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San Diego County Office of Education v. Pollock

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 20, 2014



ROGER T. BENITEZ, District Judge.

Before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff San Diego County Office of Education's First, Second, and Third Claims for Relief, filed by Defendant and Counter-Claimant Julia Pollock (Pollock), as parent on behalf of M.P, a minor. (Docket No. 78). Pollock asks this Court to dismiss the three claims against her for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). For the reasons stated below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.


This case arises out of a due process decision rendered by the California State Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). M.P. is a minor who was arrested for murder and assault with a deadly weapon, and was detained at Juvenile Hall. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1). While in Juvenile Hall, SDCOE was responsible for providing M.P. with the free appropriate public education (FAPE) guaranteed by the IDEA. ( Id. ¶ 4; 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400, et seq. ; CAL. EDUC. CODE §§ 48645.1, 48645.2, 56150). M.P. was deemed incompetent to stand trial on August 21, 2012. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5). On November 16, 2012, M.P. filed for due process with OAH through his mother, Pollock.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) identified the issues as follows:
(1) Since January 16, 2012, has the [SD]COE deprived [M.P.] of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) both procedurally and substantively by failing to offer:
(a) Appropriate mental health services including therapy and counseling;
(b) Appropriate academic services when [SD]COE offered 240 minutes of academic instruction daily; and
(c) Appropriate occupational therapy services?
(2) Since August 21, 2012, did the [SD]COE deny [M.P.] a FAPE both procedurally and substantively by failing to offer [M.P] an appropriate placement when it failed to offer him a placement at a residential treatment center (RTC), which was the least restrictive environment (LRE)?

(AR 2410). M.P. sought an order directing SDCOE to place him at an RTC, and awarding him compensatory education. ( Id. )

The ALJ conducted hearings, and rendered a decision on April 16, 2013. (AR 2409-2458). In the decision, the ALJ ruled in M.P.'s favor as to issues 1(c) and 2. (AR 2457). Accordingly, the ALJ ordered that, within 60 days, SDCOE conduct an occupational therapy (OT) assessment, and convene an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting to determine M.P.'s present levels of performance, goals, and services in the area of occupational therapy. ( Id. ) The ALJ also ordered that SDCOE immediately begin a search for an appropriate RTC placement for M.P. which specializes in behavior modification and is experienced in treating children with fetal alcohol syndrome disorders. ( Id. ) SDCOE was ordered to complete the search for the residential placement, and to convene an IEP meeting to review and implement the placement, within 45 days. ( Id. )

SDCOE complied with the ALJ's orders. The OT assessment and IEP meeting took place. (Pollock Decl. ¶ 3). SDCOE also provided the RTC placement. ( Id. )

Pollock asserts that, on or about August 31, 2013, the home school district, Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD), took over responsibility for conducting IEP meetings and offering a FAPE for M.P. ( Id. ¶ 4). Since August 31, CVUSD has been the education agency attending IEP meetings and making offers of FAPE. ( Id. ) SDCOE has not been present at, or involved in, IEP meetings since August 31. ( Id. ¶ 5).

On July 15, 2013, SDCOE filed a Complaint in which it sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision. (Docket No. 1). A First Amended Complaint (FAC) was filed on October 24, 2013. (Docket No. 9). The first claim for relief, against Pollock alone, appeals the ALJ's decision under the IDEA. The second claim for relief seeks declaratory relief against Pollock and the County of San Diego (County). The third claim seeks declaratory relief against Pollock and the San Diego Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled. (Regional Center). A fourth claim asserts breach of contract against Regional Center. The fifth claim demands contribution and indemnification from the County and Regional Center.

Pollock filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on April 25, 2014. She asserts that the claims against her are moot, and that this Court lacks jurisdiction to issue the requested declaratory relief against her. SDCOE timely opposed on May 13, 2014. (Docket No. 80). Pollock filed a reply brief on May 20, 2014. (Docket No. 81). No other defendant has filed, or requested leave to file, any briefing on this Motion. Pollock takes no position as to whether SDCOE's claims should be dismissed as to other defendants if she prevails. (Mot. at 1 n. 1).


A. Mootness

Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to "Cases" and "Controversies." U.S. CONST. ART. III, § 2, cl. 1; Doe v. Madison Sch. Dist. No. 321, 177 F.3d 789, 797 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Pub. Util. Comm'n of the State of Cal. v. Fed. Energy Reg. Comm'n, 100 F.3d 1451, 1458 (9th Cir. 1996)). A party must maintain a live controversy through all stages of the litigation process. Seven Words LLC v. Network Solutions, 260 F.3d 1089, 1095 (9th Cir. 2001); Doe, 177 F.3d at 797.

When the issues presented in an action are no longer "live" or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome, the action is considered moot. Ruiz v. City of Santa Maria, 160 F.3d 543, 549 (9th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). The "basic question" in determining mootness is "whether there is a present controversy as to which effective relief can be granted." Nw. Envtl. Def. Ctr. v. Gordon, 849 F.2d 1241, 1244 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). Where the claim is moot, courts no longer have jurisdiction to resolve the underlying dispute. Doe, 177 F.3d at 797-798 (citations omitted).

