United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
September 27, 2004.
KERRY M. and KRISTINE M.; and KATHY M., Individually and as Next Friend of KERRY M. and KRISTINE M., Plaintiffs,
MANHATTAN SCHOOL DIST. #114; BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MANHATTAN SCHOOL DIST #114; GLENN HOFFMAN, in his Official Capacity as Superintendent; LINCOLN-WAY AREA SPECIAL EDUCATION; DR. REBECCA FRIES, in her Official Capacity as Special Education Director; and ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Kerry M., Kristine M., and Kathy M. have brought a
three-count Amended Complaint against defendants, Manhattan
School District #114 ("Manhattan"), Board of Education of
Manhattan School District #114 ("Board"), Glenn Hoffman
("Hoffman") in his official capacity, Lincoln-Way Area Special
Education ("Lincoln-Way"), Dr. Rebecca Fries ("Dr. Fries") in her
official capacity, and the Illinois State Board of Education
("ISBE"). Count I is an appeal of an administrative ruling in
favor of Manhattan regarding a free and appropriate public
education in the least restrictive environment as required by the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"),
20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Count II alleges the ruling violates the Americans
with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and
Count III alleges the ruling violates the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.
Before the Court is Lincoln-Way and Dr. Fries' motion to
dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants'
motion contends that: (1) the claims against both Lincoln-Way and
Dr. Fries should be dismissed because plaintiffs have failed to
exhaust their administrative remedies against these two
defendants; and (2) the claims against Dr. Fries in her "official
capacity" should be dismissed because a suit against an
individual in her official capacity is equivalent to a suit
against the municipal entity, making these claims redundant. For
the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is
Plaintiffs Kerry M. and Kristine M. ("Kerry" and "Kristine" or
"the twins") are thirteen-year-old twin girls who were diagnosed
with Rett Syndrome at the age of two. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Rett
Syndrome is a "genetic neurological and developmental disorder"
which results in "severe physical disabilities and unknown
cognitive ability." (Id.) Kerry and Kristine are non-verbal and
non-ambulatory; they use voice output devices for communication
and use wheelchairs at school and a "Convaid Cruiser" at all
other times for transportation. (Id.) The twins experience
"significant delays in fine and gross motor skills" and
"cognitive delays" due to Rett Syndrome. (Id. ¶ 30.) Because of
their physical and communication difficulties, the twins'
cognitive abilities cannot be accurately measured on standardized
tests. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 30.) The twins also experience health
problems, "including seizures, apnea, and nosebleeds." (Id. ¶
At all relevant times, Kerry and Kristine's mother, Kathy M.,
has been a legal resident and taxpayer in the Manhattan Public
School District #114 ("Manhattan"). (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs allege that pursuant to state and federal law, including the IDEA
and the Rehabilitation Act, Manhattan and Board are responsible
for ensuring that students with disabilities receive a free and
appropriate public education in the least restrictive
environment. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiffs further allege that
Lincoln-Way is a "cooperative or joint agreement" charged with
the same obligations and duties as a school district under state
law and thus is also responsible for satisfying the IDEA's
mandate of a free and appropriate public education in the least
restrictive environment. (Id. ¶ 12.)
In addition, Plaintiffs allege that as the Director of Special
Education for Lincoln-Way, Dr. Fries is responsible for "ensuring
that all students who are eligible for services under either the
IDEA or Section 504" receive a free and appropriate public
education in the least restrictive environment. (Id. ¶ 13.)
Plaintiffs also allege that Dr. Fries is responsible for managing
"all funds given to Lincoln-Way by Manhattan" and "any funds
received from federal and state agencies." (Id. ¶ 73.)
