The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court
Plaintiff P.M., a minor, individually and through his parent, Plaintiff S.M., after receiving favorable rulings at the administrative level against Defendant Evans-Brant Central School District ("Evans"), bring this action for attorney fees pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., as re-authorized and amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). Relevant to this action, the IDEIA added a 90-day statute of limitations, where none existed before, for certain claims brought under the IDEA. Presently before this Court is Evans' Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 5), Plaintiffs' Motions to Seal Document (Docket No. 7), and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint (Docket No. 8). For the following reasons, Evans' motion is denied in part and granted in part, while Plaintiffs' motions are granted.
As an initial matter, this Court must address Plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaint. Plaintiffs move to file a Second Amended Complaint to add the full names of the Plaintiffs and to include a detailed breakdown of the attorney fees at issue. The motion to seal then seeks, as it sounds, to seal that document to protect the minor's identity.
Leave to amend is freely granted when justice so requires. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 (a)(2). The proposed amendment makes only minor changes and does not add any substantive allegations or claims. Accordingly, Evans is not prejudiced and, for the sake of efficiency and expediency, this Court will grant leave to amend and resolve the Motion to Dismiss as against the Second Amended Complaint. To protect the minor-Plaintiff's identity, Plaintiffs' Motion to Seal is also granted.
The facts are undisputed. Under New York Education Law ("N.Y. Educ. Law"), parents who are dissatisfied with a proposed Individualized Education Plan for their children may request, pursuant to IDEA-mandated procedures, a review before an impartial hearing officer ("IHO") appointed by the board of education. N.Y. Educ. Law. § 4404(1) (McKinney 2001 & 2008 Cumulative Pocket Part); see generally 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f) (describing requirements for impartial due process hearing). S.M., dissatisfied with the educational placement of her disabled son while he was a student at Evans, filed such a complaint against Evans. On June 2, 2008, after a hearing, Michael Lazan, the IHO, issued a decision in Plaintiffs' favor determining that Evans failed to provide P.M. with appropriate educational programs and services for the 2007-2008 school year. (Complaint ¶ 14).
On June 23, 2008, Evans, under the authority of the N.Y. Educ. Law, appealed the IHO's decision to the State Review Officer ("SRO") of the New York State Education Department. See N.Y. Educ. Law. § 4404(2); see generally 20 U.S.C. § 1415(g) (describing requirements for appeal to state agency). Two months later, on August 25, 2008, the SRO upheld the IHO's decision. (Complaint ¶¶ 16-18). Defendant did not appeal the SRO's decision, rendering Plaintiffs the prevailing party entitled to attorney fees and costs under the IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(I).
On February 27, 2009, Plaintiffs demanded payment from Defendant for attorney fees and costs, totaling $58,455.84, later reducing that amount to $57,872.84. (Complaint ¶ 35.) But Evans denied that request (Complaint ¶ 38) and eventually brought this motion arguing that Plaintiffs are not entitled to any fees or costs.
A. Motion to Dismiss Standard
Rule 12 (b)(6) allows dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6). Federal pleading standards are generally not stringent: Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of a claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (a)(2). But the plain statement must "possess enough heft to show that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).
When determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court must construe it liberally, accept all factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007). Legal conclusions, however, are not afforded the same presumption of truthfulness. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009) ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.").
"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1945 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Labels, conclusions, or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility exists when the facts alleged allow for a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct charged. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. The plausibility standard is not, however, a probability requirement: the pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 1950; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (a)(2). Well-pleaded allegations must nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Courts therefore use a two-pronged approach to examine the sufficiency of a complaint, which includes "any documents that are either incorporated into the complaint by reference or attached to the complaint as exhibits." Blue Tree Hotels Inv. (Can.), Ltd. v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 369 F.3d 212, 217 (2d Cir. 2004). This examination is context specific and requires that the court draw on its judicial experience and common sense. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. First, statements that are not entitled to the presumption of truth -- such as conclusory allegations, labels, and legal conclusions -- are identified and stripped away. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at ...