Smith v. Rockwood R-Vi Sch. Dist. & Eric Knost, Case No. 4:16-CV-1226-CEJ

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
PartiesCARRIE-ANNE SMITH, in her individual capacity and as next friend of G.S., a minor, Plaintiff, v. ROCKWOOD R-VI SCHOOL DISTRICT and ERIC KNOST, Defendants.
Decision Date02 May 2017
Docket NumberCase No. 4:16-CV-1226-CEJ

CARRIE-ANNE SMITH, in her individual
capacity and as next friend of G.S., a minor, Plaintiff,

Case No. 4:16-CV-1226-CEJ


May 2, 2017


This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed.

Plaintiff Carrie-Anne Smith is the mother of G.S. (a minor). She brings this action on his behalf and in her individual capacity against Rockwood R-VI School District1 and its superintendent for the 2014-2015 academic year, Eric Knost. Plaintiff claims that the defendants violated G.S.'s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (Counts II and IV) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Counts I and III). Plaintiff also asserts a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V), alleging that the defendants' conduct violated G.S.'s constitutional rights.

I. Background

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According to the complaint, G.S. "suffers from the effects of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, Major Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." Id. at 2. Consequently, pursuant to the IDEA, G.S. has an Individualized Education Program (IEP).2 Id. The Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) implements the IEP for G.S.

On September 30, 2014, an assistant principal at Marquette High School (in the Rockwood R-VI School District) suspended G.S. for ten days. On October 15, 2014, an IEP team held a manifestation determination hearing during which it concluded that G.S.'s disability caused or "had a direct and substantial relationship" to the behavior resulting in his suspension.3 Id. at 3; see 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(E). On October 17, 2014, plaintiff received a letter from defendant Knost, informing her of the District's decision to impose an additional 180-day out-of-school suspension.4 Allegedly, Knost also stated that plaintiff could "petition the District to commute G.S.'s suspension after 90 days 'with a letter of recommendation from a professional counselor.'" Id. Plaintiff states that she procured counseling services in accordance with the letter, but the District barred G.S. from returning to school after ninety days. Id. at 4.

On July 1, 2015, plaintiff filed an IDEA due process complaint against the SSD through the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC). See 20 U.S.C.

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§ 1415(f)(1). Plaintiff states that "issues of disability discrimination and any damages or relief from past wrongs were excluded from the proceedings in the AHC." [Doc. #1 at 5]. Defendants dispute this description and contend that plaintiff's "due process complaint alleged violations of the IDEA" and "further alleged that she had uncured costs associated with home therapy and treatment at Mercy's Edgewood Program." [Doc. #6 at 2]. The parties stipulate that plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the complaint against SSD during the proceedings and prior to any decision by the AHC.5 [Doc. #10 at 2; Doc. #11 at 2].

Plaintiff claims that defendants failed to provide alternative, statutorily mandated options following the manifestation determination hearing. Namely, plaintiff alleges defendants should have offered the options of (1) returning G.S. to his pre-suspension placement or (2) consenting to a change in placement for G.S. under his behavior intervention plan. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(F). As a result, the defendants substantively and procedurally violated the IDEA and thereby denied G.S. a free appropriate public education. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). As a proximate result of the long-term suspension, G.S. allegedly suffered "emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, and mental anguish," "loss of enjoyment of life," deprivation of "educational benefits," and "humiliation and loss of reputation." Id. at 4. Plaintiff also argues that the long-term suspension resulted in lost wages, costs for transportation and supervision, home treatment and therapy expenses, as well as attorneys' fees. Id.

II. Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(1)

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"There is a dispute among the Circuit Courts of Appeals whether the failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a jurisdictional requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. ('IDEA') or whether exhaustion is merely a condition precedent for filing an IDEA lawsuit." C.S. ex rel. Scott v. Missouri State Bd. of Educ., 656 F. Supp. 2d 1007, 1010 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 8, 2009). The Eighth Circuit has not addressed this issue squarely. Id. at 1011. However, in M.P. ex. rel. K. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 721, 439 F.3d 865, 867 (8th Cir. 2006), the Eighth Circuit indicated that it considers IDEA exhaustion as a matter of subject matter jurisdiction, that is, the "very power to hear the case." Id. (citing M.P. ex. rel. K. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 721, 439 F.3d 865, 867 (8th Cir. 2006); Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 730 (8th Cir. 1990)). District courts in the Eighth Circuit have followed suit and evaluated exhaustion arguments as subject matter jurisdiction questions. Id. (citing K.F. ex. rel. Felix v. Francis Howell R-III Sch. Dist., No. 4:07-CV-1691-ERW, 2008 WL 723751, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 17, 2008); A.C. ex. rel. M.C. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 152, No. 05-3099-DWF/RLE, 2006 WL 3227768, at *2 (D. Minn. Nov. 7, 2006)). Accordingly, the Court will address defendants' exhaustion arguments under Rule 12(b)(1).

Under Rule 12(b)(1), the movant must successfully challenge the complaint "on its face or on the factual truthfulness of its averments." Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993) (citing Osborn, 918 F.2d at 729 n.6). The district court must therefore distinguish between facial and factual attacks. See B.P. Chem. Ltd. v. Jiangsu Sopo Corp., 285 F.3d 677, 680 (8th Cir. 2002).

When conducting an inquiry based on a facial challenge, a district court will evaluate "whether the asserted jurisdiction basis is patently meritless by looking to

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the face of the complaint . . . and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Biscanin v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 407 F.3d 905, 907 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted). The non-moving party will benefit from all the protections of 12(b)(6). Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990). Still, the motion will succeed "if the plaintiff fails to allege an element necessary for subject matter jurisdiction." Titus, 4 F.3d at 593.

A factual attack on jurisdiction involves an evaluation that extends outside the pleadings. Osborn, 918 F.2d at 730. To be sure, the defendant can submit evidence - including affidavits and depositions - and should request an evidentiary hearing. Titus, 4 F.3d at 593. A factual challenge places the burden of proving jurisdiction upon the non-moving party. Osborn, 918 F.2d at 730 (citing Mortenson v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). In this case, the defendants make a facial attack on subject matter jurisdiction: they assert that even if the complaint's allegations are presumed true, jurisdiction does not lie. See, D.L. v. Waukee Cmty. Sch. Dist., 578 F. Supp. 2d 1178, 1182 (8th Cir. 2008).

Rule 12(b)(6)

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The factual allegations of a complaint are assumed true and construed in favor of the plaintiff, "even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002)); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989) ("Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations."); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)

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(stating that a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears "that a recovery is very remote and unlikely"). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of his claim. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236. A viable complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see id. at 563 (stating that the "no set of facts" language in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), "has earned its retirement"); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-84 (2009) (holding that the pleading standard set forth in Twombly applies to all civil actions). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

Ordinarily, if the parties present, and the court considers, matters outside of the pleadings, the motion must be treated as a motion for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). However, the court may consider materials that are necessarily embraced by the complaint, as well as any exhibits attached to the complaint, without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. Mattes v. ABC Plastics, Inc., 323 F.3d 695, 697 n.4 (8th Cir. 2003). In addition, the court may properly consider public records, including court records, on a motion to dismiss. Levy v. Ohl, 477 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 2007).

Defendants refer to a voluntary dismissal and release executed by the plaintiff in connection with the administrative proceedings. These matters are necessarily embraced by the complaint, which references the administrative proceedings. See Ashanti v. City of Golden Valley, 666 F.3d 1148, 1151 (8th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, the defendants' motion for dismissal based on the administrative settlement is properly analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6). See...

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