In 1993, Lincoln-Way and Manhattan, "through their respective
agents[,] [defendants] Dr. Fries and Mr. Hoffman," placed the
twins at United Cerebral Palsy School ("UCP") in Joliet,
Illinois. (Id. ¶ 34.) However, "[f]rom the beginning of their
education, [their parent] has sought the placement of [the twins]
in an educational environment where they could interact with
age-equivalent non-disabled peers." (Id. ¶ 32.) UCP "does not
have in its enrollment any children who do not have
disabilities." (Id. ¶ 35.) Despite repeated requests by their
parent for a change of placement, the twins' primary educational
placement continues at UCP, with one to two hours a week spent in
regular public school for non-academic activities. (Id. ¶¶ 34,
Defendant Manhattan sent the twins' parent a letter, dated July
11, 2002, stating that Kerry and Kristine would not be
"mainstreamed" during the 2002-03 school year and that "the curriculum does not lend itself to being an appropriate placement
for the girls." (Id. ¶ 39.) At a July 30, 2002 meeting, staff
from Manhattan, Lincoln-Way, and UCP determined that the twins'
educational placement would continue at UCP and "reaffirmed their
decision that mainstreaming would no longer occur in any form for
either girl." (Id. ¶ 40.) In response, on August 9, 2002,
Plaintiffs sent Manhattan two requests for due process hearings
(one for each girl) and a third request that the two hearings be
consolidated into one. (Id. ¶ 41.) ISBE assigned a mediator to
the two cases, and as a result of the September 24, 2002
mediation process, Defendants agreed that the twins could attend
Manhattan Junior High School for choir twice a week. (Id. at ¶¶
On November 18, 2002, the two administrative due process
hearings were consolidated into one hearing under the
jurisdiction of Impartial Hearing Officer ("IHO") Charles
Aschenbrenner. (Id. ¶ 47.) The due process hearing was
conducted over fourteen days, on May 13-16, May 19-20, June
26-27, June 30-July 3, and July 17-18, 2003. (Id. at ¶ 52.)
This hearing revolved around the issue of "[w]hether the district
violated the [IDEA] by failing to provide [free and appropriate
public education] in the [least restrictive environment] by
placing `the twins' in a segregated facility with no opportunity
to interact with non-disabled peers and a lack of appropriate
programming." (Am. Compl., Ex. A, Opinion of Ruling of Ill. State
Bd. of Educ. Impartial Due Process Hearing at 3.)
In preparation for the hearing, Plaintiffs obtained
evaluations, observations, and assessments of the twins and their
educational environment from numerous "independent educational
experts." (Id. ¶ 48.) During the hearing, Plaintiffs called as
witnesses all of the independent educational experts, a licensed
clinical professional counselor who has extensive experience with
Rett Syndrome, and the twins' neurologist and pediatrician.
(Id. ¶¶ 55-57.) Many personnel were also called as witnesses, including "nurses,
psychologists, and social workers from [UCP], Manhattan, and
Lincoln-Way," and "various administrative personnel from
Lincoln-Way including Dr. Fries." (Id. ¶¶ 58-59.)
On September 5, 2003, following an impartial due process
hearing titled In the Matter of Kerry M[.] [and] Kristine M[.]
and Manhattan Elementary School District No. 114, IHO
Aschenbrenner rendered a Final Decision and Order stating: "1)
The parent is not granted any relief or issued any finding in
this case. 2) The school district is found to be in compliance in
regard to all issues of this case." (Am. Compl., Ex. A, Final
Decision and Order of Ill. State Bd. of Educ. Impartial Due
Process Hearing ("Final Decision and Order").) Under the heading
"Finality of Decision," the order reads: "The decision shall be
binding upon the parties unless a civil action is commenced."
Plaintiffs subsequently filed this suit in federal district
court on January 5, 2004, naming as defendants Manhattan School
District, Manhattan's Board of Education, Manhattan's
Superintendent Hoffman in his official capacity, Lincoln-Way, and
Lincoln-Way's Special Education Director Dr. Fries in her
official capacity. Plaintiffs contend that the administrative
ruling is contrary to the meaning and intent of the IDEA and
violates the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Further, Plaintiffs request that this Court review the
administrative record and reverse the Opinion of Ruling of
Illinois State Board of Education's Impartial Due Process
The IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., was enacted by Congress
"to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to
them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their
unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent
living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). Under the IDEA, state
educational agencies receiving federal funds must provide a free
appropriate public education ("FAPE") to children with
disabilities. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). States must attempt to
place the disabled child in the least restrictive environment
("LRE"), meaning that the child must be educated with his
non-disabled peers to the "maximum extent appropriate."
20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A). IDEA requires school officials, teachers, and
the disabled student's parents to meet to discuss and develop an
individualized education plan ("IEP") for the child.
20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). The IEP details the child's educational level,
performance, and goals, and functions as the "governing document
for all educational decisions concerning the child." Bd. of
Educ. of Comm. High Sch. Dist. No. 218 v. Ill. State Bd. of
Educ., 103 F.3d 545, 546 (7th Cir. 1996).
Further, the IDEA requires state and local education agencies
receiving IDEA funds to establish procedures to ensure that
disabled children and their parents are informed of decisions
affecting the child's education and given an opportunity to
contest those decisions. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a); see Corey H. v.
Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., 995 F. Supp. 900, 907 (N.D. Ill.
1998). When a parent has filed a written notice of his
IDEA-related complaint, the state or local educational agency
must conduct an impartial due process hearing.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1). Any party aggrieved by the decision and findings of
the due process hearing may appeal. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(g). When the
due process hearing is conducted by the local educational agency,
the aggrieved party must appeal to the state educational agency.
