United States District Court, N.D. California
November 23, 2005.
N.R., a minor, et al., Plaintiffs,
SAN RAMON VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant. AND RELATED THIRD PARTY CLAIM.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
On October 14, 2005, the Court heard oral argument on defendant
San Ramon Valley Unified School District's motion for judgment on
the pleadings. After the hearing, the parties submitted
supplemental briefing on the effect, if any, of the 2005
amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act
("IDEA"). Having considered the arguments of counsel and all the
briefing, the Court hereby GRANTS defendant's motion.
On January 31, 2005, plaintiffs N.R., L.C., R.P., E.P., and
N.B., all minors, filed a complaint against defendant San Ramon
Valley Unified School District ("District"). Plaintiffs allege
that they are each students with one or more disabilities, and
that they are each currently receiving behavioral services from
Synergistic Interventions ("SI"), a non-public agency certified
by the State of California to provide intensive behavioral
support services to special needs children in both home and
school settings. See Complaint ¶ 18. Plaintiffs allege that
these services are being provided to each of the plaintiffs
pursuant to either an Individual Education Program ("IEP") or a settlement agreement with the
defendant,*fn1 or both. Id.
Plaintiffs allege that on January 27, 2005, defendant advised
plaintiffs that after February 1, 2005, SI would no longer be
available to provide services to any students within the
district. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiffs allege that SI informed them
that its "unavailability" was the result of a confidential
mediation agreement between SI and the District in a lawsuit
concerning payment for behavioral services provided to district
students. Id. Plaintiffs allege that defendant advised
plaintiffs that the District would select new behavioral services
providers to begin working with plaintiffs beginning February 2,
2005, regardless of whether the District received parental
consent to the new service providers. Id.*fn2
Plaintiffs seek to prevent defendant from replacing SI with new
behavioral services providers, and they allege that defendant is
"obligated to continue all current services to plaintiffs as the
last agreed upon and implemented services." Id. at ¶ 23.
Plaintiffs have alleged three causes of action: (1) declaratory
relief under the IDEA and the California Education Code; (2)
injunctive relief under the IDEA and California Education Code §§
56000 et seq.; and (3) breach of contract for alleged
violations of settlement agreements between some plaintiffs and
defendant. Id. at ¶¶ 22-33.
"After the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to
delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the
pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 12(c). Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(c)
are substantially identical. See William W. Schwarzer, A.
Wallace Tashima & James M. Wagstaffe, Federal Civil Procedure
Before Trial § 9:319. Under either provision, a court must
determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint, to be taken
for these purposes as true, entitle the plaintiff to a legal
remedy. Id. If the complaint fails to articulate a legally
sufficient claim, the complaint should be dismissed or judgment
granted on the pleadings. DISCUSSION
1. First and Second Causes of Action Under the IDEA and
California Education Code
The District contends that plaintiffs' first and second causes
of action should be dismissed for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies under the IDEA. The IDEA provides that a
complainant may file an action under the Constitution, the
Americans with Disabilities Act, Title V of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973, or other federal laws which protect the rights of
children with disabilities "except that before the filing of a
civil action under such laws seeking relief that is also
available under this subchapter, the procedures under subsections
(f) and (g) of this section shall be exhausted to the same extent
as would be required had the action been brought under this
subchapter." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1) (as amended July 1, 2005).
Under the IDEA, parents are entitled to complain "with respect
to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or
educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free
appropriate public education to the child." Id. at §
1415(b)(6)(A). After making their complaint, parents are entitled
to "an impartial due process hearing." Id. at § 1415(f). A
decision of the due process hearing "shall be final," id. at §
1415(i)(1)(A), except that "[a]ny party aggrieved by the findings
and decision . . . shall have the right to bring a civil action
with respect to the complaint presented pursuant to this section,
which action may be brought in any State court of competent
jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States." Id.
at § 1415(i)(2)(A).
California Education Code §§ 56500-56507 sets forth the
administrative scheme for due process hearings under the IDEA.
Under these provisions, parents may initiate a due process
hearing regarding a proposal to change identification, assessment
or educational placement of a child, and such hearing will be
conducted at the state level. See Cal. Educ. Code § 5601(a)(1),
Here, plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief
regarding educational services specified in their IEPs.
Plaintiffs request the Court to "maintain SI as the current
behavior support services provider for plaintiffs until the
agreed-upon transition process has been successfully completed."
