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KERRY v. MANHATTAN SCHOOL DIST.

September 27, 2004.

KERRY M. and KRISTINE M.; and KATHY M., Individually and as Next Friend of KERRY M. and KRISTINE M., Plaintiffs,
v.
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 granted.

  FACTS

  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. ¶ 31.)

  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, 36-38.)

  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 ¶¶ 44-45.)

  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." (Id.)

  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 ...


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