Id. However, if the due process hearing was conducted by the
state educational agency, the aggrieved party may appeal by
bringing a civil action. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). Before the
plaintiff may file a civil action based on IDEA violations in
federal district court, he is required to exhaust his
administrative remedies. Family & Children's Ctr., Inc. v. Sch. City of
Mishawaka, 13 F.3d 1052, 1056 (7th Cir. 1994). Further, a
plaintiff who files a civil action under another statute
protecting children with disabilities must exhaust his
administrative remedies to the same extent required by the IDEA
if the relief he seeks is also available under IDEA.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(l); see Charlie F. v. Bd. of Educ. of Skokie Sch. Dist.
68, 98 F.3d 989 (7th Cir. 1996).
A motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust the administrative
remedies provided by the IDEA is properly addressed by a Rule
12(b)(6) motion. Deveaux v. Vallas, No. 01 C 1422, 2001 WL
699891, at *2 n. 1 (N.D. Ill. June 21, 2001); see Charlie F.,
98 F.3d at 991 (holding that failure to exhaust administrative
remedies does not deprive a court of jurisdiction because such
argument normally is waivable). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not
address the merits of the plaintiff's case; instead, it tests the
sufficiency of the complaint. Autry v. Northwest Premium
Servs., 144 F.3d 1037, 1039 (7th Cir. 1998). A complaint should
only be dismissed if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff
can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46
(1957). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court assumes all
well-pleaded facts in the complaint to be true and draws all
reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Ogden Martin
Sys., Inc. v. Whiting Corp., 179 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 1999).
However, the court is not required to accept as true conclusions
of law or unsupported conclusions of fact alleged in the
complaint. McLeod v. Arrow Marine Transp., Inc., 258 F.3d 608,
614 (7th Cir. 2001).
The Decision and Order of the IHO, titled In the Matter of
Kerry M[.] [and] Kristine M[.] and Manhattan Elementary School
District, is attached to Plaintiffs' complaint as Exhibit A.
(Am. Compl., Ex. A, Decision and Order.) Pursuant to Rule 10(c),
exhibits attached to the complaint are considered as part of the
complaint for all purposes. Fed.R. Civ. P. 10(c). Thus, the Court will review and consider the Decision and Order in
ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss.
I. Claims Against Defendant Dr. Fries in Her Official Capacity
Plaintiffs have sued both Lincoln-Way and Dr. Fries in her
official capacity as Lincoln-Way's Special Education Director.
Defendants' motion to dismiss contends that "a suit against an
individual in his official capacity is equivalent to a suit
against the municipal entity." (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at
8.) Plaintiffs respond that their claims against Dr. Fries in her
official capacity "may be construed as claims against
Lincoln-Way, but as such [do] not require dismissal." (Pls.'
Resp. Mot. Dismiss at 8.) Defendants argue that the claims
against Dr. Fries in her official capacity are "duplicative" and
should be dismissed as redundant because her employer Lincoln-Way
is also being sued. (Defs.' Reply Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 3.)
For the following reasons, the Court agrees.
In Kentucky v. Graham, the Supreme Court held that
official-capacity suits "`generally represent only another way of
pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an
agent.'" 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (quoting Monell v. New York
City Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n. 55 (1978)).
The Court further noted that an official capacity suit "is not a
suit against the official personally, for the real party in
interest is the entity." Id. Plaintiffs contend that the
holding in Graham does not require dismissal of their claims
against Dr. Fries. Graham did not address whether claims
against an individual in his official capacity should be
dismissed as redundant when the municipal entity is also sued but
concerned whether a plaintiff could recover damages from a
governmental entity when he sued the entity's employees in only
their personal capacities. Id. at 161, 166. Thus, Plaintiffs
are correct that Graham does not require dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Dr. Fries.
However, building on Graham's holding that a suit against an
individual in his official capacity is equivalent to a suit
against the municipal entity, courts have dismissed these types
of claims as redundant. See Kiser v. Naperville Cmty. Unit,
227 F.Supp. 2d 954, 960 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (dismissing claims against
defendants sued in their official capacity; holding that when the
entity itself is sued, naming individual defendants in their
official capacities "serves no legitimate purpose"); Admiral
Theatre v. City of Chi., 832 F.Supp. 1195, 1200 (N.D. Ill. 1993)
(holding that "[w]here the unit of local government is sued as
well, the suit against the officials is redundant and should
therefore be dismissed"); see also Jungels v. Pierce,
825 F.2d 1127, 1129 (7th Cir. 1987) (citing Graham and stating that
where plaintiff also sued the city, "nothing was added by suing
the mayor in his official capacity").
