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B.R. v. District of Columbia

December 3, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 2



The plaintiff appeals an administrative decision dismissing her complaint against SEED Public Charter School ("SEED") and the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") alleging that the defendants denied her daughter, a 16-year-old disabled child, a free, appropriate education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"). The defendants move to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff fails to adduce facts sufficient in her complaint to support her invocation of §1983 of the Civil Rights Act and §504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The plaintiff argues that her claims survive under the relaxed pleading standard assumed during the preliminary stages of a case. Because the plaintiff fails to allege a sufficient factual predicate for her §1983 claim, the court dismisses it. But because the plaintiff fails only to clearly indicate the factual basis of the violation supporting her §504 claim, the court grants the plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to clarify her factual allegations.


The plaintiff's daughter, B.R., attended SEED from the seventh through the ninth grades. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 6. Her initial Individualized Education Program ("IEP"), completed on May 3, 2005, required 6 hours of special education services. Id. ¶ 8. Her IEP was revised on December 8, 2005, however, to reflect her eligibility for full-time special education. Id. ¶ 9. On January 26, 2006, DCPS placed B.R. at Hart Middle School, which allegedly did not provide her any special education services. Id. ¶ 10. At the end of the school term, DCPS did not convene a placement meeting to consider an appropriate school for the 2006-2007 term. Id. ¶ 11. On August 1, 2006, the plaintiff submitted a letter to DCPS informing it that it had 10 days to designate an appropriate educational setting for her daughter. Id. ¶ 12.*fn1 DCPS did not respond, and the plaintiff placed B.R. at High Road School, a private establishment. Id.

On September 29, 2006, the plaintiff filed an administrative complaint against SEED and DCPS alleging a failure to provide B.R. with appropriate education services. Id. ¶ 13. On December 7, 2006, a hearing officer ruled that the plaintiff had waived her right to file a claim against SEED because she had withdrawn SEED as a named plaintiff in a prior complaint. Id. ¶ 15. The officer also dismissed the claim against DCPS. Id. The plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on March 7, 2007, within the 90-day statute of limitation period.*fn2 The defendants' instant motion presents the court with the question of whether the plaintiff has alleged facts in support of her §1983 and §504 claims sufficient to ward off dismissal for failure to state a claim.


A. Legal Standard for Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State A Claim

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The complaint need only set forth a short and plain statement of the claim, giving the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040(D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Such simplified notice pleading is made possible by the liberal opportunity for discovery and the other pre-trial procedures established by the Rules to disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense to define more narrowly the disputed facts and issues." Conley, 355 U.S. at 47-48 (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of his prima facie case in the complaint, Swierkiewicz v. Sonoma N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002), or "plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory," Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Yet, the plaintiff must allege a "plausible entitlement to relief," by setting forth "any set of facts consistent with the allegations." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1967, 1969 (2007) (abrogating the oft-quoted language from Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-56,instructing courts not to dismiss for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that "no set of facts in support of his claim [] would entitle him to relief"). While these facts must "possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations." Id. at 1964, 1966. In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations -- including mixed questions of law and fact -- as true and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 67 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Holy Land Found. for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. While many well-pleaded complaints are conclusory, the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Warren, 353 F.3d at 39; Browning, 292 F.3d at 242.

B. The §1983 Claim Is Dismissed Because the Plaintiff Fails to Plead a Factual Basis

The IDEA guarantees every disabled student a free, appropriate public education specially designed to meet his or her unique needs. 20 U.S.C. §1400(d)(1)(A). The Act establishes a variety of entitlements and procedural safeguards, including the design and implementation of an IEP for every disabled child, 20 U.S.C. §§1401(11), 1414(d), and a notice-and-hearing process by which parents and children participate in the design and implementation of IEPs. Id. §§1414(f), 1415.

A student is entitled to compensatory education if a school system has failed to provide her special education services. See Hall v. Knott County Bd. of Educ., 941 F.2d 402, 407 (6th Cir. 1991); Miener v. Missouri, 800 F.2d 749, 753 (8th Cir. 1986); Walker v. District of Columbia, 157 F. Supp. 2d 11, 30 (D.D.C. 2001). Compensatory damages, however, are not available under the IDEA, and a plaintiff seeking them must bring a ยง1983 claim to vindicate her rights under the IDEA. ...

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