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Pape v. Board of Education of the Wappingers Central School Dist.

September 29, 2009

WILLIAM PAPE AND NANCY E. PAPE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NATURAL GUARDIANS OF REBECCA PAPE, AND REBECCA PAPE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE WAPPINGERS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT AND RICHARD A. POWELL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE WAPPINGERS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rebecca Pape ("Rebecca") and her parents, Plaintiffs William and Nancy E. Pape (the "Papes") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this civil rights action against Defendant Board of Education of the Wappingers Central School District (the "District" or the "Board") and Defendant Richard A. Powell ("Powell"), individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Wappingers Central School District (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiffs bring this action under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), claiming violations of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

For purposes of deciding Defendants' motion, the Court accepts as true the allegations contained in Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, described below, and construes them in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs.

Rebecca, a former student of the District, qualified as disabled under Section 504 and the ADA "'as [a] student with Emotional Disturbance,'" which impaired her ability to attend a regular school program. (Second Am. Compl. ("SAC") ¶ 34.)

Plaintiffs reside in the District, which is a local public agency serving Wappingers Falls, New York (id. ¶¶ 8-9), and which receives federal financial assistance (id. ¶¶ 8-10). Defendant Powell was appointed Superintendent on May 21, 2001 (id. ¶ 16) and was the Superintendent of the District while Rebecca was a student of the District, and during all time periods relevant to Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (id.). According to Plaintiffs, the Board's official policy stated that, as Superintendent, Powell was responsible for "'the execution, administration and enforcement of all policies of the district.'" (Id. ¶ 13.) He was also authorized "'to report to and be accountable to the Board . . . and not any officer, committee or individual member of the Board in fulfilling his responsibilities.'" (Id.)

In June 2003, when Rebecca was nineteen years old, the District graduated her from her then-pendent placement in the Summit School, a private residential school for emotionally disturbed students. (Id. ¶ 17; Pls.' Mem. in Opp'n to Defs.' Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. to Dismiss ("Opp'n") 6.) At that time, the District also stopped funding the special education program in which Rebecca was enrolled. (SAC¶¶ 17, 39.) Defendants directed Plaintiffs to the State Education Department's Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities ("VESID"). (Id. ¶ 41.)

Plaintiffs claim that the District and Powell took these actions in retaliation for the numerous proceedings Plaintiffs previously initiated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., against the District due to its alleged failure to adequately address Rebecca's emotional disability since 1998.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 18.) For example, in January 2000, the Papes requested a due process hearing on the basis that the District allegedly denied Rebecca a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). (Id. ¶ 19.) In October 2002, an impartial hearing officer ("IHO") granted the Papes' challenge. (Id.) In addition, from 2000 to 2003, the Papes prevailed against the District in two separate due process hearings before an IHO regarding the District's accommodation of Rebecca's educational needs. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiffs allege that "[t]he disgrace of losing hearings to [P]laintiffs provided a strong motive for [D]efendants to retaliate against [P]laintiffs; otherwise, it does not make any sense for [Powell] to flout the clearly established procedural guarantees of [Section] 1415 of the IDEA." (Id.)

On March 27, 2003, the Papes requested a due process hearing seeking a psychiatric evaluation, full participation in Committee on Special Education ("CSE") meetings, a transition plan, and medical expenses connected with Rebecca's attendance at the Summit School. (Id. ¶ 14; Letter from Neelanjan Choudhury, Esq. to the Court (Aug. 5, 2009), Attach. 1 (In the Matter of Parent & Guardian of R.P. v. Wappingers Cent. Sch. Dist., Order (Lazan, M., IHO) (Oct. 12, 2004) ("October 12, 2004 IHO Order") 1).)

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants purposefully did not respond to Plaintiffs' March 27, 2003 request for a due process hearing, failed to appoint an IHO in a timely manner, failed to commence a timely hearing, and did not render a decision within forty-five days of the hearing as required by law.*fn2 (SAC¶¶ 35-37.) In addition, Plaintiffs claim that the District violated the IDEA's stay-put provision by unilaterally graduating Rebecca before she turned twenty-one. (Id. ¶ 42.)