Complaint, Prayer ¶ 1. Plaintiffs allege that defendant is in
violation of the IDEA's "stay put" provision, which plaintiffs
contend prohibits defendant from changing services providers.
Id. at ¶ 26. The relief plaintiffs seek is available under the
IDEA, and thus plaintiffs are required to exhaust their
administrative remedies. See Hoeft, 967 F.2d at 1309
(plaintiffs required to exhaust administrative remedies because
"the administrative process has the potential for producing the very result plaintiffs seek, namely, statutory compliance.");
see also Tyler B. v. San Antonio Elem. Sch. Dist.,
253 F. Supp. 2d 1111, 1118 (N.D. Cal. 2003).
Plaintiffs contend that they are not required to exhaust
administrative remedies because it is "improbable" that they will
obtain adequate relief through administrative procedures. In
support of this argument, plaintiffs assert that "it is extremely
unlikely that, as a result of a due process hearing, any
plaintiff could obtain equitable or legal relief to adequately
address a situation where, as here, plaintiffs have alleged that
defendant district has attempted to contract with a third party
for the purpose of intentionally and wrongfully interfering with
plaintiffs' contractual and statutory rights." Plaintiffs'
Opposition at 2. Plaintiffs offer no case law or statutory
authority for this proposition. Moreover, plaintiffs have not
demonstrated that any of the exceptions to the administrative
exhaustion requirement, as described in Hoeft, are applicable
here. See Hoeft, 967 F.2d at 1303-04 (stating exhaustion is not
required where it would be futile, inadequate, or when an agency
has adopted a policy or pursued a practice of general
applicability that is contrary to the law).
Alternatively, plaintiffs seek leave to amend their complaint
to specifically allege exhaustion of administrative remedies.
Plaintiffs contend that they have satisfied this requirement by
filing compliance complaints with the California Department of
Education's Compliance Unit. The Ninth Circuit in Hoeft held
that district courts have discretion to determine, on a case by
case basis, whether a compliance complaint "would substitute for
exhausting IDEA procedures in challenges to facially invalid
policies." Id. at 1308. The court noted that a compliance
complaint "may furnish an appropriate administrative remedy where
the only purposes served by exhaustion are to notify the state of
local noncompliance and to afford it an opportunity to correct
the problem." Id.
The Court concludes that a compliance complaint filed with CDE
would not substitute for exhausting the IDEA administrative
procedures in this case because plaintiffs are not challenging a
facially invalid policy, but rather seek relief in the form of
continued and uninterrupted services from their current services
provider. As stated above, such relief is available through the
administrative process, and plaintiffs must exhaust those
Plaintiffs also state, somewhat inconsistently, that they have
exhausted their administrative remedies by "participating" in due
process hearings concerning their claims that the District
breached its settlement agreements with plaintiffs. In their reply, defendants state that
these administrative proceedings have not concluded, and
plaintiffs' counsel did not contradict this statement at oral
argument or in the supplemental briefing. Accordingly, because
the administrative proceedings have not concluded, plaintiffs
have not exhausted their administrative remedies and the Court
lacks jurisdiction over plaintiffs' first and second causes of
action under the IDEA and the California Education Code. The
Court hereby GRANTS defendant's motion and DISMISSES WITHOUT
PREJUDICE plaintiffs' first and second causes of action.