Following these cases, the Court agrees that plaintiff's claims
against Dr. Fries in her official capacity are redundant and
unnecessary. Any IDEA obligations that Dr. Fries might hold in
her official capacity as Special Education Director are
derivative of her employer Lincoln-Way's IDEA obligations as a
special education cooperative. Therefore, any claims against Dr.
Fries in her official capacity are dismissed and hereinafter will
be analyzed as claims against Lincoln-Way.
II. Claims Against Defendant Lincoln-Way Are Dismissed for
Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies
Before filing a civil suit alleging IDEA violations, plaintiffs
are required to exhaust the administrative remedies available
under that statute. Family & Children's Ctr., 13 F.3d at 1056.
Further, IDEA provides that before filing a civil action under
the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act seeking relief which is also available under
the IDEA, plaintiffs must exhaust IDEA's procedures "to the same
extent as would be required had the action been brought under"
IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l). Because plaintiffs do not argue that
they seek relief unavailable under IDEA, all three counts of the
complaint will be analyzed together as seeking IDEA relief.
The purposes of requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies
include: "(1) permitting an agency to exercise its discretion and
expertise; (2) developing technical issues and a factual record
prior to judicial review; (3) preventing circumvention of agency
procedures; and (4) avoiding unnecessary judicial review by
allowing agencies to correct errors." Kubistal v. Hirsch, No.
98 C 3838, 1999 WL 90625, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 9, 1999) (citing
Bills v. Homer Consol. Sch. Dist. No. 33-C, 959 F.Supp. 507
(N.D. Ill. 1997)). Nevertheless, courts have recognized
exceptions to the exhaustion doctrine, and where a prospective
plaintiff can show that pursuit of administrative remedies would
be futile or inadequate, courts will not require exhaustion.
Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 326-27 (1988). However, Plaintiffs
in this case do not argue that pursuit of administrative remedies
against Dr. Fries or Lincoln-Way would be futile or inadequate,
and thus, the Court will not address the exceptions to the
general rule of exhaustion.
Defendant Lincoln-Way requests that all three counts of
Plaintiffs' complaint be dismissed for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies. Defendant contends that because
Lincoln-Way was not a party to the underlying administrative due
process hearing, Plaintiffs have not yet exhausted administrative
remedies with respect to Lincoln-Way. For the following reasons,
the Court agrees.
Courts in the Seventh Circuit have not yet addressed whether a
plaintiff seeking judicial review of an IDEA administrative
hearing must exhaust administrative remedies against all
defendants named in the civil suit. However, courts outside the
Seventh Circuit have considered the issue and have held that a plaintiff is required to exhaust
IDEA's administrative remedies as to all defendants against whom
he seeks relief available under IDEA. Eddins v. Excelsior ISD,
No. 9:96-CV-108, 1997 WL 470353, at *10 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 1997),
aff'd, 33 Fed. Appx. 703 (5th Cir. 2002). Courts have also held
that the proper defendant in an IDEA appeal is the party named at
the administrative hearings. Van Duyn v. Baker Sch. Dist. 5J
Sch. Bd., No. CIV. 02-1060-ST, 2003 WL 23538010, at *3 (D. Or.
Jan. 30, 2003); see McGraw v. Bd. of Educ. of Montgomery
County, 952 F.Supp. 248, 254-55 (D. Md. 1997).
Defendants rely on Eddins v. Excelsior ISD, a case in which a
federal district court in Texas dismissed the plaintiffs' IDEA
claims against a special education cooperative and a local school
district for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. 1997 WL
470353, at *10. The Eddins court held that the plaintiffs had
not exhausted administrative remedies against these two
defendants because they were not parties to the administrative
hearings or settlements. Id. The court further noted that
requiring the plaintiffs to first pursue an administrative
hearing "would develop a record as to what responsibilities, if
any, each entity had to [the plaintiffs] under federal statutes
and implementing state laws. The administrative process would
have sorted out those duties, if any, and developed a record as
to the roles of each entity." Id.
Additionally, in Van Duyn v. Baker School District 5J School
Board, a federal district court in Oregon dismissed an IDEA
claim against a school board named as the sole defendant. 2003 WL
23538010, at *3. The court noted that under Oregon law, the
district bears the primary IDEA responsibility and reasoned that
dismissal of the claim against the board was proper because "the
district, not the board, was the party to the underlying
administrative proceedings." Id. at *3-4. The Van Duyn
plaintiff argued that he merely completed the due process hearing
request form and did not himself name the district as the
defendant in the administrative proceedings, but the court responded:
Regardless of whether plaintiff or the hearings
officer chose to name the District as the real party
in interest, the District is the party named in the
Final Order. Because this proceeding is in the nature
of an appeal from that Final Order,
29 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A), plaintiff cannot change the defendant
at this point.
