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J.H. v. Egg Harbor Township Board of Education

May 11, 2009

J.H. AND S.N., WITH AND ON BEHALF OF J.H., A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



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

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon the motion of Defendants Egg Harbor Township Board of Education ("Board of Education"), Kathryn Atzrott, Bruce Singer, Karen Symanski, Kathleen Gray, Phillip Heery, Concetta Carmen, Donna Freund, Jennifer Martin, James Maguire, William Jackson, Doris Whetstine, Linda Smith, and Margaret Peretti to dismiss the Plaintiffs' Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and for lack of subject matter jurisdiction [Docket Item 9].

Plaintiffs brought this suit under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794; the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA") 20 U.S.C. § 1415 et seq.; the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and various provisions of New Jersey law. They allege, inter alia, that Defendants, individually and jointly, have failed to provide a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") to plaintiff J.H. in violation of the IDEA. In relief from this Court, Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, reimbursement of expenses and costs associated with the evaluation and out-of-district supplementary education of J.H., attorneys fees and costs incurred in the current action pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415, 29 U.S.C. § 794 and 42 U.S.C. § 1988, compensatory education for J.H., and other further relief to be determined by the Court.

The principal issue presented is whether this Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims to enforce IDEA settlement agreements without first exhausting IDEA administrative remedies under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l). The Court, for the reasons discussed below, will now grant the Defendants' motion in full and dismiss the Plaintiffs' Complaint entirely, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims, without prejudice to Plaintiffs' right to pursue available administrative remedies.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the Complaint, Plaintiff J.H. is a minor residing in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, and enrolled in the Egg Harbor Township Public School District.*fn1 (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) Plaintiffs Mr. H. and Ms. N. are the parents of J.H. and both share custody of him. (Id. at ¶ 2.) J.H. primarily resides with Ms. N., his mother, within the boundaries of the Egg Harbor Township School District. (Id.)

Since entering the Swift School in the Egg Harbor Township School District for kindergarten in September of 1998 at the age of four, J.H. has qualified every year that he has spent in the district for an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") as established under the IDEA. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 35, 45, 51, 66, 82, 90, 118, 134.) In April 2006, the parents of J.H., unhappy with his progress and unsatisfied by many of the IEPs formulated by the Board of Education's Child Study Team, filed a request for a due process hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") as established under state regulations implementing the IDEA. (Id. at ¶ 136.) Plaintiffs' administrative complaint was assigned to ALJ Joseph F. Fidler.

Prior to any hearing before ALJ Fidler, the parents of J.H. and the Board of Education reached a settlement agreement concerning the future education of J.H. (Id. at ¶ 137.) This agreement was incorporated into an order by ALJ Fidler on August 29, 2006. (Id. at ¶¶ 138-40.) According to the Complaint, the Defendants did not abide by the terms of this agreement and, as a result, the parents of J.H. filed another request for a due process hearing which was assigned to ALJ W. Todd Miller. (Id. at ¶¶ 141-49.) Although the Board of Education filed an answer to this request denying all material allegations, (id. at ¶ 150), the parties again reached a settlement agreement. (Id. at ¶ 152.) This agreement was incorporated into an order by ALJ Miller on October 16, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 153.) According to the Complaint, the Defendants likewise failed to abide by this agreement. (Id. at ¶¶ 154-58.) As a result, the Plaintiffs filed the present action in this Court on January 28, 2008 [Docket Item 1].

Defendants filed a joint answer to Plaintiffs' Complaint on April 4, 2008 [Docket Item 4] and filed the present motion to dismiss on November 20, 2008 [Docket Item 9], to the merits of which the Court now turns.

II. DISCUSSION

The Court summarizes the standard under which the Defendants' motion is reviewed, and addresses the merits of the motion, in turn below. As the following discussion makes clear, the Court will: (1) dismiss Count One of the Plaintiffs' Complaint with prejudice as to the individually named Defendants and without prejudice as to the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education; (2) dismiss Count Two of the Plaintiffs' Complaint with prejudice as to all Defendants; (3) dismiss Count Three of the Plaintiffs' Complaint with prejudice as to all individually named Defendants and without prejudice as to the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education; (4) dismiss Count Four of the Plaintiffs' Complaint without prejudice as to all Defendants; and (5) dismiss Count Five of the Plaintiffs' Complaint without prejudice as to all Defendants.

A. Standard of Review under Rule 12(b)(1)

Under Rule 12(b)(1), a defendant may move to dismiss on the grounds that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the subject of the dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The Third Circuit has identified two types of defects subject to challenge by a Rule 12(b)(1) motion: those that challenge the subject matter jurisdiction as sufficiently pleaded on the face of the complaint and those that challenge the factual underpinnings alleged as the basis for the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). "A challenge to a complaint for failure to allege subject matter jurisdiction is known as a 'facial' challenge, and must not be confused with a 'factual' challenge contending that the court in fact lacks subject matter jurisdiction, no matter what the complaint alleges . . ." NE Hub Partners, L.P. v. CNG Transmission Corp., 239 F.3d 333, 341 n.7 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Mortensen, 549 F.3d at 891; 5A Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & ...


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