United States District Court, D. Minnesota
I.E.C. on her own behalf and by and through her Parent and Natural Guardian, J.R., Plaintiff,
Minneapolis Public Schools, SSD No. 1 et al, Defendants,
For I.E.C., on her own behalf and bye through her Parent and Natural Guardian, J.R., Plaintiff, Counter Defendant: Margaret O'Sullivan Kane, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kane Education Law, LLC, St Paul, MN.
For Minneapolis Public Schools SSD No. 1, Defendant, Counter Claimant: Laura Tubbs Booth, Booth & Lavorato LLC, Minnetonka, MN.
For Minnesota Department of Education, Brenda Cassellius, Commissioner, Defendants: Martha J Casserly, Minnesota Attorney General's Office - Ste 900, St Paul, MN.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
LEO I. BRISBOIS, United States Magistrate Judge.
This matter came before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge upon Defendants the Minnesota Department of Education and Brenda Cassellius's motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment. The motions were referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1. The Court held a hearing on the motions on May 6, 2013. For the reasons discussed below, the Court now recommends that Defendants' motion to dismiss be GRANTED and Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment be DENIED.
I.E.C., on her own behalf and by her parent and natural Guardian, J.R. (Plaintiff) brought this action against the Minneapolis Public Schools SSD No. 1 (the District), the Minnesota Department of Education, and Brenda Cassellius, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education (the State Defendants) seeking " declaratory and injunctive relief, reversal of the administrative order denying an administrative hearing, [and] remanding the matter back for an administrative hearing . . . ." (Compl. [Docket No. 1] at 1). The only three claims asserted in the Complaint are: 1) Plaintiff was " denied access to the special education administrative hearing pursuant to the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)] and Minn. Stat. § 125A.091" and the District failed to appropriately follow the IDEA; 2) " [t]he District and its representative in bad faith, with gross misjudgment or deliberate indifference deprived [Plaintiff] of her rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act" ; and 3) a claim under § 1983 that the District and the State Defendants are violating Plaintiff's equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 48-73).
Plaintiff alleges that she is a fifteen year-old female and a " resident of Minneapolis Public Schools." (Compl. ¶ 1). As early as the third grade, Plaintiff began experiencing difficulty in school and enrolled in private schools for the fifth and sixth grades. (Id. ¶ 7). Although Plaintiff returned to public school for the seventh grade, she continued to experience difficulties in the classroom. (Id. ¶ ¶ 7-8). Plaintiff alleges that throughout late 2009 and early 2010, her mother met with school officials to discuss Plaintiff's difficulties and attempt to obtain assistance, but her mother's efforts proved to be unsuccessful. (Id. ¶ ¶ 8-9). As a result of these discussions, Plaintiff's mother took steps for medical evaluations of Plaintiff and presented the results to school officials in early 2011. (Id. ¶ ¶ 11-13). Plaintiff's mother and school officials then resumed discussions regarding a potential Section 504 plan and Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Plaintiff and initially agreed to the implementation of a Section 504 plan. (Id. ¶ ¶ 14-16). Plaintiff alleges that the Section 504 plan was largely unsuccessful and that she continued to struggle.
(Id. ¶ ¶ 17-20). For her ninth grade year, Plaintiff began attending Washburn High School but was later moved to South View Middle School in Edina, Minnesota in the hope that it would provide a better environment. (Id. ¶ ¶ 21-23). However, Plaintiff continued to struggle " [w]ithout an IEP or an effective Section 504 plan." (Id. ¶ ¶ 23-25).
On April 9, 2012, Plaintiff's mother filed a Complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education, which issued a final decision on May 22, 2012. (Id. ¶ 26). In June 2012, Plaintiff was placed in St. Cloud Children's Home, which is outside of the District. (Id. ¶ ¶ 30-32).
On June 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint and Request for an Administrative Hearing under the IDEA, seeking a determination that the District failed to provide a free appropriate public education. (Id. ¶ 33). Upon the District's motion to dismiss the matter under Thompson v. Board of Spec. Sch. Dist. No.1, 144 F.3d 574 (8th Cir. 1998), a limited hearing was held on August 10, 2012, for the purpose of determining whether Plaintiff was provided with a notice of procedural safeguards before she left the District. (Id.) On August 17, 2012, the administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an order finding that Plaintiff had received a notice of procedural safeguards, and relying on Thompson, dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims on the basis that Plaintiff was not enrolled in the District at the time she requested a due process hearing:
Student was given due and proper notice of her due process rights on two occasions, in early and later April 2012, prior to leaving the District at the end of May 2012. Student had nearly two months to make the due process hearing request. Student did not make a due process hearing request until after she left the District on June 11, 2012. Applying Thompson to these set of facts, Student's complaint against the District is dismissed.