Id. at *4. The court thus dismissed the complaint as to the
The issue presented at the due process hearing was "[w]hether
the district violated the [IDEA] . . . by placing `the twins'
in a segregated facility. . . ." (Am. Compl., Ex. A, Decision and
Order at 3 (emphasis added)). The text of the IHO's Decision and
Order continually focuses on the views, positions and arguments
of "the school district" versus those of "the parent." For
example: "The parent maintains that the school district has
failed to mainstream Kerry M. and Kristine M. to the maximum
extent appropriately [sic] and therefore has failed to provide
`the twins' with FAPE in the [LRE]." (Id. at 27.) Nowhere does
the Decision and Order address complaints or concerns specific to
Lincoln-Way's performance of IDEA obligations. Moreover,
Plaintiffs do not allege in their Amended Complaint that
Lincoln-Way was a defendant in the proceedings below or that the
IHO utterly failed to adjudicate any claims against Lincoln-Way.
Plaintiffs merely allege that they amended the issues during the
due process hearings. (Am. Compl. ¶ 33.) Significantly,
Plaintiffs do not allege that they amended the parties during
the due process hearings.
As in Van Duyn, Lincoln-Way was not named as a defendant in
the due process hearing or in the IHO's final order. The order
names only the twins and Manhattan as parties; the order also
states: "Based on the preponderance of the evidence, it is the
finding of this hearing officer that [the twins] were provided a
free and appropriate education in the least restrictive
environment [for the relevant school years] by the Manhattan
Elementary School District #144." (Id. at 1, 32.) Although representatives from Lincoln-Way,
including Dr. Fries, attended, testified, and were represented by
counsel at the due process hearing (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 58-59; Pls.'
Resp. Mot. Dismiss at 6-7), this does not mean that they were
parties to the hearing.
Rather, in an IDEA due process hearing, the IHO hears witness
testimony from many individuals and experts as to the disabled
child's needs, educational difficulties, proposed solutions to
those difficulties, and the appropriate educational placement for
the child. See, e.g., Keith H. v. Janesville Sch. Dist.,
305 F.Supp. 2d 986, 990-91, 995, 997-98 (W.D. Wis. 2003) (discussing
testimony from disabled child's teachers regarding his academic
progress and testimony from various experts as to his attitude,
emotional state, and educational needs). Because Lincoln-Way was
not a party to the administrative proceedings, it cannot now, on
an appeal of that order, be named as a defendant. See Van Duyn,
2003 WL 23538010, at *4. Cf. Reid v. Bd. of Educ.,
Lincolnshire-Prairie View Sch. Dist. 103, 765 F.Supp. 965, 969
(N.D. Ill. 1991) (holding that because the Illinois State Board
of Education was not a party to administrative proceedings under
the Education of the Handicapped Act (IDEA's precursor), it could
not subsequently be held liable for attorneys' fees incurred in
To hold that testifying individuals and experts not named as
defendants in the final decision order are parties to the due
process hearing would be to authorize suit against a multitude of
individuals who have not had the opportunity to defend themselves
at the administrative level. Plaintiffs alleging IDEA violations
or seeking relief available under the IDEA must first pursue
administrative remedies. Here, although Plaintiffs allege IDEA
violations by Lincoln-Way, Lincoln-Way has not yet had the
opportunity to present arguments and defenses on its own behalf
to an administrative hearing officer.
Therefore, the Court holds that plaintiffs seeking IDEA relief
in federal district court must first exhaust administrative remedies as to all parties
against whom they wish to bring a civil suit. Requiring
exhaustion of administrative remedies as to all prospective
defendants serves dual purposes. First, it ensures that all
parties are provided an opportunity to defend themselves at the
initial, administrative level before being haled into federal
court; and second, it serves to develop a complete administrative
record as the duties and responsibilities of each entity. The
Amended Complaint is thus dismissed without prejudice as to
Lincoln-Way for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants Lincoln-Way and Dr.
Fries' motion to dismiss [doc. no. 13-1]. All claims against Dr.
Fries are dismissed with prejudice, and all claims against
Lincoln-Way are dismissed without prejudice. Defendants Manhattan
School District #114, Board of Education of Manhattan School
District #114, Glenn Hoffman, in his Official Capacity as
Superintendent, and the Illinois State Board of Education have
not moved to dismiss and thus remain.
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