United States District Court, E.D. California
associations of concerned parents allege in this lawsuit that
the California Department of Education (CDE) does not ensure
children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public
education. They claim this failure violates federal and state
law and ask the court to enjoin CDE from any future
violations. CDE disagrees and moves for judgment on the
pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Mot.
J. on the Pleadings (MJOP), ECF No. 172. CDE's current
motion parallels its previous motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), which the court denied in March 2013. Order March
29, 2013, ECF No. 25. CDE explains its renewed challenge by
citing two intervening decisions: Armstrong v.
Exceptional Child Center, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1378 (2015),
and M.M. v. Lafayette School District, 767 F.3d 842
(9th Cir. 2014). It also raises a new defense under the Tenth
separately move for sanctions. Mot. Sanctions, ECF No. 206.
The magistrate judge declined to resolve this question and
referred plaintiffs' motion to this court because the
motion is based on CDE's conduct before this court. Order
August 17, 2016, ECF No. 229. This court accepts the
court held a hearing on October 7, 2016, to address both
motions. Rony Sagy appeared for the plaintiffs; Grant Lien
appeared for CDE. As explained below, the court DENIES
CDE's motion for judgment on the pleadings and DENIES
plaintiffs' motion for sanctions.
the court addresses each motion in turn.
JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
The IDEA Both CDE's motion and plaintiffs'
complaint concern primarily the federal Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA has its roots in
the more awkwardly named Education for All Handicapped Act,
originally passed in 1970. Schaffer ex rel. Schaffer v.
Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 51-52 (2005); Timothy O. v. Paso
Robles Unified Sch. Dist., 822 F.3d 1105, 1109 (9th Cir.
2016). At that time, many public schools had neglected the
needs of American schoolchildren with disabilities.
Schaffer, 546 U.S. at 52. Millions of children
either were excluded entirely or left to suffer in class with
undiagnosed and unaddressed disabilities. Timothy,
822 F.3d at 1110. Congress intended the IDEA to reverse this
history. Schaffer, 546 U.S. at 52.
passed the IDEA exercising its power under the Spending
Clause.Arlington Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ.
v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291, 295 (2006). States receive
federal funds on the condition they comply with
Congress's goals and procedures when providing an
education to children with disabilities. Id.;
Timothy, 822 F.3d at 1110. One of these goals is the
provision of a free appropriate public education, known as a
“FAPE, ” to all children who have disabilities
and are between the ages of three and twenty-one. 20 U.S.C.
§ 1412(a)(1)(A); Timothy, 822 F.3d at 1110.
Other provisions require states to set scheduled goals for
the education of children with disabilities, 20 U.S.C. §
1412(a)(2); to identify and evaluate students with
disabilities, id. §§ 1412(a)(3), (a)(7);
to develop individualized plans for each child's
education, id. § 1412(a)(4); to avoid the
separate education of children with disabilities, if
possible, id. § 1412(a)(5); and to monitor
local agencies' efforts, see generally Id .
between parents and schools is at the IDEA's center.
Shaffer, 546 U.S. at 53. Schools must work with the
parents of each disabled child to create a program for the
child's individualized education. 20 U.S.C. §
1414(a)-(c); Schaffer, 546 U.S. at 53. The IDEA
allows schools flexibility in creating this program, but it
guards parents' collaborative role by ensuring their
access to information. Timothy, 822 F.3d at 1112.
For example, schools must thoroughly document the data used
in evaluating students' disabilities and must allow
parents to examine their children's records. Id.
(citing 20 U.S.C. § 1414(b)(1) and (4) and 34 C.F.R.
IDEA also prescribes methods for resolving disputes.
Fairfield-Suisun Unified Sch. Dist. v. Cal. Dep't of
Educ., 780 F.3d 968, 969 (9th Cir. 2015). As a condition
of receiving federal funds, states must provide “an
opportunity for any party to present a complaint . . . 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 such
child . . . .” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6)(A). If a
state receives a complaint under this provision, the parents
or the school district must be allowed “an impartial
due process hearing” before a state or local agency.
Id. § 1415(f)(1)(A). In California, the Office
of Administrative Hearings (OAH) conducts these hearings.
Fairfield-Suisun, 780 F.3d at 969;
Lafayette, 681 F.3d at 1085 & n.3. The OAH is a
state agency within the Department of General Services and is
independent of the CDE. Fairfield-Suisun, 780 F.3d
at 969; Lafayette, 681 F.3d at 1085 & n.3.
