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C.P v. Tennessee Department of Education

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

March 30, 2018

C.P., R.P., and V.P., Plaintiffs,
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and RUTHERFORD COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Upon the consent of the parties, this case was transferred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and enter a final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 30.) Now pending are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Rutherford County Board of Education (RCBOE) and Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE). (Doc. Nos. 6, 13.) For the following reasons, both motions are GRANTED.

         I. Background

         The following facts are taken from C.P.'s complaint and its accompanying exhibits, which are presumed to be true for purposes of these motions.

         A. Factual History

         When the complaint in this action was filed, C.P. was 17 years old. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 4, ¶ 12.) C.P. is nonverbal, functions at the level of a toddler, and has self-destructive and compulsive behaviors that impede his education. (Id.; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 52; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 172.) C.P. uses an “augmentative and alternative communication” device to express himself. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 7, ¶ 30.) He has been diagnosed with autism and epilepsy and is eligible to receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (Id. at PageID# 4, ¶ 12; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 52; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 172.) C.P. was receiving services under an IEP in North Carolina before he and his parents moved to Rutherford County, Tennessee in the summer of 2015. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 5-6, ¶¶ 23, 26.) Through the North Carolina IEP, C.P. received “Speech and Language, Special Education, Occupational Therapy, American Sign Language (‘ASL') instruction, Assistive Technology (‘AT'), Adaptive Physical Education and Behavioral Supports.” (Id. at PageID# 6, ¶ 26.) C.P. also received “1:1 aide services” at his North Carolina school. (Id. at PageID# 8, ¶ 34.)

         C.P.'s parents wanted him to receive the same services at his new school in Rutherford County, but found the RCBOE's initial efforts at establishing C.P.'s accommodations lacking. The personnel invited to C.P.'s first IEP meeting did not include a board certified behavior analyst, school medical representative, sign language teacher, or an adaptive physical education teacher, all of whom the parents had found to be essential components of C.P.'s North Carolina plan. (Id. at PageID# 6, ¶ 28.) The IEP team who convened on September 1, 2015, also did not include a “regular education teacher.” (Id. at PageID# 7, ¶ 29.) The parents were asked to consent to allow the school to evaluate C.P. to determine his eligibility to receive special education in Tennessee. (Id.; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 53; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 172-73.) The parents were told that there was to be no evaluation for the assistive technology that C.P. used to communicate and that the school might not supply the device C.P. used. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 7, ¶ 30.) They also learned that the detailed medical information they had provided the school would not be incorporated into the IEP; instead, an Individual Health Plan would be developed. (Id. at PageID# 7, ¶ 31.) The parents expressed their concerns with these decisions. (Id. at PageID# 7-8, ¶ 32.)

         At the second IEP meeting on September 9, 2015, the parents received an updated draft of the IEP which contained fewer services than the North Carolina IEP had provided and eliminated “1:1 aide services.”[1] (Id. at PageID# 8, ¶ 34.) The parents allege that they received no explanation for the reduction in services. (Id.) At the end of the meeting, the parents informed the district that they would be seeking legal representation. (Id. at PageID# 8, ¶ 35.) They also decided not to allow C.P. to attend school until the district agreed to provide him with 1:1 aide services, a demand that they supported with a letter from C.P.'s physician. (Id. at PageID# 9, ¶¶ 40, 41.)

         At a third IEP meeting on October 29, 2015, school officials again declined to provide all the services included in the North Carolina IEP, at least until the district had completed its own evaluations. (Id. at PageID# 9, ¶ 43.) However, the school did state that C.P. would receive 1:1 aide services if he returned to school. (Id. at PageID# 10, ¶ 44; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 54.) The parents rejected the offer, stating that, without behavioral and ASL supports, [2] 1:1 aide services would not be enough to “ensure C.P.'s well-being.” (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 10, ¶ 44.)

         On September 28, 2015, between the second and third IEP meetings, Plaintiffs' counsel sent an administrative complaint to the TDOE alleging that the RCBOE had violated the IDEA. (Id. at PageID# 9, ¶ 42; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 54; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 173.) TDOE commenced an investigation, the results of which the parents received in a letter on November 20, 2015. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 10, ¶45; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 54; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 173.) The TDOE found that the RCBOE had unlawfully failed to include a regular education teacher at the IEP meetings and ordered the RCBOE to train its staff on that unmet obligation (Id.; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 54). It also required RCBOE to provide a written summary of the next IEP meeting. (Doc. No. 14, PageID# 173.) Plaintiffs' counsel then requested the documentation that RCBOE had furnished TDOE during the investigation. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 10, ¶ 47.) TDOE complied, producing emails exchanged by RCBOE and TDOE that Plaintiffs claim reveal a “clear bias” of the TDOE to “decid[e] complaints in the favor of the school districts.” (Id. at PageID# 10, ¶ 48.) That bias, Plaintiffs argue, is a “systemic problem” with the TDOE's complaint resolution process. (Id. at PageID# 2-3, ¶ 7.)

         Convinced that C.P. would not be able to receive “a free and appropriate public education while enrolled in Rutherford County Schools, ” the parents chose to move the family to Williamson County. (Id. at PageID# 11, ¶¶ 51, 52.) Plaintiffs never requested a due process hearing. (Id. at PageID# 3, ¶ 9; Doc. No. 7, PageID# 54.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed this complaint on November 19, 2016, alleging violations of the IDEA, the ADA, and § 504 and seeking a declaration that Defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under all three laws, reimbursement for the logistical and emotional expenses associated with their relocation to Williamson County, an order that TDOE “revise [its] administrative complaint procedure so that it complies with IDEA, ” attorney's fees, and any other relief the Court finds just. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 12-13.) Defendants RCBOE and TDOE filed their motions to dismiss on January 13, 2017 and January 24, 2017, respectively. (Doc. Nos. 6, 13.) Plaintiffs responded to those motions (Doc. Nos. 15, 19) and Defendants filed replies (Doc. Nos. 23, 25). With the Court's permission, Plaintiffs filed one sur-reply to RCBOE's reply. (Doc. Nos. 26, 27.)

         Defendants initially argue that Plaintiffs' failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA either deprives this Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear the instant lawsuit, or requires dismissal for failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 7, PageID# 54; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 174-75.) Alternatively, the Defendants argue that (1) compensatory damages are not available under any of the statutes that Plaintiffs have invoked and therefore their claims must be dismissed (Doc. No. 7, PageID# 68; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 183); (2) Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under the ADA and § 504 (Doc. No. 7, PageID# 66; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 183); and (3) that those claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations (Doc. No. 7, PageID# 68-69; Doc. No. 14, PageID# 172 n.1). In a joint motion filed on January 23, 2018, the Defendants withdrew their argument that Plaintiffs' ...


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