2. Third Cause of Action for Breach of Contract
Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiffs' remaining claim for
breach of contract for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
because there is neither diversity nor federal question
jurisdiction over this cause of action. At oral argument,
plaintiffs contended for the first time that the recent
amendments to the IDEA conferred federal jurisdiction over claims
to enforce settlement agreements that resolve IDEA disputes. The
parties have submitted supplemental briefing on this issue.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of
2004, Pub.L. No. 108-446, 118 Stat. 2647 (2004), made numerous
substantive amendments to the IDEA. Plaintiffs' jurisdictional
argument is based on the amended version of
20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2)(F), which provides,
(F) WRITTEN AGREEMENT. In the case that a
resolution is reached to resolve the complaint
through the mediation process, the parties shall
execute a legally binding agreement that sets forth
such resolution and that
(i) states that all discussions that occurred during
the mediation process shall be confidential and may
not be used as evidence in any subsequent due process
hearing or civil proceeding;
(ii) is signed by both the parent and a
representative of the agency who has the authority to
bind such agency; and
(iii) is enforceable in any State court of competent
jurisdiction or in a district court of the
20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2)(F) (2005). Plaintiffs contend that this
subsection confers jurisdiction in this Court to enforce the
settlement agreements entered into between the plaintiffs and the
District. Defendants contend that this language does not confer
such jurisdiction, and that even if it does confer jurisdiction,
it only does so for settlement agreements entered into after July
1, 2005, the effective date of the IDEA amendments. The Court concludes that even if the recent amendments to IDEA
conferred jurisdiction on the federal courts to enforce
settlement agreements reached through the IDEA mediation process,
these amendments do not operate to confer such jurisdiction in
this case. The amendment to § 1415(e)(2)(F), along with many of
the other amendments, took effect on July 1, 2005. See
20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2005).*fn3
It is undisputed that all of the
settlement agreements between plaintiffs and the District were
entered into prior to July 1, 2005.*fn4
Thus, the amended
version of § 1415 would only apply to the settlement agreements
at issue if the Court applied the amendment
Plaintiffs contend that the Court can retroactively apply §
1415(e)(2)(F) because it is strictly jurisdictional and does not
expand the parties' rights or obligations. However, even if
plaintiffs' interpretation of § 1415(e)(2)(F) is correct, there
is nothing in the amendments to suggest that courts may
retroactively apply any of the amendments, much less
retroactively apply certain subsections on a piecemeal basis.
Cf. Tucker v. Calloway County Bd. of Educ., 136 F.3d 495, 501
(6th Cir. 1998) (holding that 1997 IDEA amendments were
prospective only and noting that nothing in the 1997 amendments
suggested retroactive application). In addition to amending §
1415(e)(2)(F), the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Improvement Act of 2004 made numerous substantive amendments to
the IDEA which clearly do affect parties' rights and obligations
under that statute. See, e.g., 20 U.S.C. § 1415(c) (2005)
(setting forth new requirements regarding content of written
notice provided to parents as well as new subsection regarding
handling of due process complaints). Plaintiffs provide no
authority for the proposition that the Court can retroactively
apply a single amended subsection of a statute in the absence of
clear language authorizing such piecemeal retroactivity. Indeed,
the Court concludes that to do so would be contrary to the
"presumption against retroactive legislation that is deeply
rooted in our jurisprudence." Hughes Aircraft Co. v. U.S. ex
rel. Schumer, 520 U.S. 939, 946 (1997) (internal quotation omitted).
Because the Court concludes that § 1415(e)(2)(F) does not
confer federal subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' third
cause of action, and because the Court has dismissed plaintiffs'
IDEA claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, there
is no basis for jurisdiction over plaintiffs' breach of contract
claim. Cf. Opera Plaza Residential Homeowners Association v.
Tuan Hoang, 376 F.3d 831, 840 (9th Cir. 2004) (noting breach of
contract claim is "creature of state law."). Accordingly, the
Court GRANTS defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings and
DISMISSES this cause of action without prejudice.
3. Leave to Amend
Plaintiffs seek leave to amend to allege claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 "based upon defendant's violation of the IDEA and
plaintiffs' rights to due process, equal protection and free
speech as guaranteed by the United States Constitution."
Plaintiff's Opposition at 4. Plaintiffs also contend that they
can state a claim under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
1973. Significantly, plaintiffs have not submitted a proposed
amended complaint, nor do they elaborate in any way on the nature
of these proposed claims.
The Court concludes that allowing plaintiffs to amend the
complaint would be futile, and thus DENIES leave to amend. See
Steckman v. Hart Brewing, Inc., 143 F.3d 1293, 1298 (9th Cir.
1998). For all of the reasons set forth above regarding the
failure to exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA, plaintiffs
cannot reframe their IDEA claims under Section 1983 because they
would still be required to exhaust administrative remedies. See
Robb, 308 F.3d at 1048 (affirming dismissal of § 1983 claim
based on IDEA when plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative
remedies). Similarly, to the extent that plaintiffs' amended
complaint would be alleging "injuries that could be redressed to
any degree by the IDEA's administrative procedures and remedies,
exhaustion of those remedies is required." Id.; see also
20 U.S.C. § 1415(1) (stating exhaustion of IDEA remedies is required
prior to filing suit under ADA, Rehabilitation Act, Constitution,
or other federal laws if relief sought is available under IDEA).
For the foregoing reasons and for good cause shown, the Court
hereby GRANTS defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, DISMISSES plaintiffs'
claims WITHOUT PREJUDICE, and DENIES plaintiffs' request for
leave to amend. [Docket No. 59].
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