Anyone aggrieved by the result of an impartial hearing may
bring a civil action in a state court or in a federal
district court, regardless of the amount in controversy. 20
U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A).
that receive IDEA funding must adopt a second procedure to
address complaints, as detailed in 34 C.F.R. §§
300.151-.153. See also Fairfield-Suisun, 780 F.3d at
969. Under federal regulations, a state educational agency
must accept complaints submitted under this second procedure,
review all relevant information, and render an independent
written determination of the complaint's merits. 34
C.F.R. § 300.152(a). The IDEA and its regulations do not
specify whether a party who is dissatisfied with the
state's decision in this respect may obtain further
review in federal court. Fairfield-Suisun, 780 F.3d
at 969. The Ninth Circuit recently reaffirmed that a local
agency cannot sue the state in federal court if it is
dissatisfied with the state's decision or procedure.
Id. at 970-71 (citing Lake Wash. Sch. Dist. No.
414 v. Office of Superintendent of Pub. Instruction, 634
F.3d 1065, 1067-68 (9th Cir. 2011)). By contrast, the Circuit
has not decided whether parents can sue the state in this
context. See Id . It has concluded that parents may
exhaust their administrative remedies, a separate
prerequisite to review in federal court, by completing this
second complaint proceeding. See Christopher S. ex rel.
Rita S. v. Stanislaus Cty. Office of Educ., 384 F.3d
1205, 1209-14 (9th Cir. 2004). The Circuit therefore has
recognized a parent's private right of action implicitly,
as this court previously summarized. See Order Mar.
29, 2013 (2013 Order) 10, ECF No. 25. California receives
federal funds under the IDEA. Id. at 2.
plaintiffs in this case, Morgan Hill Concerned Parents
Association and Concerned Parents Association, are
unincorporated associations of parents of children with
disabilities in California public schools. First Am. Compl.
¶ 4, ECF No. 6. They claim California systemically
denies children with disabilities a free appropriate public
education and so falls short of its obligations under the
IDEA. They filed a complaint in this court in 2011 and an
amended complaint a few months later. 2013 Order 3. Their
amended complaint alleges three broad categories of systemic
IDEA violations, which are summarized as follows:
(1) The CDE monitors local school districts' efforts to
comply with the IDEA only superficially. It does not ask for
meaningful data or verify the accuracy of data it receives.
It analyzes data selectively and turns a blind eye to
negative trends. First Am. Compl. 13-28.
(2) The CDE does not truly investigate the complaints it
receives. In its investigations, it relies on unverified
reports prepared by allegedly deficient school districts.
Id. at 28-31.
(3) The CDE takes no action to meaningfully enforce school
districts' obligations under the IDEA. It requires only
that school districts adopt policies, not implement those
policies, and it is satisfied with shallow promises of future
effort. It does not verify compliance, and when it does, it
does so by sampling student data after advanced warning.
School districts can therefore sanitize their records.
Id. at 31-32.
assert six claims on the basis of these allegations. Their
first four claims allege violations of the IDEA, federal
regulations adopted under the IDEA, and accompanying sections
of the California Education Code. See Id .
¶¶ 82, 84, 86, 88. These four claims are based on
CDE's alleged failures to ensure school districts provide
a free appropriate public education, to monitor local school
districts, to investigate problems, and to enforce the law.
fifth claim asserts a violation of Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on
the basis of a disability “under any program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .
.” 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). In regulations adopted
under section 504, states must ensure students with
disabilities are provided with a free appropriate public
education, regardless of the nature or severity of their
disability. See 34 C.F.R. § 104.33.
sixth claim asserts violations of the California Education
Code, beginning with section 56000, and Title 5 of the
California Code of Regulations, again based on CDE's
alleged failure to provide students with a free appropriate
five years ago, in June 2012, CDE moved to dismiss this case
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). ECF
No. 13. Among other arguments, CDE asserted Congress had not
allowed private plaintiffs to enforce the IDEA as the
plaintiffs here sought to do, see Mem. P. & A.
Mot. Dismiss 5-6, ECF No. 13-1, and it argued in any event
that the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative
remedies, see Id . at 16-17. The court disagreed on
both points. 2013 Order 8-14. It found that the IDEA allows
parents to pursue relief in federal court after filing a
complaint under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). 2013 Order at 9-10
(citing, inter alia, Beth V. v. Carroll, 87
F.3d 80, 86 (3d Cir. 1996)). Similarly, the court read Ninth
Circuit precedent to recognize a private right of action to
challenge the results of a complaint resolution proceeding
under 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.151-.153. 2013 Order 10
(citing Christopher S., 384 F.3d at 1211). The court
also found the plaintiffs were not required to have first
sought relief in one of the two administrative proceedings
summarized above. Id. at 13-14. That effort would
have proven futile, and the alleged violations are so severe
that, if they are true, the IDEA's basic goals are under
threat. Id. In these circumstances the Ninth Circuit
allows an exception to the ordinary rules of exhaustion.
Id. (citing, inter alia, Hoeft v.
