Thelma v. School Dist. of Philadelphia

Decision Date10 June 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07-1778.,07-1778.
Citation559 F.Supp.2d 600
PartiesJAMES S., a minor, by THELMA S. his Mother and Natural Guardian, Plaintiffs, v. SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Harry J. Gaffney, Regional Superintendent for the Southwest Region of the School District of Philadelphia, in his individual capacity; Franklin Gantz, Principal for Tilden Middle School, in his individual capacity; Michael Smith, Principal for the Pepper Middle School, in his individual capacity; and Richard Jenkins, Assistant Principal for the Pepper Middle School, in his individual capacity, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Lorrie McKinley, McKinley & Ryan LLC, West Chester, PA, for Plaintiffs.

Miles H. Shore, School District of Phila Office of General Counsel, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, District Judge.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
                MEMORANDUM ......................................................................... 604
                  I. INTRODUCTION .................................................................. 605
                 II. FACTS ......................................................................... 606
                     A. Plaintiffs' Allegations .................................................... 606
                     B. Administrative Review ...................................................... 609
                III. LEGAL STANDARD ................................................................ 611
                     A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) ................................... 611
                     B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ................................... 611
                     C. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 ......................................... 612
                IV. DISCUSSION ..................................................................... 612
                    A. Overview of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ................. 612
                    B. Administrative Exhaustion ................................................... 613
                       1. Count I .................................................................. 613
                       2. Count VII ................................................................ 615
                       3. Counts II and III ........................................................ 617
                          a. Defendant District's Motion to Dismiss ................................ 617
                          b. Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Count II ................ 619
                    C. Count IV .................................................................... 620
                       1. Section 504 Claim ........................................................ 620
                       2. ADA Claim ................................................................ 621
                    D. Count V ..................................................................... 622
                    E. Count VI .................................................................... 623
                       1. Defendant Franklin Gantz ................................................. 624
                          a. Denial of Equal Protection Based on Race .............................. 624
                          b. Denial of Equal Protection Based on Disability ........................ 625
                       2. Defendants Michael Smith and Richard Jenkins ............................. 626
                          a. Denial of Equal Protection Based on Race .............................. 627
                          b. Denial of Equal Protection Based on Disability......................... 627
                       3. Defendant Harry J. Gaffney ............................................... 628
                    F. Count VIII .................................................................. 628
                       1. Preveiling Party ......................................................... 629
                       2. Statutory Prohibition on Awarding Fees in 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D) ...... 629
                    G. Paragraph 203 of the Amended Complaint ...................................... 631
                    H. Leave to File Second Amended Complaint ...................................... 632
                  V. CONCLUSION .................................................................... 632
                ORDER .............................................................................. 633
                
I. INTRODUCTION

On May 2, 2007, James S., by his mother and natural guardian, Thelma S.1 (collectively referred to as "plaintiffs"), filed a Complaint naming as defendants the School District of Philadelphia ("District"), and four employees of the District in their individual capacities, Harry J. Gaffney, Regional Superintendent for the Southwest Region of the District, Franklin Gantz, Principal for Tilden Middle School, Michael Smith, Principal for Pepper Middle School, and Richard Jenkins, Assistant Principal for Pepper Middle School. On June 14, 2007, plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint against the same five defendants asserting claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et sex. (Counts I, III, VII and VIII), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq. (Counts II, III and IV), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Counts II and IV), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VI"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. (Count V), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VI). Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief, compensatory education, compensatory damages and punitive damages for defendants' alleged failure to provide James with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") and discrimination against James on the basis of his race and disabilities.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Philadelphia School District's Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VII and VIII of the Amended Complaint, Defendant Gaffney's Motion to Dismiss Count VI, and Defendants Gantz, Smith and Jenkins' Motion to Dismiss Count VI. Included in Plaintiffs' Response to Defendant Philadelphia School District's Motion to Dismiss is Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts I, II, and VIII of the Amended Complaint.

The Court's rulings on the pending motions are as follows:

The Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant Philadelphia School District's Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VII and VIII of the Amended Complaint. The Court grants defendant District's Motion to Dismiss Count I and dismisses Count I of the Amended Complaint without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court denies without prejudice defendant District's Motion to Dismiss Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint to the extent that Counts II and III seek relief that is also available in IDEA administrative proceedings and denies the motion to dismiss those counts in all other respects. The Court denies without prejudice defendant District's Motion to Dismiss Count VII of the Amended Complaint and denies defendant District's Motion to Dismiss Counts IV, V and VIII of the Amended Complaint. Lastly, the Court strikes Paragraph 203 of the Amended Complaint by agreement of the parties.

The Court denies Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Counts I, II, and VIII of the Amended Complaint.

The Court grants Defendant Gaffney's Motion to Dismiss Count VI without prejudice. The Court grants in part, and denies in part, Defendants Gantz, Smith and Jenkins' Motion to Dismiss Count VI. The Court grants that motion without prejudice to the extent plaintiffs assert claims for violations of the Equal Protection Clause based on race pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and denies the motion in all other respects. The Court grants plaintiffs leave to file and serve a second amended complaint limited to claims asserted in Count VI of the Amended Complaint which were dismissed without prejudice.

II. FACTS

The following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint or are matters of public record, and are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiffs.2

A. Plaintiffs' Allegations

James S. came to the District as a Kindergarten student during the 1995-96 school year, after having previously attended an early intervention program for children with disabilities. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29.) Plaintiffs allege that the District was aware from the time of James' enrollment that he had a history of developmental delays and significant difficulty in school during his first years as a student. (Id. ¶ 30.) In first grade, the District identified James as a student qualified for special services in the area of speech and language. (Id. ¶ 32.) Despite receiving these services, James did not progress academically and he was required to repeat first grade during the 1997-98 school year. (Id. ¶ 35-36.) During the 1997-98 school year, James had trouble focusing or sitting still in school and he experienced difficulties in the classroom. (Id. ¶ 37.) The District evaluated James at that time, but did not identify a need for support beyond the speech and language therapies he was receiving. (Id.)

In January of 1998, the Philadelphia Department of Health and Human Services ("DHS"), which then had legal custody over James,3 ordered a private evaluation of James by Dr. Stanley Kurlansik. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 38.) Dr. Kurlansik determined that James had a "significant perceptual motor deficit and a diffuse neurological deficit." (Id. ¶ 38.) He recommended that the District provide James with special education, comprehensive speech and language, and neurological evaluations. (Id. ¶ 39.) The District promoted James to second grade without providing supplemental supports or conducting a reevaluation. (Id. ¶ 40.)

James demonstrated significant academic and behavioral difficulties during second, third and fourth grades. (Id. ¶¶ 41-19.) During those years, Thelma repeatedly discussed James' problems with school personnel and expressed concern with his placement and progress. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43, 46, 50.) District personnel told Thelma that James would be fine if he tried harder and paid attention, and if he "buckled down." (Id. ¶¶ 42, 50.) James was eventually promoted to fifth grade with no specialized...

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