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San Diego County Office of Education v. Pollock

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 8, 2014



ROGER T. BENITEZ, District Judge.

Before this Court is a Joint Motion to Dismiss the Second Through Fifth Claims for Relief Set Forth in the First Amended Complaint, filed by Defendant County of San Diego (County) and Defendant San Diego-Imperial Counties Development Services, Inc., dba the San Diego Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled (Regional Center) (collectively, "Defendants"). (Docket No. 94). Defendants ask this Court to dismiss the remaining claims against them pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(h)(3). For the reasons stated below, the Joint Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.


This case arose out of a dispute regarding financial responsibility for M.P., a minor who was arrested for murder and assault with a deadly weapon. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1). While detained in Juvenile Hall, the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) was responsible for providing M.P. with the free appropriate public education (FAPE) guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (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, through his mother, Pollock, filed a complaint for a due process hearing with the California State Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) under the IDEA, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f).

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 a residential treatment center (RTC), and awarding him compensatory education.

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. )

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 was filed on October 24, 2013, adding the County and Regional Center as defendants and asserting four additional claims for relief. (Docket No. 9). The first claim for relief, against Pollock alone, appealed the ALJ's decision under the IDEA. The second claim for relief sought declaratory relief against Pollock and the County. The third claim sought declaratory relief against Pollock and Regional Center. A fourth claim asserted breach of contract against Regional Center. The fifth claim demanded contribution and indemnification from the County and Regional Center. SDCOE alleged that this Court had jurisdiction over the declaratory relief claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27). It further alleged that this Court had supplemental jurisdiction over the claims for breach of contract and contribution and indemnification pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. ( Id. ) On June 20, 2014, this Court granted Pollock's motion to dismiss the claims against her and vacated the IDEA hearing decision. (Docket No. 86).

At issue in this Motion are SDCOE's contentions that it was not responsible for making and paying for the residential placement of M.P. It contends that the County or the Regional Center should have borne these burdens, rather than imposing them upon SDCOE.

SDCOE asserts that a juvenile court may make orders for services to assist a minor in attaining competency. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6 (citing CAL. WELF. & INST. CODE § 709)). The San Diego County Superior Court has issued a protocol for handling such competency issues, the "Protocol for Competence Evaluations." ( Id. ) The Protocol states that the policy in San Diego County is "to evaluate a minor's competence as early as possible and, when indicated, to provide services to help the minor regain competence in a timely manner." ( Id. (citing Protocol, I.A)). It also provides for the designation of a probation officer to begin "immediate coordination of a restoration and/or placement and services plan for the minor, " and that the court, the minor's attorney, the prosecuting attorney, and the Probation Department "will work together to provide appropriate services for the minor." ( Id. (citing Protocol, VII.B & n.3)).

SDCOE alleges that once M.P. was declared incompetent, it was "incumbent upon the County to make a suitable placement for him where it could be determined whether he had a substantial probability of achieving competency in the foreseeable future and where he could make progress towards that goal." ( Id. ¶ 7). It cites to the due process protections of the federal and state Constitutions for the notion that the County lacks the authority to hold a criminal defendant in jail indefinitely instead of taking steps to restore him to competency. ( Id. (citing Oregon Advocacy Ctr. v. Mink, 322 F.3d 1101, 1121 (9th Cir. 2000)). SDCOE further claims that state law provides that if a non-educational public agency, like the County, makes a residential placement for a child, it would be obligated to pay for the residential and non-educational costs of the placement. ( Id. ¶ 9 (citing CAL. EDUC. CODE § 56159; CAL. GOV. CODE § 7581)). If the child is placed out of state, it would be responsible for the entire cost. ( Id. (citing CAL. GOV. CODE § 7579(a))).

SDCOE alleges that the County sought to avoid this obligation, and therefore advised the juvenile court that SDCOE or Cajon Valley Unified School District should make and pay for the placement. ( Id. ¶ 10). It contends that the County financed M.P.'s legal case against SDCOE in the hope that a court would find SDCOE responsible. ( Id. ¶ 11). It claims that M.P. was placed in a facility where he had already been accepted, based on a referral by the County approximately six months earlier. ( Id. ¶ 13).

SDCOE further asserts that "[u]nder state law and the County's Protocol, " the Regional Center was to "play an integral role in providing services and/or a placement for M.P. once he was deemed incompetent to stand trial." ( Id. ¶ 14).

Defendants County and Regional Center filed the instant Joint Motion on July 11, 2014, contending that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over SDCOE's remaining claims against the Defendants. (Docket No. 94). SDCOE filed an Opposition on July 28, 2014. (Docket No. 99). Defendants replied on August 4, 2014. (Docket No. 103). This Court ordered additional briefing on August 11, 2014. (Docket No. 105). The parties filed their supplemental briefs on August 22, 2014 (Docket Nos. 108, 109), and their responses on August 29, 2014. (Docket Nos. 110, 112).


Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and they possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute. E.g., Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). It is presumed that a cause lies outside the limited jurisdiction of federal courts, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. Id. (citations omitted).

A district court is required to dismiss an action if at any time it determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(h)(3). A party may challenge subject matter jurisdiction by bringing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1).

A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

District courts have "original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A case arises under federal law in one of two ways.

First, a federal law can create the cause of action asserted. Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013). Such cases account "for the vast bulk of suits that arise under federal law." Id.

Second, there is a "special and small category" of cases where jurisdiction lies where a claim originates in state, rather than federal law. Id. at 1064-65 (quoting Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 (2006)). The Supreme Court has stated that: "federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress." Id. at 1065 (characterizing the conclusion of Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308 (2005)). If all four requirements are met, jurisdiction is proper because of the "serious federal interest in claiming the advantages thought to be inherent in a federal forum', which can be vindicated without disrupting Congress's intended division of labor between state and federal courts." Id. (quoting Grable, 545 U.S. 313-14)).

B. Declaratory Judgment Act

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 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. To obtain declaratory relief in federal court, there must be an independent basis for jurisdiction. Stock W., Inc. v. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted).

In determining whether federal question jurisdiction exists over a request for a declaratory judgment pursuant to the DJA, the well-pleaded complaint rule applies. "The plaintiff's claim itself must present a federal question unaided by anything alleged in anticipation of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may interpose.'" Skelly Oil, 339 U.S. at 672 (quoting Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74, 75-76 (1914)). The Supreme Court's decision in Skelly Oil has come to stand for the proposition that "if, but for the availability of the declaratory judgment procedure, the federal claim would arise only as a defense to a state created action, jurisdiction is lacking." Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 16 (1983) (quotation omitted) (characterizing the decision in Skelly Oil ). In determining if federal question jurisdiction exists over claims for declaratory judgment, courts have looked to the potential coercive actions that could be brought. Skelly Oil, 339 U.S. at 672 (no federal question jurisdiction where if declaratory judgment plaintiff sought damages or specific performance of contracts, he could not do so in federal court because they would arise under state contract law). Courts also look to the "character of the threatened action." Medtronic, Inc. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC, 134 S.Ct. 843, 848 (2014) (quoting Public Serv. Comm'n of Utah v. Wycoff Co., 344 U.S. 237, 248 (1952)). In doing so, they ask whether a "coercive action" brought by the declaratory judgment defendant would "necessarily present a federal question." Id. (quoting Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 19).

C. Supplemental Jurisdiction

Where a district court has original jurisdiction over a civil action, the court has supplemental jurisdiction over "all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). This jurisdiction is subject to certain exceptions. 28 ...

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