United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SEGAL HUVELLE United States District Judge.
a 16-year-old student who attends Woodrow Wilson High School
in the District of Columbia. T.H.'s parents
(“plaintiffs”) filed this lawsuit against the
District on behalf of T.H., alleging discrimination under
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section
504”), 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 (“DCHRA”), D.C.
Code § 2-1401.01 et seq., and claiming
intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Compl., ECF
No. 21-2, at 7-9.)
District now moves pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) for
judgment on the pleadings, arguing that (1) plaintiffs'
claims are subject to the administrative-exhaustion
requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education
Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1), even
though plaintiffs did not file suit under IDEA, and (2)
plaintiffs' failure to exhaust those administrative
remedies deprives this Court of jurisdiction. (Def.'s
Mot. for J. on the Pleadings (“Def.'s Mot.”),
April 26, 2017, ECF No. 17, at 5-10.) Plaintiffs respond that
their claims are not subject to IDEA's
administrative-exhaustion requirement. (Pls.' Mem. in
Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. (“Pls.'
Opp'n”), May 3, 2017, ECF No. 21, at 6-8.)
assuming arguendo that IDEA's
administrative-exhaustion requirement applies to
plaintiffs' claims, the District's motion will be
denied. The Court concludes that administrative exhaustion
under IDEA is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit.
Rather, the failure to exhaust IDEA's administrative
remedies is an affirmative defense that the District must
plead and prove. The District has failed to carry its burden
on its affirmative defense, given that plaintiffs'
failure to exhaust IDEA's administrative remedies is not
clear on the face of the complaint.
filed this lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on December 12,
2016. (Compl. at 1.) On January 31, 2017, the District
removed the matter to federal district court. (Notice of
Removal, ECF No. 1.) As the specific factual allegations of
the District's acts and omissions are not relevant to
resolving the present motion, the Court provides only a brief
overview of plaintiffs' claims.
allege that T.H. is entitled to reasonable accommodations at
her public high school pursuant to Section 504 because she
suffers from an anxiety disorder. (Compl. at 3-4.)
Accommodations provided to students with disabilities under
Section 504 are generally memorialized in a “504
plan.” According to plaintiffs, T.H.'s 504 plan was
inadequate because the District failed to pursue appropriate
psychological testing, and the school failed to properly
implement T.H.'s 504 plan. (Id. at 2.)
Plaintiffs further contend that T.H.'s Geometry teacher
discriminated against her, in violation of DCHRA, by
excluding T.H. from class for wearing too much perfume.
(Id. at 4.) On the basis of the school's
conduct, plaintiffs also claim intentional infliction of
emotional distress. (Id. at 9.) T.H. and her parents
seek declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages.
(Id. at 9-10.)
District filed its answer to the complaint on February 3,
2017, asserting among its “affirmative defense[s],
” that plaintiffs “fail[ed] to exhaust
administrative remedies.” (Answer, ECF No. 5, at 5.) On
April 26, 2017, the District filed the present motion,
arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed for
plaintiffs' failure to exhaust the administrative
remedies available under IDEA. Importantly, plaintiffs make
no allegations in their complaint with respect to pursuing or
exhausting administrative remedies under IDEA or otherwise.
(See Compl. at 1-10.)
under Rule 12(c), the District raises a jurisdictional
challenge on the basis of plaintiffs' failure to
administratively exhaust their claims. Typically, a 12(b)(1)
motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction is
the appropriate vehicle to lodge jurisdictional challenges.
However, because the Court concludes that administrative
exhaustion under IDEA is a non-jurisdictional affirmative
defense, it will not construe the present motion as one
having properly been brought under Rule 12(b)(1).
Rule 12(c), “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early
enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on
the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Courts review a
motion for judgment on the pleadings under the same standard
that they would review a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Maniaci v. Georgetown
Univ., 510 F.Supp.2d 50, 58 (D.D.C. 2007) (citations
omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss [for failure
to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must
contain 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)
(quotation marks and citation omitted). Courts may grant a
defendant's motion to dismiss on the basis of an
affirmative defense “when the facts that give rise to
the defense are clear from the face of the complaint.”
Smith-Haynie v. Dist. of Columbia, 155 F.3d 575, 578
(D.C. Cir. 1998).
motion for judgment on the pleadings, the District argues
that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, reasoning
that plaintiffs' claims are subject to IDEA's
administrative exhaustion requirement and that plaintiffs
failed to exhaust those administrative procedures. The
District's unstated premise in making this argument ...