The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
This action is brought pursuant to the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et
seq. Presently before the Court is the motion for summary
judgment of Defendants Woodland Township Board of Education, et
al. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court finds that this
case cannot go forward unless and until Plaintiffs exhaust their
available remedies to enforce a mediated agreement and to develop
the factual record at a due process hearing. Plaintiffs cannot bypass these essential steps before asserting IDEA claims and due
process claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in this case.
On June 11, 2003, Plaintiffs, the parents of a child eligible
for services under the IDEA, filed a Complaint on behalf of that
child, C.M. Defendants are the Woodland Township Board of
Education ("Board"), Woodland Township School District, and
various individual employees.
At the time the Complaint was filed, C.M. was a twelve-year old
student in the Woodland Township School District. On June 14,
1996, C.M. was evaluated, classified as "perceptually impaired,"
and considered eligible for services under the IDEA. Thereafter,
various Individualized Education Programs ("IEP") were developed
to provide appropriate services for C.M. as required by the IDEA.
Dissatisfied with the progress of her son, C.M.'s mother, J.M.,
wrote multiple letters between June of 1998 and July of 2002 to
Defendants and the State of New Jersey, requesting that the
Defendants comply with the requirements of N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.4
and the IDEA and develop an adequate IEP to meet her son's needs.
Defendants performed an evaluation of C.M. in April and May of
1999, an evaluation that Plaintiffs felt was incomplete.
Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative
Law in October 2000. On October 19, 2000, the presiding Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that the 1999
IEP was inadequate under N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.4 and signed an order
requiring that an independent evaluation of C.M. be performed and
a new IEP be developed in accordance with the law.
On February 23, 2001, an evaluation of C.M. was performed by
the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ("CHOP") Center for
Management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Defendants developed an IEP for C.M. in June 2001, but did not
include a functional behavioral assessment. On June 4, 2002, J.M.
wrote a letter to Defendants and on June 24, 2002, a letter to
the New Jersey Department of Education, requesting that a
functional behavioral assessment be performed. The Department of
Education investigated the appeal and on November 14, 2002, found
that the IEP developed by the Defendants had complied with the
ALJ's order. Plaintiff J.M. challenged the order by appealing the
decision through letters written to the State and to the Governor
of New Jersey. In September 2002, a mediation agreement
("Agreement") was reached between Plaintiff and Defendants.
Dissatisfied with the delayed responses from the Defendants and
the continuing poor performance of C.M., Plaintiffs filed a
Complaint with this Court on June 11, 2003.
Plaintiffs' initial Complaint set forth five causes of action:
(1) that Defendants failed to provide a free and appropriate
public education ("FAPE") for C.M., as required by the IDEA; (2) that Defendants did not develop an IEP consistent
with the various assessments of C.M.'s disability and the
Agreement; (3) that Defendants failed to comply with N.J.A.C.
6A:14-3.4, the New Jersey regulations enforcing the IDEA; (4)
that Defendants failed to comply with the ALJ's October 2000
order; and (5) that, by their actions, Defendants have deprived
C.M. of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the Constitution.
Defendants subsequently moved for judgment on the pleadings. By
Order dated July 29, 2004, this Court dismissed Count IV with
prejudice as untimely and dismissed the remaining counts without
prejudice to the filing of an Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs filed
their Amended Complaint on August 23, 2004, setting forth five
counts. Count I is labeled as seeking enforcement of the
Agreement between the parties, although it actually appears to
seek damages for non-compliance with the IDEA. Count II actually
asks for enforcement of the Agreement. Count III asserts a
violation of N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.4 and Count IV seeks damages
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiffs'
constitutional rights. Count V seeks attorneys' fees for the
administrative proceedings. Defendants have now moved for summary
judgment. Plaintiffs oppose this motion, arguing primarily that
it is premature, as discovery has not yet been completed. DISCUSSION
Summary Judgment Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record
"show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it
might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of
law. Id. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not
preclude a grant of summary judgment. Id.
In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact,
the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party
by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in
other words, "[T]he nonmoving party's evidence `is to be
believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that
party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)
(quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). The threshold inquiry
is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly
can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may
reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Liberty
Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250; Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining
Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 329-30 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The moving party always bears the initial burden of showing
that no genuine issue of material fact exists, regardless of
which party ultimately would have the burden of persuasion at
trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986); Country Floors v. Partnership of Gepner and Ford,
930 F.2d 1056, 1061-63 (3d Cir. 1991) (reviewing district court's
grant of summary judgment in a trademark action); Lucent Info.
Manage. v. Lucent Tech., 986 F. Supp. 253, 257 (D.N.J. 1997)
(granting summary judgment in favor of telecommunications
provider in trademark action), aff'd, 186 F.3d 311 (3d Cir.
1999); Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989),
cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1023 (1990). However, where the
nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, as
plaintiff does in the present case, "the burden on the moving
party may be discharged by `showing' that is, pointing out to
the district court that there is an absence of evidence to
support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp.,
477 U.S. at 325.
The non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or
denials of" its pleading in order to show the existence of a
genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Plaintiff must do more than
rely only "upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations or
suspicions." Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 1985),
cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010 (1985) (citation omitted); see
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50. Thus, if the plaintiff's evidence is a mere scintilla or is "not ...