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Nardella v. Leyden High School District 212

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

May 5, 2017

CYNTHIA NARDELLA, as parent and guardian of C.D., Plaintiff,


          Sharon Johnson Coleman United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff, Cynthia Nardella, acting as the parent and guardian of C.D., filed a revised second amended complaint in this action against Leyden High School District 212, Nick Polyak, the Superintendent of Leyden High School District 212, the Board of Education of Leyden Township, Melinda R. McGuffin, Kate Talsma, Katie LaCount, Kathy Klaus (collectively “the Leyden defendants”), and the Adventist GlenOaks Hospital Therapeutic Day School (GlenOaks), Anna Hammond, Thomas Kaufman, and Lisa Grigsby (collectively the “GlenOaks defendants”). The GlenOaks defendants now move this Court to dismiss the plaintiff's revised second amended complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth herein, that motion [176] is granted in part and denied in part.


         The underlying factual allegations of this case are set forth in this Court's prior opinion addressing the Leyden defendants' motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint [Dkt. 116]. This Court incorporates that description of the facts herein, and adds only those material allegations that are pertinent to those claims addressed herein.

         C.D.'s placement at GlenOaks began on February 6, 2013. The GlenOaks staff did not adequately understand C.D.'s disability, and therefore did not manage his behaviors appropriately and instead continued to discipline him for manifestations of his disability. Based on C.D.'s behaviors, GlenOaks initiated a psychological testing process, which was conducted by Hammond, a clinical psychologist, and her intern, Kaufman. On February 21, 2013, GlenOaks informed Nardella that C.D. would require a psychiatric clearance before he could return to school, and incorrectly suggested that he might be schizophrenic based on certain manifestations of his disability. C.D. was suspended on February 22 and February 27 for rude comments, provocative behaviors, and verbal aggression. GlenOaks advised Nardella that fellow students felt unsafe around C.D. and that GlenOaks could not meet C.D.'s needs. Accordingly, GlenOaks advised that once it had completed the psychological testing C.D.'s placement at GlenOaks would be terminated. The testing was completed on March 12, at which time C.D.'s IEP was updated to include 20 minutes per week of individual counseling and 200 minutes per week of group counseling and C.D.'s placement at GlenOaks was terminated. The psychological evaluation found, in pertinent part, that C.D.'s autism resulted in an inability to cope with the unexpected and interfered with his ability to cope with environmental stressors. It further noted that C.D. should be enrolled in a program with sufficient resources and spaces to support his needs (implicitly acknowledging that GlenOaks could not do so). Kaufman verbally informed Nardella that he would recommend intensive therapy for C.D. as a result of C.D.'s experience at Leyden and acknowledged that the staff at GlenOaks had been misreading C.D.'s behaviors. Kaufman also agreed to send Nardella his notes and recommendations regarding C.D. During a phone conversation, Hammond also informed Nardella that schools did not provide the type of therapy that C.D. required. Although Nardella received the finished report, it did not contain the statements or recommendations that Kaufman and Hammond had made verbally, and Nardella did not receive Kaufman's notes or recommendations despite requests for both. Nardella alleges that Kaufman and Hammond knowingly altered their findings, either in order to facilitate C.D.'s wrongful termination from GlenOaks or to remove information that would reflect poorly on GlenOaks. Nardella further alleges that GlenOaks and Grigsby, GlenOaks Director, improperly accepted C.D. when it knew it could not meet his needs, failed to adequately train and supervise GlenOaks' staff, disciplined C.D. for behaviors resulting from his disability, and misrepresented C.D.'s behaviors and conduct.

         Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the allegations. The allegations must contain sufficient factual material to raise a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569 n.14, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require a plaintiff to plead particularized facts, the complaint must allege factual “allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751-52 (7th Cir. 2011). Put differently, Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Park v. Ind. Univ. Sch. of Dentistry, 692 F.3d 828, 830 (7th Cir. 2012).


         As an initial matter, this Court notes that the GlenOaks defendants object to Nardella's revised second amended complaint. When this Court ruled on the GlenOaks defendants' motion to dismiss Nardella's First Amended Complaint, it granted Nardella leave to file an amended complaint to cure the deficiencies identified in the ruling. Nardella's revised second amended complaint, however, went far beyond that grant of leave and added both new defendants (who had been named in the initial pro se complaint but subsequently dismissed from the case) and new claims. The GlenOaks defendants are right that these additions occurred without leave and were therefore improper.

         Had Nardella filed a proper motion for leave to amend that set forth the new claims and defendants that she sought to add, however, this Court does not believe that there would have been a basis for denying that motion other than the potential futility of the proposed amendments. Because the futility of the amendments is a question that goes to the merits, and given that this Court has a fully briefed motion to dismiss before it, judicial efficiency favors permitting Nardella's revised second amended complaint and instead ruling on the now-pending motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. This Court accordingly declines to strike the portions of the revised second amended complaint that exceeded the scope of this Court's prior grant of leave to amend.

         Count II of the revised second amended complaint alleges that GlenOaks violated the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Counts III and IV, which were brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, allege that the GlenOaks defendants violated C.D.'s due process and equal protection rights, respectively. GlenOaks contends that these three counts must be dismissed pursuant to Charlie F. v. Bd. of Educ., 98 F.3d 989 (7th Cir. 1996). In Charlie F., the Seventh Circuit held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) prohibits individuals from pursuing rights or remedies available under the Constitution or the Rehabilitation Act if those rights or remedies are available under the IDEA, unless IDEA administrative procedures had first been exhausted. Id. at 993 (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)). In Kerry M. v. Manhattan Sch. Dist. # 114, No. 03 C 9349, 2004 WL 2538303, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2004), a judge of this Court clarified that the exhaustion requirement encompasses all parties against whom a plaintiff wishes to bring a subsequent civil suit (including education providers and individually named defendants), because exhaustion “ensures that all parties are provided an opportunity to defend themselves at the initial, administrative level before being haled into federal court” and “serves to develop a complete administrative record as the duties and responsibilities of each entity.”

         Nardella, in response, argues that her claims against GlenOaks and the individual defendants could not be exhausted under the IDEA's administrative procedures because those procedures do not provide a mechanism to interplead individuals or private entities. Nardella, however, offers no authority to support this interpretation of the statute or to call into question the reasoning or holding of Kerry M. This Court need not resolve the question of exhaustion, however, because even if this Court were to conclude that Nardella's claims were exempt from the administrative exhaustion requirement those claims would still fail to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

         Nardella alleges that GlenOaks violated the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Section 794 of the Rehabilitation Act provides, in pertinent part, that “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Accordingly, in order to state a claim under the rehabilitation act a plaintiff must allege (1) that he is a handicapped individual under the Act, (2) that he is otherwise qualified for the benefit sought; (3) that he was discriminated against solely by reason of the handicap, and (4) that the program or activity in question receives financial assistance. Grzan v. Charter Hosp. of Northwest Indiana, 104 F.3d 116, 119 (7th Cir. 1997), superseded on other grounds by Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581, 119 S.Ct. 2176, 114 L.Ed.2d 540 (1999).

         Nardella alleges that GlenOaks violated section 794 by failing to meet C.D.'s educational needs and by improperly terminating him without determining whether he ...

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