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RANCOCAS VALLEY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL BD. OF EDUCATION v. M.R.

August 10, 2005.

RANCOCAS VALLEY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL BOARD OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff,
v.
M.R. o/n/o A.R., and the STATE OF NEW JERSEY Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY BROTMAN, Senior District Judge

OPINION REGARDING NEW JERSEY'S MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO 12(B)(1) and 12(B)(6)
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This matter, essentially a monetary dispute, comes before the Court to review the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ALJ Douglas H. Hurd decided that Rancocas Valley Board of Education ("Rancocas Valley") had not provided A.R. with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). In his final decision dated January 16, 2004 ALJ Hurd ordered Rancocas Valley to pay for A.R.'s placement in a twelve-month program at Devereaux. (Br. at 3). The parties agree that, as a child with developmental disabilities, A.R. is entitled to receive a FAPE under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA")*fn1 and is entitled to receive special services under the Developmentally Disabled Rights Act ("DDRA").*fn2 The disagreement concerns whether Rancocas Valley or New Jersey ought to pay for A.R.'s placement at Devereaux.

  Seeking to avoid paying for what it qualifies as a "residential treatment center" and not a school, Rancocas Valley filed a two count complaint in this Court on March 8, 2004. The Complaint named the parents of A.R.*fn3 and the State of New Jersey as defendants. The first count seeks reversal of the ALJ's Final Decision and Order under 20 U.S.C. § 1415 and N.J.A.C. 1:6A-18.3. The second count, on the other hand, asks for much more.

  Through the second Count of the Complaint Rancocas Valley asks for an order: a) reversing the Hurd decision; b) declaring New Jersey instead of Rancocas Valley responsible for the cost of placing A.R. at Devereux; c) finding that the Vineland Development Center ("VDC") is an appropriate placement for A.R.; d) directing the New Jersey Department of Education ("NJDOE") to promulgate an Interagency Agreement ("IA"); and e) providing for the Division of Developmental Disabilities ("DDD") to be made a party to the due process proceeding before the NJDOE.

  In response to the Complaint, New Jersey filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R. of Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In its thirty-seven page Motion to Dismiss, New Jersey attacks the seven page Complaint on six grounds. Although the Court recounts several of the arguments with greater specificity below, New Jersey's six independent bases of attack can be summarized as follows.

  First, defendant New Jersey argues that Count II should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Second, New Jersey contends that Rancocas Valley has no private cause of action against the state under the IDEA. Third, the state argues that the IDEA does not require the NJDOE to promulgate an IA with the DDD. Fourth, New Jersey claims that Rancocas Valley lacks standing to maintain the cause of action. Fifth, the state alleges that the DDD has not waived its sovereign immunity since it does not participate in the IDEA. Sixth, defendant alleges the Complaint should be dismissed because Rancocas Valley failed to exhaust administrative remedies.*fn4

  Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Dismiss on several distinct grounds. Where relevant, these arguments will be specifically addressed. In reaching its decision, the Court has considered all of the arguments raised by the parties, including those made during the oral arguments held on May 24, 2005.

  II. THE COURT'S POWER AND ROLE

  A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

  Two provisions found in § 1415(i)(2) create this court's jurisdiction and direct the manner in which the Court conducts its review:
(A) Any party aggrieved by the findings and decision made under this subsection, 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 any State court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States, without regard to the amount in controversy.
* * * *
(C) Additional requirements. In any action brought under this paragraph, the court —
(i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and(iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). To summarize, three principles from the statute shape this Court's review. First, "any party aggrieved" may bring an action on appeal to this Court so long as the action relates "to the complaint presented pursuant" to § 1415; second, the Court must base its decision on review on the "preponderance of the evidence"; and, third, the Court grants relief it deems appropriate.

  One of defendant's grounds for its motion to dismiss is that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction with respect to the second count of the Complaint. Defendant New Jersey claims that Rancocas Valley cannot challenge the lack of an interagency agreement in a district court of the United States. The Court disagrees. The language creating subject matter jurisdiction is both explicit and broad. For example, § 1415(i)(2)(a) grants jurisdiction "without regard to amount in controversy", the Court has discretion to "grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate," and any party aggrieved may bring a civil action. The statutory language therefore manifests an unmistakable intent to broadly define this Court's jurisdiction with respect to these kinds of cases. In this way, the grant of jurisdiction found within § 1415(i)(2)(a) empowers this Court to exercise jurisdiction.

  B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

  When considering whether a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. ALA v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994); Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994); Schrob v. Catterson, 948 F.3d 1402, 1405 (3d Cir. 1991). The Court cannot dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief."Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957) (citations omitted); D.P. Enterprises, Inc. v. Bucks County Community College, 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

  III. DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

  As Judge Orlofsky noted, the IDEA "is not a well-drafted law." S.C. v. Deptford Bd. of Educ. 213 F. Supp. 2d 452, 454 (D.N.J. 2003). Even "after thirty years and much congressional tinkering, the text of the IDEA still leaves courts at a loss to answer many basic questions about how it is to be enforced, such as who may sue whom, for what, and in what court." Id, In one way, Plaintiff's Complaint highlights some of the systematic deficiencies in how the IDEA functions within the State of New Jersey. Moreover, Plaintiff's allegations demonstrate ...


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