On December 30, 2003, an IHO commenced a due process hearing pursuant to Plaintiffs' March 27 request. (Id. ¶ 25.) On October 12, 2004, the IHO issued an order (the "October 12, 2004 IHO Order"), finding that the District failed to provide Rebecca with necessary psychological and vocational counseling, psychiatric evaluations, and transitional services (collectively, the "Transitional Services") to prepare her to be self-sufficient and to provide her with the independent life skills necessary for college.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 27.) The IHO ordered the District to hold a CSE review meeting to create a new transition plan, but held that creation and implementation of the transition plan was dependent on Rebecca's attendance at the CSE meeting. (October 12, 2004 IHO Order 13-14.) The IHO stated that if Rebecca attended the CSE meeting, a psychiatric evaluation should be part of the transition plan. (Id. 13.) The IHO noted that, following the CSE review meeting, a new IEP should be created and the prior IEP would be void. (Id. 13-14.) The IHO further held that Plaintiffs were not entitled to medical costs incurred at the Summit School. (Id. 14.) Finally, the IHO suggested that District should "thoughtfully consider the need to provide [Rebecca] with counseling, a psychiatric evaluation, a vocational assessment, a job option[], [and] college options. If such options are deemed appropriate, a clear and well-reasoned plan to deliver such options shall be written and distributed to the parties." (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have not implemented the October 12, 2004 IHO Order and unlawfully attempted to shift the burden of paying for the Transitional Services to Plaintiffs by requiring them to pay VESID, which they were unable to do. (SAC¶ 45.) Plaintiffs claim that, without the Transitional Services, Rebecca lacked the skills necessary to succeed in college and the workplace. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) Rebecca left college after attending classes for only three weeks. (Id. ¶47.) She is currently twenty-four years old and can only hold a part-time job. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 48.)

In early November 2006, Plaintiffs appealed to the SRO seeking enforcement of the October 12, 2004 IHO Order.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 30.) On December 8, 2006, the SRO denied Plaintiffs' appeal, holding that "enforcement of an [IHO's] order can properly be sought by filing an administrative complaint with [VESID] pursuant to applicable federal and state regulations, or in federal court under [Section 1983]." (SRO Order 2 (internal citations omitted).) The SRO noted that the IHO "lacks an enforcement mechanism" and that "because the October 12, 2004 [IHO Order] . . . was favorable to [Plaintiffs], [Plaintiffs] need not exhaust administrative remedies prior to bringing an action in court." (Id.)

B. Procedural History

On October 12, 2007, Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint in the Southern District of New York against: the District; Joseph Corrigan ("Corrigan"), individually and as Assistant Superintendent for Administration of the District; and Richard P. Mills ("Mills"), individually and as Commissioner of the New York State Education Department. On February 7, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint removing Mills as a defendant and adding Wayne Gersen ("Gersen"), individually and as Superintendent of the District. The case was reassigned to this Court from Judge Harold Baer on February 27, 2008.*fn5 (Dkt. No. 8.) Defendants answered Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint and filed a Counterclaim against Plaintiffs on March 31, 2008.*fn6 (Dkt. No. 13.) Plaintiffs answered the Counterclaim on April 23, 2008. (Dkt. No. 16.)

At a pre-motion conference held on May 22, 2008, the Court granted Plaintiffs leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, which they did on June 30, 2008. Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, which for the first time added Powell as a defendant, and removed Corrigan and Gersen as defendants, seeks compensatory damages under Section 504, the ADA, and Section 1983. (SAC¶ 2.) Plaintiffs are suing Powell in his official and individual capacities for compensatory damages under Section 1983 for alleged violation of their due process and equal protection rights. Additionally, Plaintiffs seek punitive damages against Powell individually for allegedly ignoring the procedural guarantees of Section 1415.*fn7 (Id.; Opp'n 3.)

On November 13, 2008, Defendants filed the instant motion, seeking to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, Defendants seek (1) dismissal of Plaintiffs' equal protection claims; (2) dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims that accrued prior to October 12, 2004, as barred by the applicable statute of limitations; ...


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