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R.K. v. Y.A.L.E. Schools

October 30, 2008

R.K., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF S.K.B., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
Y.A.L.E. SCHOOLS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff R.K., individually and on behalf of her minor son, S.K.B., filed this action against the Medford Township Board of Education (the "Board"), a corporation called Y.A.L.E. Schools, Inc., and numerous employees of each entity. At the time the events underlying this litigation occurred, S.K.B., who suffers from multiple disabilities, was enrolled at a private school operated by Y.A.L.E. Schools, Inc., pursuant to his individualized education program ("IEP") in the Medford Township school district. According to the Complaint, after R.K. complained to Defendants about her son's treatment at the Y.A.L.E. School and announced her intention to file a complaint with the United States Department of Education ("USDOE"), Defendants retaliated against Plaintiffs by filing a false and unfounded report with the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") alleging that R.K. had sexually abused S.K.B., and by filing a false truancy complaint against R.K. with the Medford Township Police Department.

Presently before the Court are the Medford Defendants' and the Y.A.L.E. Defendants' motions to dismiss [Docket Items 8 and 24]. For the reasons now explained, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motions, as set forth herein.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The facts underlying Plaintiffs' claims, as alleged in the Complaint, are as follows.*fn1 Plaintiff R.K. is the mother of S.K.B., a child who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. (Compl. ¶ 15.) In 2006, pursuant to his IEP*fn2 and through an agreement between the Board and Y.A.L.E. Schools, Inc., S.K.B. attended the Y.A.L.E. School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 15.) On February 28, 2006, the principal of the Y.A.L.E. School, Defendant Morgan, "improperly employed a face[-]down, take[-]down restraint" upon S.K.B., a use of force which Plaintiffs allege ran contrary to S.K.B.'s IEP, his doctors' recommendations, and the school's own policies and procedures. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

Following this allegedly inappropriate use of force upon S.K.B., R.K. complained to the individually named Medford and Y.A.L.E. Defendants.*fn3 (Id. at ¶ 16.) According to Plaintiffs, the school employees' response to R.K.'s complaint was to inform R.K. that she would need to find an alternative school placement for S.K.B. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiffs allege that the school's employees continued to mistreat S.K.B. after R.K. complained; such alleged mistreatment, according to the Complaint, included threatening S.K.B. that school officials would "call the police on him," using improper physical restraints upon another child in front of S.K.B. in order to frighten him, and ultimately suspending S.K.B. when he refused to accompany Defendant Morgan to his office out of fear that he would be "unjustifiably restrained" again. (Id.)

R.K. took two steps in response to this perceived mistreatment. First, on March 9, 2006, she contacted Defendant Gelardo, an employee of the Medford Township Board of Education, and informed him that she believed that her son's civil rights were being violated, and stated that she intended to file a complaint with the USDOE's Office for Civil Rights. (Id. at ¶ 17.) R.K. followed through on her statement to Defendant Gelardo on May 22, 2006, when she filed a civil rights complaint. (Id.)

Second, R.K. informed the Medford and Y.A.L.E. Defendants that she "could not keep her son in such a hostile environment," requested that the Board find a different school placement for S.K.B., and advised Defendants that if the situation was not resolved, she would not be able to send S.K.B. to the Y.A.L.E. School out of concern for his safety. (Id. at ¶ 18.) R.K. subsequently "revoked consent for the placement of her son at the Y.A.L.E. School and requested school district home instruction and related services pending appropriate alternative school placement." (Id. at ¶ 19.)

The Complaint alleges that, in response to R.K.'s announced intent to file a civil rights complaint against Defendants with the USDOE, Defendants took various steps to retaliate against Plaintiffs. First and most critically, Plaintiffs allege that the individual Defendants conspired to make a "false and malicious complaint of sexual abuse" perpetrated by R.K. against S.K.B. to DYFS. (Id. at ¶ 20.) According to Plaintiffs, in a complaint submitted to DYFS on March 17, 2006, Defendants "maliciously fabricated events and exaggerated otherwise innocent events" between R.K. and S.K.B. to invent a false account of an inappropriate sexual relationship between R.K. and S.B.K. in order to retaliate against R.K. for threatening to initiate a civil rights complaint. (Id. at Count I, ¶ 2.) DYFS agents, in turn, made an unannounced visit to Plaintiffs' home, where they determined that the allegations against R.K. were "wholly lacking in merit and summarily closed the file." (Id. at ¶ 21.)

Subsequently, R.K. filed an application for "emergency due process relief" with the Department of Education's Office of Administrative Law in order to secure a new school placement for S.K.B. (Id. at ¶ 22.) To retaliate against R.K. for filing this application, Defendant Del Rossi allegedly filed a false truancy complaint against R.K. and S.K.B. with the Medford Township Police Department. (Id. at ¶ 23.) This complaint was ultimately dismissed after the court found that probable cause did not exist. (Id.) As a result of Defendants' alleged acts of retaliation, Plaintiffs claim that they have suffered severe emotional distress, including "depression, malaise, nightmares, [and] intrusive thoughts." (Id. at Count V, ¶ 3.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed this action on October 30, 2007 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County. The Complaint asserts counts of defamation (Count I), harassment (Count II), false light (Count III), negligence (Count IV), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), civil conspiracy (Count VI), and retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights (Count VII). The Medford Defendants, who were served with the summons and complaint on November 19, 2007, timely removed the matter to this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), on December 12, 2007 [Docket Item 1]. The Medford Defendants and Y.A.L.E. Defendants subsequently filed the motions to dismiss presently before the Court [Docket Items 8 and 24], to the merits of which the Court now turns. This Court has federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, over Plaintiffs' First Amendment claim and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) as to Plaintiffs' related claims arising under New Jersey law.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court must "'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

While Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded complaint simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable," the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, --- ...


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