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Stanek v. Saint Charles Community Unit School District # 303

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

February 28, 2017

MATTHEW STANEK, SANDRA STANEK, and BOGDAN STANEK, Plaintiffs,
v.
SAINT CHARLES COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT #303, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DARRAH, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiffs, Matthew Stanek, Sandra Stanek, and Bogdan Stanek, filed a Third Amended Complaint against Defendants, Saint Charles Community Unit School District #303 (“District”), the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”), State Superintendent Tony Smith (“Superintendent Smith”), and several school administrators, directors and teachers, for alleged violations of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the First Amendment; the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq; and the Illinois School Student Records Act, 105 ILCS 10/1 et seq. Defendants Smith and ISBE (collectively, “ISBE Defendants”) filed a Motion to Dismiss [113] all counts against them pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Defendants Rory Pine and Julie Stetson filed a Motion to Vacate [136]. For the reasons set forth below, ISBE Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [113] is granted in part and denied in part; and Defendants' Motion to Vacate [136] is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Matthew Stanek is autistic. He attended Saint Charles High School from 2009 to 2013. While he was a high school student, he received special-education services. Since graduating from high school in 2013, Matthew has attended Loyola University on a full-time basis. On April 1, 2013, Plaintiffs filed suit in the Circuit Court of Kane County. Defendants then removed the case to federal district court. Plaintiffs Sandra and Bogdan Stanek brought suit on behalf of their son, Matthew, alleging that Defendants failed to provide necessary educational services to him. Plaintiffs also alleged that Defendants harassed, discriminated against, and retaliated against Matthew. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(7). This Court dismissed the action by Plaintiffs Bogdan and Sandra Stanek because it determined that they lacked standing to sue and, while Matthew Stanek did have standing, dismissed his case for failure to sue an appropriate party. (Dkt. 39.) Plaintiffs appealed the district court's decision.

         The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Matthew Stanek's claim of retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, all Plaintiffs' official-capacity claims against the individual defendants except for Superintendent Donald Schlomann, the individual-capacity claims arising under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. In all other respects, the decision was vacated, and the case was remanded back to the district court. (Dkt. 70.) On May 5, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”), adding claims under the First Amendment and the Illinois School Student Records Act and adding new defendants: the ISBE Defendants; Rory Pine, a District special-education case manager; and Julie Stetson, a substitute teacher with the District. Plaintiffs also now bring a class action on behalf of all students with disabilities, present and future, in the District.

         ANALYSIS

         Motion to Vacate

         As a preliminary matter, Defendants Julie Stetson and Rory Pine filed a Motion to Vacate Default Judgment [136] on December 16, 2016. Plaintiffs filed their Third Amended Complaint on May 5, 2016. On June 14, 2016, Plaintiffs filed Motions for Default Judgment against Defendants Julie Stetson and Rory Pine. On December 12, 2016, Plaintiffs' motions were granted. Defendants filed an appearance on the same date they filed their Motion to Vacate.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(c), a default judgment may be set aside for good cause or pursuant to the standard in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60, a court may relieve a party from a final judgment or order based on, among other reasons, “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect”. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1); Musch v. Domtar Indus., Inc., 587 F.3d 857, 861 (7th Cir. 2009). These reasons include: if the judgment is void under Rule 60(b)(4) and any other reason that justifies relief under Rule 60(b)(6). “The movant seeking relief under Rule 60(b)(6) must show extraordinary circumstances justifying the reopening of a final judgment.” Ramirez v. United States, 799 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005)).

         Defendants Stetson and Pine argue that the default judgment against them should be vacated pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1), 60(b)(4), and 60(b)(6). Defendants argue that they were not properly served and that the default judgment is void. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e), there are four ways to properly service an individual: (1) following state law service rules; (2) delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to an individual personally; (3) leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the individual's dwelling or usual place of abode with a person of suitable age and discretion who resides there; and (4) delivering a copy of the summons and complaint with an agent authorized by appointment or law to receive service of process. Harris v. Skytech Enterprises, Ltd., 2008 WL 4922537 at *1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 13, 2008); Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e). Under Illinois state law, service may be effectuated either through personal service or by leaving the summons and complaint with someone thirteen years of age or older at the place of defendant's abode. 735 ILCS 5/2-203.

         Plaintiffs attempted to serve Stetson and Pine through certified mail at their place of employment. Stetson and Pine were not served personally, a copy of the summons and complaint was not left at their places of residence, and they did not authorize anyone at their workplace to accept the complaint or summons on their behalf. Plaintiffs allege that the summons and complaint were signed for by a secretary and an “individual responsible for mail delivery within the District and as such authorized by the District to accept the documents.” (Dkt. 143.) Neither individual was authorized by Stetson or Pine to accept service on their behalf. Plaintiffs further argue that they are entitled to a prima facie presumption of valid service. However, “[t]he O'Brien presumption addresses evidentiary approaches for proving the fact of service in federal court; it does not address antecedent questions of whether the chosen method of service conformed to the law.” Homer v. Jones-Bey, 415 F.3d 748, 754 (7th Cir. 2005). Plaintiffs do not provide any authority that supports their argument that service by certified mail to an individual's place of employment is proper service under Rule 4 or Illinois law.[1]

         Finally, Plaintiffs argue that Stetson and Pine were on notice of the lawsuit, either through their employers or attorneys, and do not have good cause for failing to respond. However, “actual knowledge of the existence of a lawsuit is insufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over a defendant in the absence of valid service of process.” Mid-Continent Wood Prod., Inc. v. Harris, 936 F.2d 297, 301 (7th Cir. 1991). As service on Stetson and Pine was not effectuated by any of the ways authorized by Rule 4(e) or Illinois state law, Defendants' Motion to Vacate Default Judgment [136] is granted.

         Motion to Dismiss

         Rule 12(b)(6) permits a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint “for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint will only survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if: (1) the complaint describes the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests; and (2) the factual allegations plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising the possibility above a “speculative level.” EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 ...


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