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L. D. v. Los Angeles Unified School District

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 26, 2017

Los Angeles Unified School District




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, filed on March 24, 2017. (“the Motion, ” Docket No. 12). Plaintiff filed an Opposition and Defendant filed a Reply. (Docket Nos. 13-14). The Court held a hearing on April 24, 2017.

         Having read and considered the briefs, the Court GRANTS the Motion and the action is DISMISSED without prejudice to Plaintiff refiling the case once all claims have been properly exhausted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a sixth-grade student at Shirley Avenue Elementary School. (Complaint, Docket No. 1, ¶ 1). Plaintiff has Down syndrome and is considered a disabled student pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). (Id. ¶ 2). Defendant held an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meeting for Plaintiff on May 5, 2014, to address certain behavioral issues. (Id. ¶ 8). Plaintiff's parents felt that Defendant was not providing appropriate support for Plaintiff, so they filed for due process against Defendant, an administrative proceeding in the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”). (Id. ¶ 12). The parties reached a settlement agreement that requires Defendant to provide certain services to Plaintiff to assist with his behavioral issues at school. (Id.).

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges Defendant has failed to comply with that settlement agreement, and raises a claim for discrimination under the ADA and a claim for a violation of the Rehabilitation Act. The Complaint cites an incident in which Plaintiff broke his leg in a fall at school as evidence of discrimination. (Id. ¶ 19).


         Defendant's Motion is nominally brought under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The Motion is directed, however, at the lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which would indicate a Rule 12(b)(1) action. If a defendant seeks to challenge not the Plaintiff's substantive allegations but the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, the motion to dismiss must be brought under Rule 12(b)(1). A jurisdictional attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may be “facial or factual.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). In a facial attack, the complaint's allegations must be accepted as true. Id. But “in a factual attack, the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.” Id. In that case, facts tending to prove or disprove jurisdiction “are not afforded presumptive truthfulness.” Young v. United States, 769 F.3d 1047, 1052 (9th Cir. 2014).

         When jurisdictional facts are “‘so intertwined' with the substantive dispute that resolution of the former depends, at least in part, on resolution of the latter, ” it may be inappropriate to resolve factual issues at the motion to dismiss stage. Id. (quoting Augustine v. United States, 704 F.2d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 1983)). In that case, “a court should employ the standard applicable to a motion for summary judgment because resolution of those jurisdictional facts is akin to a decision on the merits.” Id. The moving party should prevail only if those facts relevant to jurisdiction are not in dispute. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's Complaint actually seeks to litigate the adequacy of the free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) provided by Defendant to Plaintiff. If that's the case, then Plaintiff must first exhaust his claims through the administrative procedures established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(l) (“[B]efore 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) shall be exhausted to the same extent as would be required had the action been brought under this subchapter.”). The IEP is the “centerpiece of the statute's education delivery system, ” and “serves as the ‘vehicle' or ‘means' of providing a FAPE.” Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S.Ct. 743, 753 (2017) (quoting Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988)). A suit that “seek[s] relief for the denial of a FAPE” must meet this exhaustion requirement. Id. “[I]n determining whether a suit indeed ‘seeks' relief for such a denial, a court should look to the substance, or gravamen, of the plaintiff's complaint.” Id. Thus, the inquiry does not hinge on whether a complaint uses the words “FAPE” or “IEP” specifically. Id.

         The Supreme Court has recently provided some helpful “clues” as to whether a complaint concerns denial of a FAPE, or “instead addresses disability-based discrimination.” Id. at 756. These clues come in the form of two questions a court should ask when analyzing a child's complaint: (1) “could the plaintiff have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility that was not a school, ” and (2) “could an adult at the school-say, an employee or visitor- have pressed essentially the same grievance?” Id. (emphasis in original). If the claims could only be brought at a school, and only by a child, then the complaint “probably does concern a FAPE, even if it does not explicitly say so.” Id.

         Addressing those two questions here, the Court concludes Plaintiff really seeks relief under IDEA, and must first exhaust his claims. First, Plaintiff's claims center on his IEP and his behavioral issues at the school, claims which could not be brought against any other “public facility.” The Complaint alleges the “level of behavior support” from Defendant has been inadequate, and that Defendant failed to address Plaintiff's parents' concerns regarding Plaintiff's behavioral issues in his IEP meeting. (Complaint ¶¶ 7-8). The Complaint also specifically alleges Defendant's lack of support did not allow Plaintiff to ...

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