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Smith v. Meeks

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 5, 2016

VANESSA SMITH and G.C., a minor by and through next friend and parent, VANESSA SMITH, Plaintiffs,


          HON. JORGE L. ALONSO United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Vanessa Smith brings this action against numerous employees of the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) and board members and employees of the Crete-Monee Community School District (No. 201-U), claiming that defendants violated her rights and the rights of her son, G.C., by failing to provide him with a free appropriate public education and make accommodations for his disability, as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Rehab Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Illinois state law. The ISBE defendants and the school district defendants have filed separate motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the defendants' motions are granted.


         Plaintiff Vanessa Smith is the birth mother of G.C. G.C. resides with his father and attends Crete-Monee Middle School, part of the Crete-Monee Community School District, in University Park, Illinois, as an eighth grader. G.C.'s father has had custody of G.C. since 2009, when the Circuit Court of Cook County awarded him temporary custody of G.C. until further order of the court. Smith, who lives in Chicago, has exercised visitation rights for years, perhaps as far back as 2009, although it is unclear precisely when, how and by what authority she began to exercise them. (Compare Diaz-Pollock Order, ECF No. 1, at 78-79 (recognizing that the 2009 state-court custody orders did not explicitly award plaintiff visitation rights, and that no order altered the custody arrangement until 2013), with January 3, 2013, Order, ECF No. 43, at 113 (granting plaintiff's motion to “change days of visitation” from Tuesday through Thursday to Friday through Monday)). Pursuant to a state-court order issued on January 3, 2013 (ECF No. 43, at 113), G.C. spent weekends with plaintiff, from 2:30 pm on Friday till 9:00 a.m. on Monday, and lived with his father during the week. In November 2015, the court ordered G.C. to “remain in the care of” his father and that “visitation between [plaintiff] and [G.C.] shall be reserved until further Order of Court, ” pending a neuropsychological exam of G.C. (Id. at 116-17.)

         G.C. has a history of behavioral issues at school, and plaintiff alleges that G.C. has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 31.)[1] The school district staff have a plan for accommodating this disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, but plaintiff came to believe that the 504 plan was never effectively implemented and that, in any case, it was inadequate because G.C. needs the broader relief of an individualized educational program (“IEP”) under the IDEA. The District believed that G.C. would not benefit from additional special education services under an IEP, and it declined to create one for G.C.

         On June 17, 2015, purporting to act on behalf of herself and G.C., plaintiff filed an administrative due process complaint and sought a due process hearing before an ISBE impartial hearing officer for review of the District's decision not to create an IEP for G.C. On August 24, 2015, the hearing officer, Beatriz Diaz-Pollock, issued an order in which she explained that plaintiff did not have the right to raise any substantive complaints concerning G.C.'s IEP or lack thereof because she was not G.C.'s custodial parent. Promptly thereafter, on September 1, 2015, plaintiff filed a new due process complaint, this time seeking relief for the District's failure to keep plaintiff informed of all developments related to G.C.'s education and permit her to participate in decisions concerning it.[2]

         ISBE impartial hearing officer Kathleen Furhmann presided over a closed hearing held over four days between March 7 and April 4, 2016. On April 18, 2016, she rendered a written opinion, in which she concluded that the District had erred in sending certain information to plaintiff's old mailing address despite the fact that plaintiff had contacted the District to provide her new mailing address, but the error did not cause the loss of any educational opportunity to G.C., in part because his interests were always adequately represented by his father, nor did it significantly impede plaintiff's opportunity to participate in the educational decision-making process. (ISBE Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A, ECF No. 83, at 16-59.) Further, Fuhrmann found that plaintiff had had substantial access to G.C.'s educational records and she was unable to identify records that were withheld from her, so Furhmann concluded that the District had not impeded plaintiff's opportunity to participate in decisions concerning G.C.'s education by restricting access to records. Nevertheless, she ordered the District to send to plaintiff at her current address all notices concerning developments in G.C.'s education, to refrain from restricting plaintiff's access to G.C.'s records, and to submit proof of compliance to the ISBE. Unsatisfied with this resolution of her complaint, plaintiff filed this lawsuit.


         “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted.” Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (ellipsis omitted).

         Under federal notice-pleading standards, a plaintiff's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. Stated differently, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts must] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true, but [they] ‘need[ ] not accept as true legal conclusions, or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.'” Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009)).

         Plaintiff's complaint consists of eight counts: Count I, violation of the IDEA; Count II, violation of section 504 of the Rehab Act; Count III, violation of the ADA; Count IV, violation of the Illinois School Code; Count V, violation of Illinois School Records Act; Count VI, violation of the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disability Confidentiality Act; Count VII, violation of statutory and constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Count VIII, retaliation in violation of section 504 and the IDEA.

         There are two motions to dismiss pending before the Court, one filed by the ISBE defendants and one by the District defendants. The District defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing to bring claims on behalf of G.C. as the noncustodial parent; plaintiff's federal claims must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and failure to state a claim; and the Court should decline to exercise jurisdiction over any remaining state-law claims in the absence of a valid federal claim. The ISBE defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing; her official capacity claims, other than those brought under the IDEA, violate the Eleventh Amendment; her individual claim against Fuhrmann is barred by the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity; she fails to state a claim under the IDEA and, to the extent any such claim arises out of the actions of Diaz-Pollock, the claim is time-barred and unexhausted because Diaz-Pollock did not reach the merits in her decision; she fails to state a § 1983 claim against the ISBE defendants because she does not establish their personal involvement or allege disparate treatment or the violation of any fundamental right; and she fails to state a claim for retaliation.


         Both groups of defendants begin with the issue of standing. The defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing to assert claims on behalf of G.C. because she is not an attorney. Further, they argue that she cannot make or challenge substantive decisions concerning G.C.'s education, such as the District's decision not to create an IEP for ...

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