(Docket No. 30, Ex. 4 at 6-7). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit before this Court appealing the ALJ's August 2012 decision. See I.E.C. v. Minneapolis Public Schools, SSD No. 1, No. 12-cv-2398 (MJD/LIB) (hereafter I.E.C. I, 12-cv-2398).
Meanwhile, Plaintiff re-enrolled in the District on August 7, 2012, and filed a second Complaint and Request for Administrative Hearing on August 21, 2012, seeking the same relief as the prior complaint. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 31-34). However, by August 29, 2012, Plaintiff's mother had removed Plaintiff from the District and enrolled her in a private charter school. (Id. ¶ ¶ 34). On October 19, 2012, the ALJ issued an order finding that Plaintiff had enrolled in a charter school, which for purposes of the IDEA was a separate school district, and he dismissed the complaint on the basis that Plaintiff had failed to provide the District with an opportunity to implement an IEP for the student. (See Docket No. 30, Ex. 5 at 5-7). The ALJ aptly noted that Plaintiff was " attempting to resurrect the same issues that were brought in her complaint of June 2012," which was dismissed under the Eighth Circuit's holding in Thompson. (Id. at 5). In this particular decision, however, the ALJ held that because the parties had " agreed to proceed with an evaluation as proposed by the [Plaintiff] based on the existing evaluations of [Plaintiff]" and because Plaintiff's mother removed Plaintiff from the District " before the parties had an opportunity [to] develop the educational plan, . . . there can be no showing of a denial FAPE . . . ." (Id. at 6). Quoting Schoenfeld v. Parkway Sch. Dist., 138 F.3d 379, 382 (8th Cir. 1998), the ALJ explained that " [i]f the District 'is denied an opportunity to formulate a plan to meet [the Student's] needs, it cannot be
shown that it had an inadequate [IEP] plan under the IDEA'" ; rather, " [t]he District must be provided an opportunity to modify an IEP to meet the Student's needs for the school year." (Id.) Furthermore, the ALJ held that " even if the District failed in its duties in the seven days between the IEP meeting and when the Student enrolled in the new district, the Student [had] not demonstrated that she sustained any loss of educational benefit during the relevant seven day period." (Id. at 7). Plaintiff then filed the present lawsuit in this Court (hereafter I.E.C. II, 12-cv-2997), appealing the ALJ's October 2012 decision.
In addition to seeking review of the October 2012 ALJ decision in the present action, Plaintiff also alleges that " [t]he Minnesota Department of Education and by and through its contracted provider the Office of Administrative Hearings have a policy, practice and custom of denying children with disabilities their due process and procedural protections, as well as their statutorily protected property interest including denying access to a due process hearing." (Compl. ¶ 40). Plaintiff asserts that the Minnesota Department of Education and the Office of Administrative Hearings " through [their] policy, procedures and customs deprived [Plaintiff] of her property interest in her education and her state and federal rights under the IDEA without due process." (Id.) She further alleges that " [t]he Administrative Hearing decisions based upon the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals analysis in [Thompson] and its progeny violate students with disabilities rights to due process under the IDEA and the 14th Amendment" and " [t]he Administrative Law Judges and federal district and circuit courts  continue to deprive [Plaintiff of] the right to an administrative hearing under the IDEA on a legal basis that is contrary to the federal and state law." (Id. at 43).
II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT 
As more fully discussed below, there has been some apparent confusion on the part of the Plaintiff's counsel as to the scope of this present lawsuit, when compared to the other lawsuits filed by Plaintiff. See I.E.C. I, 12-cv-2398; I.E.C. v. Minnesota Department of Education, No. 13-cv-1062 (SRN/FLN)) (hereafter I.E.C. III, 13-cv-1062). Because Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment in this case is necessarily limited by the claims pled in this case, before considering the merits of Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment, the Court takes time to clarify precisely what is before the Court in the present lawsuit.
Although it should be apparent from the Court's prior order that the present case (I.E.C. II, 12-cv-2997) was not consolidated with the other case filed by Plaintiff (I.E.C. I, 12-cv-2398) for anything other than discovery and pretrial motions, (see Order [Docket No. 30 in 12-cv-2398] at 9-11), Plaintiff's counsel sought to proceed under the mistaken belief that the two actions were consolidated on the merits. (See Pls.' Reply to Defs.' Opp'n [Docket
No. 43] at 7) (" The Cases have been Consolidated Under the Court's Order" ). The claims in the two cases have not been merged or ...