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A.H. v. Craven County Board of Education

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division

August 14, 2017

A.H., by and through his parent, H.C., and H.C., on behalf of herself, Plaintiffs,
CRAVEN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, CARROLL G. IPOCK, II, Chair, KELLY L. FORMS, in her individual and professional capacity, FANNIE E. RIVERS, in her individual and professional capacity, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, [DE 16, 18], and plaintiffs' motion for leave to file. [DE 25]. The matters have been fully briefed and are ripe for ruling. For the reasons discussed below, the motions to dismiss are granted and the complaint is dismissed.


         On December 2, 2016, plaintiffs filed a complaint asserting substantive and procedural violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 etseq., discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 etseq., violations of A.H.'s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 20 U.S.C. § 794, as well as state law tort claims of battery and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. [DE 1].

         On March 16, 2017, defendants Craven County Board of Education ("Board") and Carrol Ipock filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint and that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [DE 16]. On March 20, defendant Kelly Forbis also filed a motion to dismiss which raised essentially the same arguments. [DE 18]. Plaintiffs responded, [DE 22, 23], and defendants Board and Ipock filed a reply, [DE 26]. Plaintiffs also filed a motion for leave to file an Order for Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem from the Craven County Superior Court with their response. [DE 25].


         As an initial matter, and for good cause shown, the Court will grant plaintiffs' motion for leave to file to Order for Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a)(3) and Local Rule of Civil Procedure 17.1.

         The Court next turns to defendants' motions to dismiss and will first address the motions made under Rule 12(b)(1). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) authorizes dismissal of a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction to survive the motion. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647-50 (4th Cir. 1999). "In determining whether jurisdiction exists, the district court is to regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). The movant's motion to dismiss should be granted if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Id.

         Defendants first argue that the Court lacks the subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate plaintiffs' claims under the IDEA. The IDEA was enacted in part

to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.

20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). To further this end, IDEA offers federal funds to states in exchange for a commitment to furnish a "free appropriate public education" ("FAPE") to all children with certain physical or intellectual disabilities. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A)(i). A FAPE comprises "special education and related services" and includes both "instruction" tailored to meet a child's "unique needs" and sufficient "supportive services" to permit the child to benefit from that instruction. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401(9), (26), (29); see Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 203 (1982). An eligible child acquires a "substantive right" to such an education once a state accepts the IDEA'S financial assistance. Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1010 (1984).

         Under the IDEA, an individualized education program ("IEP"), serves as the "primary vehicle" for providing each child with the promised FAPE. Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988); 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). An IEP is crafted by the child's school officials, teachers, and parents and spells out a personalized plan to meet all of the child's "educational needs." 20 U.S.C. §§ 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(II)(bb), (d)(1)(B). The IDEA establishes that any disputes involving the FAPE or IEP are to be resolved through state administrative procedures. 20 U.S.C. § 1415.

         A person wishing to file suit under the IDEA in North Carolina must first file a petition with the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"). See E.L. ex rel. G.L. v. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Bd. of Educ, 975 F.Supp.2d 528, 532 (M.D. N.C. 2013) (citing N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-109.6). A person may then appeal the decision at the OAH level to the State Board of Education which, "through its Exceptional Children Division, appoints an SRO [State Review Officer] to review the ALJ's [Administrative Law Judge's] findings appealed and issue an independent decision." Id. Following a decision by the SRO, a person has ninety days within which to file suit in federal court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(B).

         "The district court's jurisdiction under the IDEA is limited to review of the final 'findings and decision' of the administrative proceedings." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(a). Therefore, prior to filing an action in United States District Court for claims under the IDEA, a parent must exhaust her administrative remedies. E.L. ex rel. Lorsson v. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Bd. of Educ, 113 F.3d 509, 514 (4th Cir. 2014). "The IDEA'S exhaustion requirement serves the important purpose of allowing states to use their special expertise to resolve educational disputes, " id., and a plaintiffs failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprives the federal ...

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