United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHANTE C. LEE, AS PARENT AND NEXT FRIENDS OF M.L., A MINOR Plaintiffs
SEED PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON, D.C., Defendant
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
parent of minor M.L., brings multiple claims against
Defendant SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.
(“SEED”) based on M.L.’s experience while
attending SEED’s college-preparatory, public boarding
school. In broad strokes, Plaintiff alleges that,
while attending SEED, M.L. was bullied and harassed by other
students because of his autism disability and that Defendant
failed to take proper steps to prevent and remedy the
bullying and harassment. Ultimately, due to the bullying and
harassment, M.L. attempted suicide in his dormitory room and
was soon thereafter withdrawn from SEED. Based on these
events, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant for
disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of
1973, for the failure to provide M.L. with a free and
appropriate public education under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (âIDEAâ), for gross negligence,
and for the negligent infliction of emotional distress.
the Court is Defendant’s  Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint. Defendant claims that,
for various reasons, each of Plaintiff’s four claims
should be dismissed. Upon consideration of the
pleadings, the relevant legal authorities, and the
record as a whole, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES
WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART Defendant’s motion. First,
the Court GRANTS IN PART Defendant’s Motion and
DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiff’s claim under the
IDEA because Plaintiff has failed to properly exhaust that
claim. The Court further DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE
Plaintiff’s Rehabilitation Act claim insofar as it
relies on events occurring before August 22, 2017, as those
events occurred outside the limitations period. The Court
otherwise DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Defendant’s Motion.
On the current record, considering only events occurring on
or after August 22, 2017, Plaintiff has stated a timely claim
for disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act
sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Additionally,
Plaintiff has made sufficient allegations, which taken as
true, state a claim for gross negligence against Defendant.
Accordingly, at this time, the Court will not dismiss
Plaintiff’s claims for gross negligence and the
negligent infliction of emotional distress.
purposes of the motion before the Court, the Court accepts as
true the well-pled allegations in Plaintiff's Amended
Complaint. The Court does “not accept as true, however,
the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are
unsupported by the facts alleged.” Ralls Corp. v.
Comm. on Foreign Inv. in the United States, 758 F.3d
296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014).
a minor with autism. Am. Compl., ECF No. 1-2, ¶ 3.
Autism is a developmental disability which is characterized
by deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication, a
tendency to engage in repetitive and stereotypical movements,
and unusual reactions to changes in routine or environment.
Id. M.L. displays many of these symptoms.
allegations in this lawsuit concern M.L.’s experience
at SEED from 2016 to 2017. SEED is a college-preparatory,
public boarding school which serves grades six through
twelve. Id. at ¶ 8. During the 2016 to 2017
academic school year, M.L. was ten years old and in the sixth
grade, as he had previously advanced two grades. Id.
at ¶ 3. M.L. lived in the SEED dormitories with other
students during the relevant time period. Id.
first alleged incident of bullying and harassment occurred on
September 26, 2016. Two other students allegedly assaulted
M.L. while he was on the soccer field. Id. at ¶
17. The other students stomped on M.L.’s face and hit
him with rocks so that he suffered a concussion. Id.
Plaintiff filed a report with the District of Columbia
Metropolitan Police Department regarding this incident.
Id. Plaintiff requested from SEED additional
information about the attack, and a SEED official agreed to
send Plaintiff the incident report with the student names
redacted. Id. at ¶ 18. On October 12, 2016, the
two students involved in the attack turned themselves in to
the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, and
they were expelled from SEED. Id. Plaintiff claims
that on October 25, 2016, SEED administrators acknowledged
the constant bullying by some students and promised to take
steps to protect M.L. from bullying in the future.
to Plaintiff, on September 19, 2017, M.L. was again
physically assaulted, stomped on, and punched. Id.
at ¶ 20. Plaintiff states that she requested an incident
report but did not receive one. Id. at ¶ 21.
The constant harassment by various students against M.L.
continued and intensified in September of 2017, but SEED
officials allegedly failed to document, investigate, or act
on these incidents. Id. at ¶ 22.
claims that in September of 2017, M.L. was labeled as gay by
some students which resulted in constant rumors about M.L.
Id. at ¶ 23. M.L. was constantly harassed in
the shower and bathroom. And, students shared a video of M.L.
naked in the shower. Id. Plaintiff explains that
M.L. became afraid to leave his dorm room to go to the
bathroom at night. Id. at ¶ 24. But, SEED
officials allegedly failed to document, investigate, or act
on these incidents. Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.
September 27, 2017, after students harassed M.L., calling him
gay, M.L. attempted to commit suicide in his dorm room.
Id. at ¶ 25. That day, Plaintiff removed M.L.
from the residential program. Id. at ¶ 26. And,
on October 17, 2017, Plaintiff withdrew M.L. from SEED
because he could not attend the school without being in the
residential program. Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.
to Plaintiff, SEED has had multiple issues with students
being bullied or harassed. These allegations were covered by
news outlets and at least one incident led to another
student’s suicide at SEED. Id. at ¶¶
requests dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims both for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a
claim for which relief may be granted. These two grounds for
dismissal are analyzed pursuant to different rules.
to dismiss for lack of subject matter are analyzed pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). A court must
dismiss a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) when it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction. In determining whether there is
jurisdiction, “the court may consider the complaint
supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or
the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the
court’s resolution of disputed facts.” Coal.
for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198
(D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of
Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)) (internal
quotation marks omitted). “At the motion to dismiss
stage, counseled complaints, as well as pro se complaints,
are to be construed with sufficient liberality to afford all
possible inferences favorable to the pleader on allegations
of fact.” Settles v. U.S. Parole Comm'n,
429 F.3d 1098, 1106 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In spite of the
favorable inferences that a plaintiff receives on a motion to
dismiss, it is still true that the “[p]laintiff bears
the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence.” Am. Farm Bureau v.
EPA, 121 F.Supp.2d 84, 90 (D.D.C. 2000). “Although
a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained
in the complaint when reviewing a motion to ...