United States District Court, D. New Jersey
TOMS RIVER REGIONAL SCHOOLS DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff,
A.E. & A.P., on behalf of D.M., Defendants.
Michael A. Shipp, United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court upon the Court's review of
the docket. On July 19, 2019, Plaintiff Toms River Regional
Schools District (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint
and Application for Preliminary Injunctive Relief.
(See Compl., ECF No. 1.) On July 23, 2019, Plaintiff
filed correspondence indicating that the injunctive relief
Plaintiff seeks has been granted in an underlying
administrative hearing. (Correspondence, ECF No. 8.) On July
24, 2019, Defendants A.E. and A.P., on behalf of D.M.
(“Defendants”) filed correspondence requesting,
inter alia, injunctive relief and a teleconference
with the Court. (Correspondence, ECF No. 9.) On July 24,
2019, the Court held a telephone conference with the
parties. (See ECF No. 10.)
matter arises out of a dispute between Plaintiff and
Defendants pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§
1400-1450. (Compl. ¶ 1.) On August 17, 2018, pursuant to
the IDEA and New Jersey law, Plaintiff filed a Petition for
Due Process and the petition was subsequently transmitted to
the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (the
“Underlying Proceeding”). (Id.
¶¶ 29-30.) The matter was assigned to the Honorable
Jeffrey N. Rabin, A.L.J. (Compl. ¶ 30.) On June 25,
2019, Judge Rabin issued an order (the “June 25
Order”) (Compl., Ex. A (“June 25 Order”),
ECF No. 1), and he issued a second order on July 1, 2019 (the
“July 1 Order”) (Compl., Ex. B (“July 1
Order”), ECF No.1). Plaintiff appeals the June 25 Order
and the July 1 Order on an interlocutory basis.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Zambelli
Fireworks Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Wood, 592 F.3d 412, 418 (3d
Cir. 2010). A federal court, therefore, is required to
determine whether it has jurisdiction even if the parties to
an action have not made a jurisdictional challenge.
Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039,
1049 (3d Cir. 1993).
IDEA grants subject matter jurisdiction to the federal
district courts[, ]” by allowing an “aggrieved
party to bring a civil action in . . . federal court.”
D.E. v. Cent. Dauphin Sch. Dist., 765 F.3d 260, 274
(3d Cir. 2014). Specifically, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A)
“permits an appeal to the federal courts only where a
party is ‘aggrieved by the findings and decision'
made under subsections (f), (k), or (g) of the
statute.” Hopewell Valley Reg'l Bd. of Educ. v.
J.R., No. 15-8477, 2016 WL 1761991, at *3 (D.N.J. May 3,
2016) (internal citation omitted). “In the normal case,
exhausting the IDEA's administrative process is required
in order for the statute to ‘grant subject matter
jurisdiction to the district court.'” S.D. by
A.D. v. Haddon Heights Bd. of Educ., 722 Fed.Appx. 119,
125 (3d Cir. 2018) (quoting Batchelor v. Rose Tree Media
Sch. Dist., 759 F.3d 266, 272 (3d Cir. 2014)).
asserts that the Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 20 U.S.C.
§ 1415(i). (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff, however, has
not exhausted its administrative remedies in the Underlying
Proceeding, and, as a result, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i) cannot
provide the Court subject matter jurisdiction. Id.
(“Section 1415(1) of the IDEA requires exhaustion of
the administrative hearing process . . . in actions brought
directly under the IDEA . . . .”).
asserts that the Court's subject matter jurisdiction is
based on satisfying three out of four of the exceptions to
the IDEA's administrative exhaustion requirements.
(Id. ¶¶ 48-52.) The Third Circuit has
recognized four situations where exhaustion of administrative
remedies is not required, where: “(1) exhaustion would
be futile or inadequate; (2) the issue presented is purely a
legal question; (3) the administrative agency cannot grant
relief; and (4) exhaustion would cause severe or irreparable
harm.” D.E., 765 F.3d at 275. The Court finds
that none of these exceptions are satisfied.
futility exception does not apply. As a threshold matter, the
factual record does not appear to be fully developed, as
recognized in the July 1 Order, in which Judge Rabin stated
that there are genuine issues and questions of fact.
