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A.L. v. Clovis Unified School District

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 30, 2018

A.L. by and through her guardian, I. LEE and I. LEE on her on own behalf, Plaintiffs,
CLOVIS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, YVETTE ADAMS, in her personal and official capacity as Program Specialist, APRILE WOODS, and JOHN DOES 1-3 who hired, trained and supervised teacher and Aides, Defendants.


         I. Background

         Plaintiff A.L. is a minor with a disability who is a student at Granite Ridge/Clovis North Education Center enrolled in the Functional Life Skills Special Day class for 85% of her day and general education classes for 15% of her day. Defendant Yvette Adams is a program specialist hired by Defendant Clovis Unified School District (“CUSD”) responsible for facilitating the education of special needs students. Defendant April Woods was A.L.'s teacher during the 2015-16 school year. In that year, Plaintiff I. Lee, A.L.'s mother, noticed a change in A.L.'s behavior and attributed it to an inappropriate educational environment. I. Lee specifically objected to stressful disciplinary tactics. Some of the consequences included A.L not being permitted to go on school trips, eat in the lunchroom, or attend her general education classes. On March 1, 2016, Woods forcefully shoved a chair A.L. was sitting in towards a desk, making A.L.'s front smack into that desk. Woods was put on administrative leave and there was a police investigation of the incident. I. Lee filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. On July 25, 2016, I. Lee filed a claim for damages with CUSD. CUSD denied the claim on September 8, 2016. On January 26, 2017, an unspecified instructional aide took A.L to the bathroom while A.L. was barefoot. While approaching the door, another student exited the bathroom which caused the door to smash into A.L.'s foot, severely damaging her toenail.

         In March 2017, Plaintiffs A.L. (through her mother) and I. Lee filed suit against Defendants CUSD, Woods, and Adams. On June 12, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the operative complaint, the First Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs allege (1) violation of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to accommodate A.L, against CUSD, (2) violation of Section 504 by failing to accommodate A.L., against CUSD, (3) violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act by discriminating against A.L. due to disability, against all Defendants, (4) negligence in failing to keep A.L. from harm, against all Defendants, (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress in failing to keep A.L. from harm, against all Defendants, and (6) negligent hiring, supervision, and retention, against CUSD. Doc. 14.

         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, making a variety or arguments among which are that the complaint fails because there is no guardian ad litem appointed to represent A.L. and that Plaintiffs have not complied with administrative exhaustion requirements. Doc. 17. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. Doc. 21. Plaintiffs filed a proposed Second Amended Complaint. Doc. 27. Additionally, I. Lee filed a Due Process Complaint against CUSD with the California Office of Administrative Hearings. The parties then entered into settlement negotiations. The parties may have settled part of their dispute with one another, but the scope of the settlement has not been revealed. The motion to dismiss was taken under submission without oral argument.

         II. Legal Standards

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed because of the plaintiff's “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6). A dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1242 (9th Cir. 2011); Johnson v. Riverside Healthcare Sys., 534 F.3d 1116, 1121 (9th Cir. 2008). In reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Faulkner v. ADT Sec. Servs., 706 F.3d 1017, 1019 (9th Cir. 2013). However, complaints that offer no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court is not required “to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 668 F.3d 1136, 1145 n. 4 (9th Cir. 2012); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007). The Ninth Circuit has distilled the following principles from Iqbal and Twombly: (1) to be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively; (2) the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation. Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). In assessing a motion to dismiss, courts may consider documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, or matters of judicial notice. Dichter-Mad Family Partners. LLP v. United States, 709 F.3d 749, 761 (9th Cir. 2013). If a motion to dismiss is granted, “[the] district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made.” Henry A. v. Willden, 678 F.3d 991, 1005 (9th Cir. 2012). However, leave to amend need not be granted if amendment would be futile or if the plaintiff has failed to cure deficiencies despite repeated opportunities. Mueller v. Aulker, 700 F.3d 1180, 1191 (9th Cir. 2012); Telesaurus VPC. LLC v. Power, 623 F.3d 998, 1003 (9th Cir. 2010).

         III. Discussion

         A. Guardian Ad Litem

         A.L. is bringing suit through her mother, I. Lee. Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint must be dismissed because A.L. is not currently represented by a guardian ad litem: “In California, whether an action is brought in federal or state court, a minor must be represented by a guardian ad litem in court proceedings.” Doc. 17, Defendants' Brief, 12:17-18. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs in all general civil case brought in the federal district courts. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 1. Regarding the capacity to sue, Defendants are correct that California state law governs pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 17(b); regarding the appointment of guardian ad litem, however, federal law governs. See J.K.G. v. Cty. of San Diego, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126907, at *6-7 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 2, 2011). Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 17(c) states:

(1) With a Representative. The following representatives may sue or defend on behalf of a minor or an incompetent person:
(A) a general guardian....
(2) Without a Representative. A minor or an incompetent person who does not have a duly appointed representative may sue by a next friend or by a guardian ad litem. The court must appoint a guardian ad litem - or issue another appropriate order - to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action.

         In federal court, a minor may appear through a parent instead of a guardian ad litem. “Federal Civil Procedure Rule 17 governs the proper parties to a case, and it provides that a guardian of a minor child can sue either in the guardian's name without naming the minor child, or in the guardian's name on behalf of the minor child. It is only when a minor child does not have a guardian, or a ‘duly appointed representative, ' where a court must consider whether to appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the minor's interests.” Ciarrocchi v. Clearview Reg'l High Sch. Dist., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64017, at *3-4 (D.N.J. June 25, 2010). There is no indication that a guardian ad litem needs to be appointed at this time.

         B. ...

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