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C.L. v. Hastings-On-Hudson Union Free School District

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 21, 2015

C.L., by and through his next friend, K.L.; M.P., by and through her next friend, T.P.; A.C., by and through her next friends, N.F. and R.C.; B.J., by and through her next friend, L.J.; P.S., by and through his next friends, F.N. and C.S.; H.W., by and through her next friend, A.W.; N.W., by and through his next friend, A.W., Plaintiffs,
v.
HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT; ROY R. MONTESANO, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS; DEBORAH AUGARTEN, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES; HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON BOARD OF EDUCATION; NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT; JOHN R. KING, JR., COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

NELSON S. ROMN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs C.L., M.P., A.C., B.J., P.S., H.W., and N.W. ("Plaintiffs"), through their above-captioned representatives, commenced this action by complaint filed June 18, 2014 (dkt. no. 1) and amended October 15, 2014 (dkt. no. 13). The amended complaint (the "Complaint") assetts causes of action against defendants Hastings-on-Hudson Union Free School District (the "District"), Roy R. Montesano, Deborah Augarten, and the Hastings-on-Hudson Board of Education (collectively, the "District Defendants"), and against the New York State Education Department and John R. King, Jr. (together, the "State Defendants").

Count One asserts a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-82, against the District Defendants and the State Defendants. Count Two asserts a violation of Article 89 of the New York Education Law, N.Y. Educ. L. §§ 4401-4410-c, against the District Defendants. Count Three asserts a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, against the District Defendants and the State Defendants. Count Four asserts a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, against the District Defendants and the State Defendants.

Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief on these claims, including a comprehensive assessment of the District's compliance with the IDEA and other special education laws-laws designed to ensure that children who are disabled, as Plaintiffs are, receive appropriate special education and related services-and a corrective action plan to remedy perceived systemic defects in the District's provision of such education.

The District Defendants and the State Defendants both now move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The State Defendants also move to dismiss claims against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the Rule 12(b)(1) motions, but GRANTS the State Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion.

I. COMPLAINT

For purposes of this opinion the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. The Complaint describes each plaintiff's disability and alleges that Plaintiffs, and others, systematically have been denied access to free appropriate public education that meets developmental needs, in contravention of the IDEA and other statutes. See Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 2. Defendants allegedly have, among other things: "(1) failed to properly classify children who are deemed disabled and eligible to receive special education and related services and made predeterminations with respect to children's classifications; (2) declined to consider opinions of independent evaluators during Committee on Special Education (CSE') meetings; (3) discouraged meaningful parent, teacher, and service provider participation at CSE meetings; (4) denied the provision of requested services on erroneous grounds or without any basis; (5) failed to provide special education and related services as required by Plaintiffs' respective individualized education programs (IEPs') and to ensure that these missed special education and related services (herein, missed services') are made up within a reasonable period of time; (6) changed special education and related services without first providing parental notification of said changes; (7) provided special education and related services of substandard quality; (8) compelled Plaintiffs to forego educational opportunities to which they were entitled in order to receive special education and related services; and (9) refused to conduct reevaluations upon parental request." Id. ¶ 4.

Specific examples of these actions and omissions are given. For instance, one plaintiff repeatedly was denied necessary speech therapy sessions, and another was denied occupational therapy sessions to which she was entitled. Id. ¶ 5. Notably, however, the Complaint alleges that particular violations concerning the particular plaintiffs who have commenced the action are the "tip of the iceberg, " and that Defendants' actions and omissions also have violated other disabled children's rights "on a broader, systemic basis." Id. ¶ 6. Systemic failures purportedly are adversely affecting more than 182 children at this time. Id. ¶ 8.

As factual support for the contention that systemic deficiencies are present, and that systemic relief is needed, the Complaint describes an "atmosphere of fear and intimidation" created during defendant Deborah Augarten's tenure as Direct of Special Education Services for the District. Id. ¶¶ 6, 40, 47. The Complaint cites numerous complaints from parents, District staff, and outside specialists regarding Augarten, and a failure by the other District Defendants to address these complaints. Id. ¶¶ 7, 43. The Complaint gives substantial anecdotal evidence of obstructionism and unresponsiveness by Augarten and the District, id. ¶¶ 49-57, and cites what arguably is circumstantial evidence of a pervasive problem in the District, including parental survey results showing dissatisfaction, shrinking budgets for special education (not seen in comparable districts), declining enrollment by disabled students (same), and a declining disability classification rate (same), see id. ¶¶ 60-66. The Complaint then describes how systemic problems manifested in the case of each individual plaintiff. See id. ¶¶ 88-143.

In contrast to allegations directed toward the District and the District Defendants, the Complaint largely is silent on the State Defendants' role. The New York State Education Department (the "SED") allegedly "is responsible for overseeing the provision of public education in New York State, " id. ¶ 23, and John R. King, Jr. serves as the State Commissioner of Education, id. ¶ 24. The Complaint alleges that at least three complaints were filed with the SED since 2009, at least two of which were adjudicated and decided against Hastings. Id. ¶ 69. Apparently under State oversight after those adjudications, the District was required to take corrective action pursuant to a "compliance assurance plan." Id. Allegedly, the plan and the SED focused narrowly on addressing only the complainants' problems, and did not undertake systemic remedial measures, despite one family specifically complaining about the pervasiveness of missed services in the District. Id. Judging, however, by the Complaint's silence as to other reports to the State of systemic failures, those reports did not happen, but rather, parents voiced their grievances at the District level. See, e.g., id. 70-75 (discussing Hillside Elementary School teachers' memorandum detailing general complaints about systemic problems which was shared with District Superintendent Montesano). The Complaint nevertheless appears to name the State Defendants (encompassed within "Defendants") on the federal Counts One, Three, and Four, based on the State Defendants' failure to ensure the District's compliance with the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA.

II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARDS

"A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it." Nike, Inc. v. Already, LLC, 663 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation omitted). "A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists." Morrison v. Nat'l Australia Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008). In assessing whether there is subject matter jurisdiction, the Court must accept as true all material facts alleged in the complaint, Conyers v. Rossides, 558 F.3d 137, 143 (2d Cir. 2009), but "the court may resolve [any] disputed jurisdictional fact issues by referring to evidence outside the pleadings such as affidavits, Zappia Middle E. Contr. Co. v. Emirate of Abu Dhabi, 215 F.3d 247, 253 (2d Cir. 2000).

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the inquiry is whether the complaint "contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); accord Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 160 (2d Cir. 2010). The Court, again, must take all material factual allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, but the Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they ...


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