As mootness pertains to a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction under Article III, the issue is properly raised in a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000); FED.R.CIV. P. 12(b)(1). The party asserting mootness bears the heavy burden of establishing that there is no effective relief that the court can provide. Forest Guardians v. Johanns, 450 F.3d 455, 461 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). Rule 12(b)(1) attacks on jurisdiction can be either facial, confining the inquiry to allegations in the complaint, or factual, permitting the court to look beyond the complaint. Savage v. Glendale Union High Sch., Dist. No. 205, Maricopa Cnty., 343 F.3d 1036, 1039 n.2 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing White, 227 F.3d at 1242).

Where a party does not allege an injury that a court ordinarily has the power to remedy, a court may have jurisdiction if one of several recognized exceptions to the mootness doctrine applies. Doe, 177 F.3d at 798. As will be discussed, there is no longer a present "live" controversy between SDCOE and Pollock, and unless an exception applies, this part of the case is moot. Two exceptions have been raised by SDCOE.

"A case otherwise moot will still be heard if it presents an issue that is capable of repetition while evading review." Pub. Util., 100 F.3d at 1459 (citing Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 318-20 (1988); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125 (1973)). This exception applies in "exceptional circumstances." Id. (citation omitted). In order to fit within the exception, the controversy must satisfy two requirements: "(1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again." Id. (quoting Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 482 (1982)).

A second exception to the mootness doctrine exists where a party would suffer "collateral legal consequences if the actions being appealed were allowed to stand." Pub. Util., 100 F.3d at 1460; see also City of Colton v. Am. Promotional Events, Inc.-West, 614 F.3d 998, 1006 (9th Cir. 2010) (in the appellate context, appeal not moot where "a party can demonstrate that a lower court's decision, if allowed to stand, may have collateral consequences adverse to its interests.") (citation omitted); Dep't of Educ., State of Haw. v. Rodarte ex rel. Chavez, 127 F.Supp.2d 1103, 1113-1114 (D. Haw. 2000) (applying collateral consequences analysis to a mootness challenge to an IDEA appeal). The exception has been applied where the primary injury has passed, but there remains a "substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment." E.E.O.C. v. Fed. Exp. Corp., 558 F.3d 842, 847 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting In re Burrell, 415 F.3d 994, 999 (9th Cir. 2005)) (exception applied after party complied with administrative subpoena for investigation whose validity was challenged).

The collateral consequences exception does not apply every time there is a "mere possibility of continuing present adverse effects." Pub. Util, 100 F.3d at 1460 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The collateral consequences are required to be legal. Id. at 1461 (citation omitted). The doctrine is most commonly applied in habeas corpus proceedings. Id. at 1460. Indeed, application of this exception outside of criminal appeals and habeas petitions is "relatively rare." Samsung Elecs. Co., Ltd. v. Rambus, Inc., 398 F.Supp.2d 470, 477 (E.D. Va.2005). The Ninth Circuit has applied the doctrine to conclude that an appeal was not moot where a reversal would put the party "on better footing with regard to limitations defenses, which is a collateral consequence of the type that suffices to defuse a claim of mootness.'" City of Colton, 614 F.3d at 1006 (quoting Connectu LLC v. Zuckerberg, 522 F.3d 82, 89 (1st Cir. 2008)).

B. Declaratory Relief

The Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA) authorizes a court of the United States to grant declaratory relief where there is "a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, " subject to certain exceptions. 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). The court may "declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought." Id.

The purpose of declaratory relief is to "afford an added remedy to one who is uncertain of his rights and who desires an early adjudication thereof without having to wait until his adversary should decide to bring suit, and to act at his peril in the interim." Shell Oil Co. v. Frusetta, 290 F.2d 689, 692 (9th Cir. 1961). Declaratory relief may be sought by "any interested party" involving an actual controversy that "has not yet reached a stage at which either party may seek a coercive remedy and in cases where a party who could sue for coercive relief has not yet done so." Seattle Audubon Soc. v. Moseley, 80 F.3d 1401, 1405 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).

The DJA does not extend new jurisdiction to federal courts. Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 339 U.S. 667, 671 (1950); Lear Siegler, Inc. v. Adkins, 330 F.2d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1964). Instead, the DJA makes a new remedy available where jurisdiction otherwise exists. Skelly Oil, 339 U.S. at 671; Lear Siegler, 330 F.2d at 599.

Jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment exists only where there is an "actual controversy." Am. States Ins. Co. v. Kearns, 15 F.3d 142, 143 (9th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). The Ninth Circuit has held that this requirement is identical to the "case or controversy" requirement in Article III. Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, before issuing declaratory relief, a court must determine whether there is an "actual controversy" within its jurisdiction. Id. If a case or controversy exists, a court has discretion in deciding whether or not to entertain declaratory judgments. Id. at 143-44 (noting that the statute states that courts "may" issue declaratory relief). A declaratory judgment action is justiciable if "there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of ...

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