(See July 1 Order.) Additionally, nothing on the
face of the Complaint establishes that this is an emergency
situation involving the mental or physical health of D.M.
Plaintiff also has not alleged that the remedy it seeks in
the Underlying Proceeding is unavailable pursuant to the
IDEA. At bottom, Plaintiff's objection to the July 1
Order is a mere disagreement with Judge Rabin's denial of
Plaintiff's motion for summary decision. Similarly,
Plaintiff's disagreement with the June 25 Order does not
satisfy the futility exception because the June 25 Order is
procedural in nature and any purported error in the June 25
Order or harm resulting from the same can be addressed on
appeal after the due process hearing.
purely legal exception to exhaustion is derived from the
futility exception. See Lester H. by Octavia P. v.
Gilhool, 916 F.2d 865, 869 (3d Cir. 1990) (“The
basis for the district court's futility finding is that
the issues involved here were purely legal, not
factual.”). This is because exhaustion is required
“where the peculiar expertise of an administrative
hearing officer is necessary to develop a factual
record.” Id. If no factual record needs to be
developed and no evidentiary disputes remain, i.e.,
the matter is purely legal, “the court can and should
decide legal issues.” Id.
Court finds that Plaintiff's allegation that “all
that remains are the ‘purely legal questions' of
whether the [Defendants'] unreasonable and fraudulent
conduct bars them from attaining the relief they now seek[,
]” fails. As discussed, ALJ Rabin found that there were
issues of fact which precluded the grant of Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Decision on the issue of Defendants'
registration of D.M. Despite ALJ Rabin's conclusions,
Plaintiff alleges the Court has subject matter jurisdiction
because there are no issues of fact. Plaintiff's position
is significantly undermined by the fact that the July 1 Order
contains a limited number of findings of fact-four- and the
standard of review the Court must apply to the July 1
Order-modified de novo. See L.E. v. Ramsey Bd.
of Educ., 435 F.3d 384, 389 (3d Cir. 2006) (“When
deciding an IDEA case, the District Court applies a modified
de novo review and is required to give due weight to
the factual findings of the ALJ.”)
effect, Plaintiff invites the Court to base its subject
matter jurisdiction on a limited factual record that ALJ
Rabin has already determined requires a full evidentiary
hearing to complete. The Court declines Plaintiff's
invitation, especially in light of the Third Circuit's
caution that “[d]isruption and interference with the
state proceedings can have serious adverse effects[, ]”
while “the duplication of effort in evaluating the same
areas of controversy is a substantial detriment to
consistency and procedural efficiency.” Komninos by
Komninos v. Upper Saddle River Bd. of Educ., 13 F.3d
775, 779 (3d Cir. 1994).
Third Circuit has advised that the “severe or
irreparable harm” exception “is to be sparingly
invoked[, ]” and to establish irreparable harm, a party
“must provide a sufficient preliminary showing that the
child will suffer serious and irreversible mental or physical
damage (e.g., irremediable intellectual regression) before
the administrative process may be circumvented.”
Id. at 778-79. Here, Plaintiff cannot satisfy this
threshold requirement because Plaintiff does not allege that
harm will come to D.M. (Compl. ¶ 51.) Additionally, the
speculative harms Plaintiff alleges it may suffer can be
rectified if and when Plaintiff is in a position to appeal a
final decision following the due process hearing. The Court,
accordingly, concludes the severe or irreparable harm
exception does not apply.
none of the exceptions to the IDEA's exhaustion of
administrative remedies requirement are
satisfied. The Court, accordingly, finds it does not
have subject matter jurisdiction over this matter.
reasons set forth above, and other good cause shown,
IT IS on this 25th ...