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D.T. v. Sumner County Schools

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

December 3, 2019

D.T., et al., Plaintiffs,




         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 13), filed by Defendant Sumner County Schools. Plaintiffs filed a response (Doc. No. 16) to the Motion, and Defendant filed a reply (Doc. No. 17). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 13) is GRANTED, and this action is DISMISSED.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a “Petition for Accelerated Interlocutory Recusal Appeal” (Doc. No. 1). According to the Petition, Plaintiffs filed an “administrative Due Process Complaint exerting their special education legal rights against Sumner County Board of Education” on April 24, 2018. (Id., at 3). The complaint was initially handled by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Elizabeth D. Cambron, but was reassigned to ALJ Thomas G. Stovall three weeks before trial was to begin. Plaintiffs allege they requested ALJ Stovall's recusal based on positions held by ALJ Stovall's wife and daughter, and because he received training from the former counsel for Defendant. ALJ Stovall denied the request for recusal.

         Through the Petition, Plaintiffs request the Court reverse ALJ Stovall's order denying their motion for disqualification, and require the Tennessee Department of State to replace ALJ Stovall with another judge. Through the pending motion, Defendant argues this case should be dismissed because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and because Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Standards Governing Motions to Dismiss

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must determine whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged “a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true and are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. 129 U.S. at 1950; Mills v. Barnard, 869 F.3d 473, 479 (6th Cir. 2017).

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Defendant argues the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider an interlocutory appeal from ALJ Stovall's order. Plaintiffs argue the Court has federal question jurisdiction as a reviewing court under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).

         The IDEA requires states to establish procedures “to ensure children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a free appropriate public education.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). After an aggrieved party has exhausted the state's administrative procedures under the Act, he may bring a civil suit in federal district court to enforce his IDEA rights. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2), (1). “Properly following the administrative process allows issues to be thoroughly vetted, and hopefully resolved, without court intervention.” Doe ex rel. Doe v. Dublin City Sch. Dist., 453 Fed.Appx. 606, 608-09 (6th Cir. 2011). The courts have recognized an exception to the exhaustion requirement, however, if exhaustion would be futile or inadequate to protect the plaintiff's rights. Id. Plaintiffs argue this case falls within this futility exception to the IDEA's exhaustion requirement. Plaintiffs contend they are without an adequate remedy through the administrative process because ALJ Stovall is not likely to overrule his prior decision and recuse himself from their case.

         Plaintiffs have not cited any authority, however, applying the futility exception to permit judicial review of a pre-hearing, interlocutory order rendered in a state IDEA administrative proceeding. See, e.g., MM v. Lafayette School Dist.,681 F.3d 1082, 1090 (9th Cir. 2012) (holding the IDEA “does not allow immediate judicial review of pre-hearing rulings and decisions made by an ALJ in an IDEA case. Rather, a party may bring suit if he is aggrieved by the findings and decision made by the ALJ following the conclusion of the due process ...

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