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Woodruff v. Hamilton Township Public Schools

April 8, 2008

THOMAS WOODRUFF AND, MICHELLE WOODRUFF, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP PUBLIC SCHOOLS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Noel L. Hillman, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' amended complaint. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

This is the Court's fourth Opinion in this matter. Because each Opinion has built upon the one previous, it would be helpful to briefly restate the layered procedural history.

This case concerns a child, who is diagnosed with Attention- Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and the issue of whether his school and teachers discriminated against him because of his disability. When the Woodruffs filed their discrimination complaint in August 2006, their son had been a seventh grade student at a middle school in the Hamilton Township School District during the preceding academic year. A few days after they filed their complaint, the Woodruffs filed a motion for emergency relief, asking that this Court order the school district to allow their son to enter eighth grade, as expulsion proceedings had been commenced against their son at the end of the previous school year. The Woodruffs withdrew their application, however, because they chose to enroll their son in private school. The individual defendants then filed a motion to dismiss the Woodruffs' claims against them. The school district did not move to dismiss the claims against it at that time.

On June 26, 2007, in deciding the individual defendants' motion to dismiss, the Court dismissed the Woodruffs' claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, but allowed the Woodruffs' claim for hostile environment under the NJLAD to survive the motion. On July 9, 2007, the Woodruffs moved for reconsideration of the Court's decision. A few weeks later, on August 8, 2007, the Woodruffs also moved to amend their complaint to include a due process claim. A couple weeks after that, on August 20, 2007, the Woodruffs again moved for emergency relief, seeking an order from the Court directing that their son be permitted to enter Oakcrest High School, as he was a rising high school freshman and the Woodruffs wished to return their son to public school.

The Court held a hearing on the Woodruffs' emergency motion on August 21, 2007. At the hearing, several issues were raised. One issue was whether the defendant in this case--Hamilton Township School District--was the proper party to provide the Woodruffs with their requested relief, because the Woodruffs wished to have their son enrolled in Oakcrest High School, which is part of the Greater Egg Harbor School District, and not the Hamilton Township district. Another issue raised was whether the Woodruffs could proceed pro se in representing the claims of their son. This issue had been raised in the defendants' opposition to the Woodruffs' motion to amend their complaint, but it was also brought to the Court's attention prior to the hearing via letter from the Hamilton Township defendant.

At the hearing, the Court addressed the issue of whether the Woodruffs could represent their son's interests, because resolution of that issue impacted all outstanding motions and the viability of the Woodruffs' case. The Court determined that binding legal precedent in this Circuit required that their son be represented by an attorney, rather than by his parents. The Court then directed that if the Woodruffs wished to proceed with their case, they had to choose to either hire an attorney, or apply to the Court for pro bono representation for their son.

At a telephone conference on August 27, 2007, the Court was informed that the Woodruffs had obtained legal counsel for their son. In order to address the issue of who was the proper party to the Woodruffs' emergency request to have their son enrolled in Oakcrest High School, the Woodruffs' attorney filed a separate action and order to show cause against the Greater Egg Harbor School District. (See Civil Action No. 07-4135.)

The issue of the Woodruffs' son's enrollment at Oakcrest was decided in the separate action, and that case has since been closed. As of the Court's last Opinion, this action against Hamilton Township, and all of the motions filed previous to the Woodruffs' application for emergent relief, were still pending. Also still pending was the issue of whether the Woodruffs could appear pro se and represent their son on his discrimination claims, because the attorney hired by the Woodruffs was only retained for the case against Greater Egg.

In the Court's December 20, 2007 Opinion, the Court determined that although "the Woodruffs have a legally cognizable interest in B.W.'s free appropriate public education," and "they may prosecute this right on their own behalf without an attorney," that finding "cannot be extended to allow the Woodruffs to act as their son's attorney on any of his claims." (Dec. 20, 2007 Op. at 11.) Thus, the Court provided the Woodruffs with three options to correct this problem: (1) retain an attorney to prosecute their son's claims, (2) continue proceeding pro se and file an amended complaint asserting their claims only, or (3) rest on the original and proposed amended complaints already filed. (Id. at 11-12.) The Woodruffs chose to file an amended complaint asserting their claims only. Their amended complaint contains claims against the individual defendants and the school district. All defendants have now moved to dismiss in its entirety the Woodruffs' amended complaint. The Woodruffs have opposed defendants' motion.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Baldwin County Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element"). A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

Finally, a court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice. Southern Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Group Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). A court may consider, however, "an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). If any other matters outside the pleadings are presented to the court, and the court does not exclude those matters, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be treated as a summary judgment motion pursuant to Rule 56. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).

C. Analysis

The Woodruffs have asserted six claims: Count One for Discrimination in violation of Title II of the ADA, the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the NJLAD; Count Two for "Harrasment [sic]/Humiliation/Hostile Environment"; Count Three for Negligence; Count Four for "Denial of Due Process Protections"; Count Five for Retaliation; and Count ...


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