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J.R. v. Camden City Board of Education

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 15, 2013

J.R., a minor, individually and by her Parent L.R., Plaintiff,
v.
CAMDEN CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION et al., Defendants.

JAMIE EPSTEIN, CHERRY HILL, NJ, Attorney for plaintiff.

RICHARD L. GOLDSTEIN, MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, PA, CHERRY HILL, NJ, Attorney for defendant Camden City Board of Education.

ANGELA LEE VELEZ, STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEPT. OF LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY, TRENTON, NJ, and SUSAN MARIE HUNTLEY OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL STATE OF NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF LAW TRENTON, NJ, Attorneys For Defendant New Jersey Department Of Education, Christopher Cerf, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Education, in his Official and Unofficial Capacities, Peggy McDonald, Director, Office of Special Education Programs, New Jersey Department Of Education, in her Official and Unofficial Capacities, and John Worthington, Manager, Bureau of Policy and Planning, New Jersey Department Of Education in his Official and Unofficial Capacities.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is the motion of defendants Christopher Cerf, Peggy McDonald, John Worthington, and New Jersey Department of Education's ("NJDOE") to dismiss plaintiff's third amended complaint, plaintiffs' first motion for partial summary judgment, and defendant Camden County Board of Education's ("CCBE") cross motion for partial summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be denied without prejudice and this matter will be administratively stayed pending the resolution of state administrative proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

On December 24, 2010, plaintiffs filed a due process petition ("JR1") with the NJDOE alleging that CCBE had violated J.R.'s right to a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). The NJDOE's Office of Special Education transmitted the petition to the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL") for final determination before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). On August 1, 2011, an ALJ issued a final decision granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' requested relief. Part of the relief granted included an instruction that CCBE create a new individualized education plan ("IEP") for J.R. CCBE presented a new IEP, but plaintiffs objected to the new IEP, and filed a second due process petition ("JR2") on December 5, 2011. On March 2, 2012, the second due process petition was dismissed by an ALJ.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court alleging violations of the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J. Stat. Ann. 10:5-1 et seq. In their third amended complaint plaintiffs: appeal JR1 (in part) and JR2 under the IDEA and § 504 (Count I); seek attorneys' fees as the prevailing party in JR1 under the IDEA (Count II); seek attorneys' fees as the prevailing party in JR1 under § 504 (Count III); allege discrimination by defendants under the NJLAD (Count IV); allege that the State defendants' adoption of N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.5(c)(1) is an unconstitutional restraint of plaintiffs' federal rights under the IDEA (Count V); and allege that defendants failed to enforce the August 1, 2011 Order entered by the ALJ in JR1 (Count VI).

Based on plaintiffs' allegations, Counts I - IV are primarily directed at CCBE, Count V is directed against NJDOE, and Count VI is directed at both. Although Counts I - IV are directed at CCBE, plaintiffs allege that NJDOE should, in the alternative, be held liable, presumably due to the Camden City School District being placed under full State intervention.[1]

II. JURISDICTION

The Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal civil rights claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction). The Court exercises supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's related state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

III. DISCUSSION

The State defendants have moved to have plaintiffs' claims dismissed on several grounds, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.

Prior to filing a civil complaint under the IDEA, a plaintiff must complete the administrative process. See Komninos by Komninos v. Upper Saddle River Bd. of Educ. , 13 F.3d 775, 778 (3d Cir. 1994). "There is a strong policy of requiring exhaustion." J.T. ex rel. A.T. v. Dumont Public Schools, No. 12-2241, 2013 WL 1777257, at *7 (3d Cir. Apr. 26, 2013) (acknowledging that the "exhaustion rule serves a number of important purposes, including (1) permitting the exercise of agency discretion and expertise on issues requiring these characteristics; (2) allowing the full development of technical issues and a factual record prior to court review; (3) preventing deliberate disregard and ...


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