("LCSS") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seg,, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12117. Plaintiffs assert claims that the Defendants denied A.G. a free appropriate pubic education ("FAPE") and discriminated against him based on his disabilities. Plaintiffs also assert a claim for breach of a settlement agreement by the Defendants LCSS.

         Before the Court is the Defendant LCSS's motion to dismiss (Docket Entry Nos. 8 and 9) and the Defendant TDOE's motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 13). Both Defendants contend that Plaintiffs failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to them and this action must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which this Court can grant relief.

         In their responses, Plaintiffs argue that given their experiences in prior administrative proceedings, exhaustion is futile (Docket Entry Nos. 10 and 15) and that Plaintiffs' breach of settlement agreement claim does not require exhaustion under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2)(F). (Docket Entry No. 10 at 3-4).

         A. Analysis of the Complaint

         According to the complaint, Plaintiff A.G. started kindergarten at Lewis County Elementary School in the fall of 2014 after his fifth birthday in June. (Docket Entry No. 1, Complaint, at ¶¶38, 45 n.3). Based upon a scoring system, Plaintiff was placed in a transitional kindergarten class. Id. at ¶ 38. A.G., who has been diagnosed with ADHD for which he takes medication, has made progress in mastering new skills, but was recommended for a second year of kindergarten based, in part, on A.G.'s performance on the Educational Discovery assessment that was administered four times that year. Id. at ¶¶ 39-40, 44. Plaintiffs mother sought an explanation and invoked Plaintiffs' rights under the IDEA. Id. at ¶ 39, 43-53, 59-110.

         Plaintiffs filed four administrative complaints, the last was on August 4, 2015 with A.G.'s Individual Education Plan ("IEP") Team meeting. Id. at ¶¶ 51-52, 59-65, 76-66. Plaintiff also filed complaints with the TDOE that investigated Plaintiffs' complaints and found procedural violations in two instances for which TDOE ordered corrective action regarding the procedural defects, but did not render findings of substantive violations of the IDEA. Id., at ¶¶ 52, 62, 65, 78. C.F. filed another due process complaint on August 17, 2015 seeking redress under the IDEA. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 79. C.F. and LCSS reached a settlement agreement regarding Plaintiffs' due proces complaint on September 25, 2015. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 80.

         Other disagreements arose on LCSS's evaluation of A.G., his IEP development, and related procedures. Id. at¶¶ 81-107. On September 29, 2015 and December 18 2015, C.F. filed additional administrative complaints. Id. at ¶¶ 85, 103. TDOE investigated each complaint, but did not find any procedural or substantive violation of the IDEA. Id. at ¶¶ 87, 105. C.F.'s December 18th complaint attacked LCSS's failure to develop an adequate IEP and other procedural deficiencies. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 106. On January 11, 2016, C.F. filed another due process complaint that LCSS breached the settlement agreement by moving A.G. from Tier III support to Tier II support. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 107-08.

         On January 19, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiffs' due process complaints "fail[ed] to adequately comply with the legal requirements for filing a Due Process Compalint" because netiher complaint provided the required "'description of the nature of the problem of the child relating to the proposed or refused initiation or change [by the LEA], including facts relating to' any matters concerning the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a child with a disability, or the provision of a free, appropriate public education." Id. at ¶ 6, 109, 116. Plaintiffs were granted leave to file an amended complaint that complied with IDEA'S pleading requirements and the ALJ's order. Id., at ¶ 6. C.F. filed an amended complaint entitled "Pro Se Amendment List of Problems" on February 9, 2016. Id. at ¶ 7, 110. The ALJ also entered a scheduling order on February 17, 2013 that, among other things, set the deadline for LCSS's response and noted, "[u]pon receipt of the LEA's Response, this case will be declared 'at issue' and assigned to a Hearing Judge for further proceedings." (Docket Entry No. 14-3, February 16, 2016 Order, at 1).

         LCSS filed its answer and moved to dismiss the administrative charges, to which Plaintiffs replied. (Docket Entry No. 14-4, March 4, 2016 Order, at 1). The ALJ found that the amended complaint lacked sufficient detail to allow LCSS to understand how LCSS improperly implemented or failed to implement A.G.'s IEP or harmed or interfered with A.G.'s education, and Plaintiffs' proposed remedy. (Docket Entry No. 1, Complaint, at ¶ 8). The ALJ found several claims had been earlier litigated and resolved and struck claims from the amended complaint. (Docket Entry No. 13-4 at 1-2). The ALJ, however, found that paragraphs 5-11 of the amended complaint "may raise justiciable issues for a full hearing, and will not be dismissed at this time, but will be forwarded to a hearing judge for further consideration and proceedings." Id. at 3 (footnote omitted). On March 30, 2016, C.F. voluntarily dismissed her last administrative complaint. (Docket Entry No. 1, Complaint, at ¶¶ 9, 112).

         B. Conclusions of Law

         Upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all well-pled factual allegations as true, and determine whether the "complaint states a plausible claim for relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009. This standard "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In a word, the "complaint must contain either direct or inferential allgations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Rippy ex. rel. Rippy v. Hattaway, 270 F.3d 416, 419 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops. Inc., 859 F.3d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988)).

         Although courts are typically limited to review of the pleadings when faced with a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a document may be considered without converting the motion into one for summary judgment when the document governs the plaintiffs rights and is necessarily incorporated by reference. In such instances, a court may properly consider '"exhibits attached [to the complaint], public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to defendant's motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the complaint and are central to the claims contained therein...."' L.H. v. Hamilton Cntv. Dep't of Educ. No. 1:14-cv-126-CLC-SKL, 9014 WT. 667444S at * 1 (F.D.Tenn. Nov. 24.2014) (quoting Rondigo. L.L.C. v. Two, of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 680-81 (6th Cir. 2011)). Thus, the Court concludes that the attachments to TDOE's motion to dismiss can be considered on these motions to dismiss.

         Under the IDEA, all children with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1). FAPE's purpose is implemented by a individualized educational plan for each disabled child for which the local LEA is responsible. School Comm. of Town of Burlington. Mass. v. Dep't of Educ. of Mass.. 471 U.S. 359, 368 (1985). The IDEA also creates procedural requirements to "ensure that children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a [FAPE]." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). Thus, an aggrieved student has the right to file a complaint and request an impartial due process hearing on "any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a [FAPE] to such child ...." Id. § 1415(b)(6)(A); see also id ยง 1415 (f). The IDEA requires such complaints to contain "a description of the nature of the problem of the child relating to such proposed initiation or change, including facts relating to such problem; and a proposed resolution of the problem to the extent ...

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