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Paul G. v. Monterey Peninsula Unified School District

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

June 21, 2017

PAUL G., Plaintiff,


          BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge

         Severely impacted by his autism, Plaintiff Paul G. (“Paul”) requires placement in a residential treatment facility that specializes in educating autistic students aged 18 to 22, which was not available in his home state of California. First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) ¶¶ 15, 28, ECF 25. As a result, Plaintiff Paul G. brings this suit against the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and California Department of Education, alleging various claims for relief. Paul asks this Court to compel the California Department of Education (“CDE”) to ensure that residential treatment facilities for qualifying special education students age 18 to 22 are available in California, and where a local school district cannot provide such residential placement, that CDE step in to do so. FAC ¶¶ 98, 99. Paul also seeks monetary relief. Id. ¶¶ 95-97. Before the Court is CDE's motion to dismiss Paul's FAC. Mot., ECF 28. After reviewing the papers filed in conjunction with the motion and holding oral argument on April 13, 2017, the Court GRANTS CDE's motion to dismiss for reasons stated below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the FAC, the facts are as follows. Plaintiff Paul G. is a nineteen-year-old special education student on the autism spectrum who has been a California resident since birth. FAC ¶¶ 12, 13. Severely impacted by his autism and thus conserved by his parents, Paul has difficulty communicating and interacting with others and can engage in destructive behaviors at times. Id. ¶¶ 14-17. Paul attended the 2014-2015 school year in the eleventh grade at Marina High School located within the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (“District”). Id. ¶¶ 5, 18. However, the District did not offer Paul an intensive applied behavior analysis program (“ABA”), which has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Research Counsel as the most effective form of treatment for autism. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. Paul's behaviors worsened throughout the school year and the District eventually placed him on home hospital instruction in February 2015. Id. ¶¶ 20-26. On July 14, 2015, Paul was brought to a public library to receive home hospital instruction but the home hospital teacher was not adequately trained to work with Paul. Id. ¶¶ 20-26. In one instance, when the teacher told Paul to “be quiet, ” the situation escalated and triggered Paul to elope from the library and to run to his father's car. Id. ¶¶ 33-34. In the process of running from the library, Paul knocked an elderly lady to the ground causing injury. Id. ¶ 35. Because of this incident, Paul was charged with three felonies and was not allowed to leave the State of California pending resolution of his criminal charges. Id. ¶ 36.

         On July 20, 2015, during an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) meeting, the District offered Paul placement in a residential treatment facility, which was, as Paul alleges, what he should have received in lieu of home hospital in the first place. Id. ¶¶ 28, 37. However, because Paul was eighteen years old, there was no placement in the entire State of California that would accept him. Id. ¶ 37. In September 2015, the District invited the CDE to Paul's IEP meeting but the CDE did not participate in the meeting. Id. ¶ 38.

         On August 25, 2015, a due process hearing was requested on behalf of Paul with the Office of Administrative Hearings. Id. ¶ 31. The due process complaint, which was filed and served on the District, the CDE, and the Department of Social Services (“DSS”), alleged that the CDE and the District had denied Paul a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) by failing to ensure that an appropriate in-state residential treatment facility was available to students eighteen to twenty-two years of age, such as Paul. Id. On September 23, 2015, the OAH dismissed the complaint against CDE and DSS because the relief requested was “beyond the jurisdiction of the OAH in a due process case.” Id. ¶ 52. In January 2016, the District and Paul's parents settled past claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), excluding from settlement any tort, negligence, or civil rights claim. Id. ¶ 53.

         In accordance with the settlement, on February 23, 2016, Paul was placed in a residential treatment facility in Kansas. Id. ¶ 54. According to Paul, however, he requires a residential placement close to his family and the community in which he will live upon exiting special education. Id. ¶¶ 55, 60.

         Paul filed this suit on September 30, 2016, against the District and CDE. ECF 1. The first amended complaint alleges two causes of action against the District and three causes of action against the CDE: (1) violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 against the District; (2) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act against the District; (3) violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 against the CDE; (4) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act against the CDE; and (5) violation of the IDEA and California Education Code § 56342 against the CDE. FAC ¶¶ 64-94. The District answered the first amended complaint but the CDE moves to dismiss it. Answr., ECF 27; Mot.


         A. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1) and Standing

         Article III of the U.S. Constitution's “case and controversy” requirement obligates federal courts to determine, as an initial matter, whether plaintiffs have standing to bring suit. Lance v. Coffman, 549 U.S. 437, 439 (2007). At the pleading stage, to satisfy the standing requirement plaintiffs must allege: (1) that they have suffered an “injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's challenged conduct; and (3) that the injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision. See, e.g., Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000); Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561-62 (1992). The party seeking to invoke federal court jurisdiction has the burden of establishing standing. See Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561. The Ninth Circuit has emphasized that “[t]he jurisdictional question of standing precedes, and does not require, analysis of the merits.” Maya v. Centex Corp., 658 F.3d 1060, 1068 (9th Cir. 2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6)

         “A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted ‘tests the legal sufficiency of a claim.'” Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1241-42 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)). When determining whether a claim has been stated, the Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Reese v. BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., 643 F.3d 681, 690 (9th Cir. 2011). However, the Court need not “accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice” or “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when it “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         C. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”)

         The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., was enacted to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a FAPE that meets their unique needs. Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 309 (1988). Each state that receives federal special education funding must ensure that local educational agencies (“LEA”) are in compliance with the IDEA. Id. at 310-11; Los Angeles Cty. Office of Educ. v. C.M., No. 10-4702, 2011 WL 1584314, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 22, 2011). A LEA is generally responsible for providing a FAPE to students with disabilities residing within its jurisdictional boundaries. See Cal. Educ. Code §§ 48200, 56028 (the residency statutes); see also Union Sch. Dist. v. Smith, 15 F.3d 1519, 1524-26 (9th Cir. 1994).

         California Education Code § 56026.3 defines a LEA as a “school district, a county office of education, a nonprofit charter school participating as a member of a special education local plan area, or a special education local plan area.” Cal. Educ. Code § 56026.3. In California, a county office of education is responsible for direct provision of a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) except for services in State Special Schools for deaf and blind students. Id. §§ 59002.

         To meet the requirements of the IDEA, LEAs must implement an “individualized educational program” (“IEP”) for each special needs student and provide services directly to students. Id. § 56347; 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d); see also Honig, 484 U.S. at 311-12. Each state agency-in California, the CDE-is responsible for determining specific policies and procedures for compliance and for administering funds to the local agencies. Id. Pursuant to the IDEA, each state agency is ultimately responsible for providing services directly to students when the local education agencies are “unable to establish and maintain programs of free appropriate public education that meet the requirements” of the IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1413(g)(1)(B); see also Honig, 484 U.S. at 329 (holding that the state may be required to provide services directly to special education students when the local agency fails to do so).

         The IDEA also requires participating states and local educational agencies to “establish and maintain procedures . . . to ensure that children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a [FAPE] . . . .” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). For example, whenever there is a proposal or refusal to initiate a change relating to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a child, or the provision of a FAPE, parents “have an opportunity for an impartial due process hearing, which shall be conducted by the State educational agency or by the local educational agency as determined by State law or by the State educational agency.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f).


         The CDE raises numerous grounds for dismissing the complaint, including lack of standing, failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and lack of a private right of action. Before turning to the merits of these arguments, the Court addresses the CDE's request for judicial notice.

         A. ...

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