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J.G. v. Knox County

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

September 17, 2019

J.G., a Minor Student, By and Through His Parents, C.G. and J.E.G., and L.P., a Minor Student, By and Through His Parents, N.P. and D.P., Plaintiffs,
v.
KNOX COUNTY, Defendant.

          SUSAN K. LEE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. McDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant Knox County's motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies or, alternatively, for failure to state a claim (Doc. 13); Plaintiffs' motion for leave to provide supplemental authority (Doc. 19); Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction (Doc. 20); and Plaintiffs' motion for a protective order to quash or limit the deposition of Kimberly Kredich (Doc. 22). Plaintiffs' motion for leave to provide supplemental authority (Doc. 19) is unopposed and will be GRANTED. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion to dismiss (Doc. 13) will be GRANTED. Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction (Doc. 20) and motion for a protective order (Doc. 22) will accordingly be DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiffs J.G. and L.P. are autistic children who attend public elementary schools in Knox County, Tennessee. (Doc. 1, at 5.) Each has an Individual Education Program (“IEP”) entitling him to special-education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. 1415(e)(2). (Id.) As of the filing of the complaint, J.G. was twelve years old and in fifth grade at West Hills Elementary School. (Id.) L.P. was six years old and in kindergarten at A.L. Lotts Elementary School. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Knox County has a “policy or practice” of “predetermin[ing] that students with special needs who need service hours of two or less will be removed from their regular education classrooms and sent to separate, special education classrooms where students with complex or severe disabilities are being taught.” (Id. at 2 (emphasis in original).) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants have announced this policy to the Knox County Board of Education, the Tennessee Department of Education, and to Plaintiffs' parents. (Id. at 8.) They allege that Defendant's enforcement of this “administrative” policy denies full parental participation in IEP team meetings by removing these placement decisions from the purview of the IEP team. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiffs allege that the special-education classrooms are more restrictive environments than other available instructional options which the IEP teams are legally obligated to consider. (Id. at 3.)

         Both Plaintiffs sought administrative remedies, but both were dismissed before an administrative law judge had ruled. (Id. at 8 n.2.) Though Plaintiffs' complaint is somewhat opaque on this point, it is clear that L.P. filed an administrative complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education and that J.G. filed a due process complaint, but both were dismissed when each Plaintiff “realized these same issues were occurring broadly.” (Id.)

         On February 27, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their complaint in this Court, asserting violations of the IDEA; its state counterpart, Tenn. Comp. R. & Reg. § 0520-01-09; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12132; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), 29 U.S.C. § 794. (Doc. 1, at 6.) Plaintiffs seek injunctions that they assert would afford full parental and IEP Team participation in placement decisions and a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) for each child as required by the IDEA, as well as compensatory services or damages. (Id. at 23.) Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that, because their claims arise from Defendant's application of a “uniform, consistent, and publicized . . . established policy and practice” to Plaintiffs' IEP, administrative exhaustion would be futile.

         Defendant's motion to dismiss (Doc. 13) is now ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD OF LAW

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a plaintiff's complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Though the statement need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain “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). Rule 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id.

         A defendant may obtain dismissal of a claim that fails to satisfy Rule 8 by filing a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is also considered pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Sagan v. Sumner Cty. Bd. of Educ., 726 F.Supp.2d 868, 872 (M.D. Tenn. 2010). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court considers not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the facts permit the court to infer “more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. For purposes of this determination, “all well-pleaded material 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 clearly entitled to judgment.” Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, 539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007)). This assumption of veracity, however, does not extend to bare assertions of legal conclusions, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, nor is the Court “bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         After sorting the factual allegations from the legal conclusions, the Court next considers whether the factual allegations, if true, would support a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief. Thurman v. Pfizer, Inc., 484 F.3d 855, 859 (6th Cir. 2007). This factual matter must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Plausibility “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. ...


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