Tucson Unified Sch. Dist., 967 F.2d 1298, 1303-04 (9th
the court filed its order in March 2013, the case stalled in
a miasma of discovery conflicts. The court ultimately
appointed a special master to break the logjams and
facilitate the production of CDE's electronic records.
CDE's current motion was filed in April 2016, in the
midst of a round of discovery disputes. See Mot. J.
on the Pleadings, ECF No. 172; Mem. P. & A., ECF No.
172-1. CDE argues, as before, that plaintiffs' complaint
rests on IDEA provisions for which Congress intended no
private enforcement. As noted, CDE relies primarily on two
appellate decisions issued in the years since the court's
2013 order: the Ninth Circuit's opinion in M.M. v.
Lafayette School District, 767 F.3d 842, and the U.S.
Supreme Court's opinion in Armstrong v. Exceptional
Child Center, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1378. CDE also argues
plaintiffs' Rehabilitation Act claim is barred by the
Tenth Amendment. It asks the court to dismiss these federal
claims and decline supplemental jurisdiction over the
remaining claims under California law. Plaintiffs
opposed the motion, ECF No. 208, and CDE replied, ECF No.
court first reviews the legal standard that applies to a
motion for judgment on the pleadings, then turns to CDE's
the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay
trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion under this Rule may argue the
complaint does not state a claim on which relief can be
granted or that the court lacks jurisdiction. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(2)(B), (h)(3). The same legal standard
applies to motions under Rule 12(b)(6) and 12(c), and much of
the process described by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), applies to Rule 12(c)
motions; the Ninth Circuit describes the legal standards
under these motions as “substantially identical.”
Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 793 F.3d
1147, 1155 (9th Cir. 2015); Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. Gen.
Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1054 n.4 (9th
Cir. 2011). In short, the court must consider whether the
plaintiffs' factual allegations state a plausible claim
for relief when allowed the benefit of reasonable inferences.
Cafasso, 637 F.3d at 1054; Fang Lin Ai v. United
States, 809 F.3d 503, 506 (9th Cir. 2015). The motion
can be granted only if CDE shows that despite the
plaintiffs' allegations, CDE is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. See United States v. Teng Jiao Zhou,
815 F.3d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 2016).
Lafayette-Private Rights of Action and 20 U.S.C.
plaintiff in federal court must establish both that the court
has jurisdiction to hear her complaint and that she has a
right to sue the defendant identified-a “right of
action.” See Fairfield-Suisun, 780 F.3d at
970. When, as in this case, a plaintiff's claims rest on
alleged violations of a statute, the case can go forward only
if that statute contemplates her claims. See Lake
Wash., 634 F.3d at 1067.
statute can confer a right of action expressly or by
implication. See Fairfield- Suisun, 780 F.3d at 971.
The IDEA defines at least one right of action expressly. As
summarized above, under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6), states
must provide “an opportunity for any party to present a
complaint . . . 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 such child . . . .” A state or local
agency must then conduct “an impartial due process
hearing, ” id. § 1415(f)(1)(A), and after
Any 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 a district court of the United
States, without regard to the amount in controversy,
Id. § 1415(i)(2)(A).
court previously interpreted these provisions to allow
associations of parents to sue a state agency for alleged
systemic failures under 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412, 1415 and
1416. See 2013 Order 8-12. The court's decision
was informed by a 1996 opinion of the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals, Beth V. v. Carroll, supra, 87 F.3d
80. A few details about that case will help explain CDE's
current arguments and the court's reasoning.
plaintiffs in Beth V. were two children with
learning disabilities, their parents, and a non-profit
advocacy organization. Id. at 81. They alleged that
the Pennsylvania Department of Education's systemic
unresponsiveness to complaints deprived them and many other
children of a means of challenging failures in local schools.
Id. at 83. They asked the district court to declare
the state's noncompliance, to order the state into
action, and to award damages for the private educational
services parents had obtained to substitute for the education
Pennsylvania had deprived their children. Id. at
83-84. The Office of Special Education Enforcement in the
United States Department of Education had identified similar
problems and had recently ordered the state to develop a plan
for fuller compliance. Id. at 84.
own motion, the skeptical district court asked the parties
whether the IDEA conferred on private plaintiffs a right of
action against the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Id. at 84-85. After receiving responses, the court
granted summary judgment to the state, finding the plaintiffs
had no right of action under the IDEA. Id. at 85.
The court could find no provision in the IDEA expressly
creating a right of action and declined to infer one.
See876 F.Supp. 1415, 1426-32 (D. Pa. 1995),
rev'd, 87 F.3d 80. The court explained that the
plaintiffs' requested remedy would entangle the court in
“the quintessentially executive tasks of recruiting and
training personnel, of ...