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J.B v. San Jose Unified School District

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 6, 2013

J.B., by and through his mother, H.S., Plaintiff,
v.
SAN JOSE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge.

On April 19, 2013, the Court heard argument on defendant San Jose Unified School District's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

This case arises from actions by plaintiff's mother to ensure that he would not be deprived of the free appropriate public education ("FAPE") guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.

According to the complaint, plaintiff ("the Student") was a student at Bret Harte Middle School in the San Jose Unified School District ("the District"). Compl. §§ 4, 6. Beginning in May 2005, the Student was known to the District as a student with disabilities covered under the IDEA, and was eligible for special education services. Id. § 11. However, in May 2011, the District conducted a series of assessments to determine if the Student was no longer eligible for special education under the IDEA. Id. § 12. On May 25, 2011, an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") determined that special education services should cease based on the reports from the assessments. Id.

The Student requested another IEP in September 2011, but the District, relying on the May assessments, continued to deny special education services to him. Id. § 12. On November 7, 2011, the Student's mother requested an independent educational evaluation ("IEE") at public expense. Id. § 13. The District rejected this request and, on December 16, 2011, the District filed for a due process hearing pursuant to 34 C.F.R. § 300.502(b)(2)(i). Id. § 14. The due process complaint contained two issues: 1) whether the Student continued to be eligible for special education services under the IDEA; and 2) whether the District should be required to fund an IEE.

The Student's mother paid for an IEE of the Student. She also retained legal counsel to defend against the due process suit. Id. On June 13, 2012, the IEP committee met and reviewed an IEE report that the Student's mother had privately funded, which found that the Student had severe ADHD and Depression. Id. § 16. The District found that the Student was eligible for special education. Id.

On June 19, 2012, the District filed a "Withdrawal of Issue #1" in its due process complaint, withdrawing the issue of whether the Student was eligible for special education. Id. § 17. However, the District continued to assert that it rightfully denied the request for an IEE, and the parties prepared for a hearing on that issue. Id. §§ 17, 19. On July 12, 2012, four days before the hearing was scheduled to begin, the District agreed to reimburse the Student's mother for the IEE. Id. § 20. The next day, the District withdrew its due process complaint. Id. § 21. On August 16, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge dismissed the case, citing the "District's withdrawal" as the reason for the dismissal. Def.'s Req. for Judicial Notice, Ex. C.

The Student brought this action seeking attorneys' fees incurred in defense of the District's due process action. The District moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Student is not the prevailing party and therefore not entitled to attorneys' fees.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This "facial plausibility" standard requires the plaintiff to allege facts that add up to "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although courts do not require "heightened fact pleading of specifics, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 544, a plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, " id. at 555. The plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

In deciding whether the plaintiff has stated a claim, the Court must assume that the plaintiff's allegations are true and must draw all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the court is not required to accept as true "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." St. Clare v. Gilead Scis., Inc., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). Moreover, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In considering a motion to dismiss, the court may take judicial notice of matters of public record outside the pleadings. See MGIC Indemn. Corp. v. Weisman, 803 F.2d 500, 504 (9th Cir. 1986).

DISCUSSION

Under the IDEA, "the court, in its discretion, may award reasonable attorney's fees as part of the costs... to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I) (emphasis added). A prevailing party is one who "succeed[s] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit.'" Parents of Student W. v. Puyallup Sch. Dist., No. 3, 31 F.3d 1489, 1498 (9th Cir.1994) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). Such success results in a "material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties, " and there "must be a causal link between the litigation brought and the outcome gained." Id. (citations and quotations omitted). If a party fails to secure a judgment on the merits or a court-ordered consent decree, but nonetheless achieves the desired result through a voluntary change, it cannot be considered the prevailing party. Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dept. of ...


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