The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge
In this action commenced by parents of a high school student, claims
are set forth pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (the "IDEA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("Section 504") and the federal civil rights
statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983").
Plaintiffs seek an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to the provision
in the IDEA that authorizes an award of fees to parents who are
"prevailing parties" in connection with any "action or proceeding" brought
pursuant to the statute. 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (i)(3)(B). In addition to
fees, Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that Defendants
intentionally discriminated against Robert Vultaggio on account of his
disability and failed to make the required reasonable accommodations.
Finally, Plaintiffs allege unlawful retaliation for the exercise of their
rights under the First Amendment of the Untied States Constitution.
Defendants argue that an award of fees in this case is not authorized
by statute and move to dismiss this cause of action. Additionally,
Defendants seek dismissal of the IDEA and Section 504 claims on the
ground that Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative
remedies. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' have failed to set
forth sufficient facts in support of any retaliation claim. Based upon
all of these arguments, Defendants move, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss Plaintiffs' action in its
entirety. Plaintiffs oppose Defendants' motion and cross-move, pursuant
to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for leave to file an
amended and supplemental complaint.
Plaintiffs Amy and Robert Vultaggio (the "Vultaggios") are the parents
of Robert Vultaggio ("Robert"), an eighteen year-old student attending
high school within the Smithtown Central School District (collectively
"Plaintiffs"). Robert has long been classified as multiply disabled.
Specifically, he has been classified in the past as both emotionally
disturbed ("ED") and "other health impaired" ("OHI").
Named as defendants are the Smithtown Central School District (the
"District"), Stuart Grossman, the District's Director of Special
Education ("Grossman") and Brenda Clark, chair of the District Committee
on Special Education ("Clark"). Grossman and Clark are named in their
official as well as their individual capacities.
B. Factual Allegations in Support of the Claims
The facts set forth below are drawn from Plaintiffs' complaint, the
allegations of which are accepted as true at this stage of the
On April 26, 2001, the Smithtown Committee on Special Education ("CSE")
met to develop an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") for Robert for
the academic year 2001-2002. Although the meeting took place that day,
the IEP was not finalized. Plaintiffs allege, on information and belief,
that finalization did not take place because Robert was pursuing the
requirements for admission to a BOCES Cultural Arts Center where he
desired placement (the "Arts Program").
The CSE met again on June 18, 2001, to develop Robert's IEP. This IEP
placed Robert in a special education class with a teacher to student ratio
of fifteen students to one teacher. That IEP also provided that in the
following academic year, Robert would be attending the Arts Program.
Plaintiffs allege that some time after drafting of this IEP, they were
informed by the District that Robert would not be assigned the desired
placement in the Arts Program.
Shortly thereafter, the Vultaggios retained counsel to provide advice
regarding Robert's rights and, if appropriate, to file a complaint with
the State Education Department regarding Robert's placement. In August of
2001, Plaintiffs' counsel submitted a complaint, on behalf of the
Vultaggios, to the New York State Education Department (the "SED"). This
complaint was submitted pursuant to the New York State Complaint Review
Procedure (the "CRP"). The CRP complaint enumerated several alleged
deficiencies in Robert's IEP. Additionally, the complaint stated the
Vultaggios' belief that Robert was to be wrongfully denied admission to
the Arts Program.
In September of 2001, the District submitted its response to the
Vultaggios' CRP complaint. The District response was submitted by
defendants Grossman and Clark. The Vultaggios replied to the District
submission in October of 2001.
On October 17, 2001, the SED rendered its decision with respect to the
Vultaggios' CRP complaint (the "October 17 Decision"). That decision set
forth several failures in Robert's IEP and noted that these failures made
it impossible for the SED to determine whether placement in the Arts
Program was appropriate for Robert. The October 17 Decision directed the
District to take specific actions to remedy the stated deficiencies,
including drafting a new IEP for Robert by December 17, 2001.
After the SED rendered the October 17 Decision, the Vultaggios, taking
the position that they had achieved prevailing party status within the
meaning of the IDEA, submitted to the District an itemization of the
attorneys' fees incurred in connection with the CRP and sought payment.
To date, the District has not paid the Vultaggios' fees.
In November 2001, the CSE met to discuss an IEP for Robert. After this
meeting, the District changed Robert's classification from a student with
multiple handicaps (emotionally disturbed and other handicap) to a
student with a single handicap only — "OHI." The CSE met again in
December of 2001 to develop an IEP for Robert. Plaintiffs take issue with
the results of the last two meetings of the CSE. Specifically, it is
argued that the IEP's developed for Robert failed to comply with certain
directives contained in the October 17 Decision.
II. Plaintiffs' Complaint
Plaintiffs' final cause of action alleges retaliation. Specifically,
this cause of action alleges that the District refused to consider
relevant information when considering Robert's application for admission
to the Arts program at the November 2001 CSE meeting. It is similarly
alleged that the District failed, again, to consider relevant information
when considering the suitability of the Arts Program for Robert in
December of 2001. Plaintiffs allege that the District's actions were
taken in retaliation for the Vultaggios exercise of their "lawful right
to file a complaint with the SED" against the District. Such retaliation
is alleged to violate the anti-retaliation provision of Section 504 as
well as Plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment to the United States
Plaintiffs' request for relief seeks a declaration that, as a result of
the findings of the SED in the October 17 Decision, Plaintiffs are
prevailing parties entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs
also seek a declaration that the District's refusal to enroll Robert in
the Arts Program violated the IDEA and Section 504. An order of this
court is sought that would require the District to enroll Robert in the
Arts Program for a period of two years. Plaintiffs also seek a
declaration that the District has an unlawful practice and policy of
refusing to recognize the authority of the CSE to recommend, in an IEP, a
student's enrollment in a general education vocational program at BOCES.
Finally, Plaintiffs seek an order declaring that all Defendants
retaliated against the Vultaggios in violation of Section 504 and the
A. Dismissal of the Request for Attorney's Fee
Defendants attack Plaintiffs' claim for attorneys' fees on two fronts.
First, it is argued that the court lacks jurisdiction to award fees
because the procedure invoked by the Vultaggios at the school district
level, the CRP, does not constitute an "action or proceeding" within the
meaning of the IDEA. Even assuming, however, that the CRP is deemed an
IDEA action or proceeding, it is argued that fees are ...