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Jenn-Ching Luo v. Baldwin Union Free School District

March 5, 2012

JENN-CHING LUO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BALDWIN UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, MICHELLE GALLO, SHERRISSE MARTIN, SUSAN M. GIBSON AND JOHN M. SUOZZI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Jenn-Ching Luo brought this action to redress perceived shortcomings in the way Defendant Baldwin Union Free School District (the "District") and several individual defendants addressed the educational needs of B.L., Plaintiff's disabled child. Plaintiff sued the District, Michelle Gallo, Sherrisse Martin, Susan Gibson and John Suozzi, Ph.D; he asserts violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA") and Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code ("Section 1983"). He also asserts several state law claims.

In its March 15, 2011 Memorandum and Order (the "March Order"), the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims against Gibson and all but one against Suozzi. (Docket Entry 74.) Pending before the Court is the District, Gallo, and Martin's motion for judgment on the pleadings and for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 79.) For the following reasons, this motion is GRANTED. Further, because the Court has reviewed the administrative record and concludes that there was no IDEA violation here, the remaining claim against Suozzi (a Section 1983 claim predicated on the IDEA) is also dismissed.

BACKGROUND

The allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint are detailed in the March Order, with which the reader's familiarity is presumed. In this section, the Court will provide a brief synopsis of the underlying allegations in order to give context to the discussion that follows. To the extent appropriate, it will cite specific evidence from the administrative record in the analysis section below.*fn1

Very briefly, in advance of a meeting to review B.L.'s individualized education plan (the "IEP"), the District had B.L.'s educational needs evaluated by a woman named Andretta. Plaintiff was concerned that Andretta's report may have been tainted because she was allegedly not a disinterested evaluator and her report was skewed to "recommend" the educational program that best suited the District. The District arranged a second evaluation (the "Reevaluation"), which Suozzi conducted and which resulted in a number of recommendations for B.L.'s development. Plaintiff vehemently disagreed with two of these recommendations: Recommendation 6 (which stated that B.L. was not ready to learn some of the skills being taught under his then-current IEP) and Recommendation 7 (which suggested that Plaintiff learn skills to foster B.L.'s development at home). (See generally March Order 3-6.)

Plaintiff received a copy of Suozzi's report two days before February 26, 2009, the date on which B.L.'s committee on special education (the "CSE") met to discuss possible changes to B.L.'s then-current IEP (the "February CSE Meeting"). At that meeting, Plaintiff presented a written response to the report and he and Suozzi discussed Suozzi's recommendations in detail. Ultimately, Suozzi's recommendations were not incorporated into B.L.'s IEP, which remained essentially unchanged. (See generally March Order 7.)*fn2

Apparently still upset with the Reevaluation and the recommendations it yielded, Plaintiff filed a due process complaint with the school. A hearing was held, and an independent hearing officer (the "IHO") determined that there had been no IDEA violation. (IHO Decision, R. 1036-1090.) A state review officer ("SRO") affirmed the IHO's decision. (SRO Decision R. 1182-1200.)

DISCUSSION

As the Court explained in the March Order, Plaintiff's Complaint, liberally construed, purports to raise four federal claims: first, a claim that all Defendants violated the IDEA by (a) subjecting B.L. to the Reevaluation without valid parental consent, (b) failing to gather the relevant information in support of Recommendations 6 and 7, and (c) cutting Plaintiff out of meaningful discussions concerning B.L.'s IEP by presenting Suozzi's Reevaluation of B.L.'s educational needs to Plaintiff at the February CSE Meeting as a fait accompli; second, a Section 1983 claim that all Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his rights under IDEA for the same reasons; third, a Section 1983 claim that all Defendants deprived Plaintiff of a Fourteenth Amendment property right to B.L.'s free appropriate public education ("FAPE"); and fourth, a Section 1983 claim that all Defendants deprived Plaintiff of a Fourteenth Amendment liberty right by suggesting that Plaintiff learn "parent skills" as part of B.L.'s IEP. (March Order 10-11 (citing Compl. ¶¶ 301-317).)

The Complaint also purports to raise four state law claims: first, a claim that Gallo and Martin breached a contract by not honoring the conditional nature of Plaintiff's consent to the Reevaluation; second, a claim that all Defendants "harassed" Plaintiff, which the Court construed as an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim; third, a claim that all Defendants committed a prima facie tort; and fourth, a claim that Suozzi defamed Plaintiff. (March Order 11 (citing Compl. ¶¶ 309, 318-331).)

The Moving Defendants have asked for a summary determination that Plaintiff cannot prevail on his IDEA claim and for judgment on the pleadings as to the remainder of Plaintiff's case. The Court will address the Moving Defendants' arguments below, but it first considers the impact the March Order had on Plaintiff's case.

I. The Current State of Plaintiff's Case Strictly speaking, the March Order did not address

Plaintiff's claims as against the Moving Defendants, but the rationale in dismissing many of Plaintiff's claims against Gibson and Suozzi applies with equal force to the pending motion. The Court notes the following carry-over points from the March Order.

First, as there is no individual liability under IDEA, Plaintiff's IDEA claims against Gallo and Martin are dismissed. (See March Order 13.) To the extent that Plaintiff asserts IDEA claims against Gallo and Martin in their official capacities, these claims are dismissed as redundant of his IDEA claim against the District. See Anemone v. Metro. Tranps. Auth., 410 F. Supp. 2d 255, 264 n.2 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).

Second, Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims that the Moving Defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment are dismissed because Plaintiff has not alleged a cognizable deprivation of a constitutional right apart from what is already covered by the Section 1983 claim that uses IDEA as its foundation. (See March Order 20-21.)

Third, Plaintiff's prima facie tort claims against the Moving Defendants are dismissed for failure to allege special damages. (See March Order 23.)

Fourth, the Court construes Plaintiff's defamation claim as against Suozzi only. (See March Order 23-26.)

Accordingly, the Moving Defendants face only the following claims: first, an IDEA claim that the District (a) subjected B.L. to the Reevaluation without valid parental consent, (b) failed to gather the relevant information in support of Recommendations 6 and 7, and (c) cut Plaintiff out of meaningful discussions concerning B.L.'s IEP by presenting Suozzi's Reevaluation as a fait accompli; second, a Section 1983 claim that the Moving Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his rights under the IDEA; third, a state law breach of contract ...


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