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Doe Child v. Stark County Community Unit School District #100

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

December 9, 2019

DOE CHILD, a minor, by his parents and next friends, JOHN AND JANE DOE, Plaintiffs,
v.
STARK COUNTY COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT #100, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL M. MIHM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (D. 19, 21, 23) and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike (D. 26). For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motions are GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court exercises jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, as Plaintiff alleges violations of federal statutes and depravations of his civil rights. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) because a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in this judicial district. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Doe Child[1] is a resident of Toulon, Illinois, and attended school within the Stark County Community Unit School District during the 2018-2019 academic year. Plaintiff was transported to and from school via school bus and has a developmental delay for which extra care and assistance is needed. Plaintiff alleges he was abused by his bus aide on multiple occasions between October 2018 and May 2019, as she placed a five-gallon bucket over the upper half of his body, physically restrained him in an inappropriate and harmful manner, bullied, and verbally harassed him. Plaintiff also alleges his bus driver witnessed the abuse, failed to protect him, and later admitted responsibility for the harm he suffered. Additionally, Plaintiff contends he was suspended from riding the bus when he used force to resist the aide's attacks. As a result of the aide's actions, Plaintiff states he sustained physical injuries and emotional distress. Upon learning of the abuse, Plaintiff's parents brought the suit at hand seeking monetary damages for the injuries their son sustained.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed his complaint outlining five claims, via twelve counts, against Stark County Community Unit School District #100 (“the District”), his former school bus driver, Alan Curry (“Curry”), and his former bus aide, Cathy Webster (“Webster”). (D. 1.) On September 25, 2019, Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss. (D. 19, 21, 23.) On October 9, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike Curry's motion to dismiss (D. 26); and on October 23, 2019, Plaintiff filed responses to Defendants' motions to dismiss. (D. 29, 30, 31.) The same day, Curry filed a response to Plaintiff's motion to strike. (D. 32.) This Order follows.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “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.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts various federal and state law claims against the District and two of its employees arising from alleged ongoing abuse and harassment while being transported to school via school bus. (D. 1 at 5-17.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims the District is liable for violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., (“IDEA”) (Count VII); Defendants are liable for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12201 to 12213 (“ADA”) (Counts X-XII); and, the District and Webster are liable for violations of the Fourth Amendment (Counts VIII-IX). Id. at 11-17. Plaintiff also asserts state law claims for willful and wanton conduct (Counts I-III) and “common carrier” claims (Counts IV-VI) against Defendants. Id. at 5-12. Defendants move to dismiss the claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (D. 19, 21, 23.) Since the Court's analyis of Plaintiff's federal claims may influence its decision of whether to retain jurisdiction over his state law claims, the Court begins its analysis with the federal claims.

         I. Violations of the IDEA

         In support of his allegation the District violated the IDEA, Plaintiff states: (i) he qualifies as a child with a disability; (ii) he had an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”); (iii) the IEP mandated he have “special transportation” to and from school and an aide on the bus; (iv) the District, by and through its agents, violated the “spirit” of his IEP; and (v) the actions of the agents resulted in physical injuries and emotional distress. (D. 1 at 11-12.) In response, the District argues Plaintiff failed to exhaust the administrative procedures under the Act prior to bringing his claim in federal court. (D. 20 at 2-4.) It also argues, even if Plaintiff did exhaust the procedures, he is not entitled to relief under the Act because the District did not deny him a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). Id. at 4. Lastly, the District argues the IDEA does not provide for monetary damages as a form of relief, therefore, Plaintiff's claim must be dismissed. Id. at 4-5. The issue for the Court to decide is whether the gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint, which details physical and verbal abuse at the hands of a bus aide, seeks relief for the denial of a FAPE under the Act. Only if it does is exhaustion of administrative procedures under the Act required. The Court finds Plaintiff does not state a claim for a violation of the IDEA because the gravamen of his complaint does not seek relief for the denial of a FAPE. Therefore, his IDEA claim against the District fails.

         A. The Gravamen of Plaintiff's Complaint

         In Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 137 S.Ct. 743 (2017), the Supreme Court issued guidance, in the form of hypothetical questions, for lower courts to determine whether the crux of a plaintiff's complaint seeks relief for the denial of a FAPE. Id. at 756. The first hypothetical for the court to answer is whether the plaintiff could have brought the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility. Id. The second hypothetical instructs the court to inquire whether an adult at the school (e.g., an employee or visitor) could have pressed the same grievance. Id. If the answer is “yes” to both questions, a complaint does not allege the denial of a FAPE, and a plaintiff's federal claims can move forward without the plaintiff exhausting the administrative procedures under the Act. Id. If the answer is “no” to both questions, the Court advises the complaint most likely concerns the denial of a FAPE and the plaintiff must first exhaust the administrative procedures under the Act before bringing his claim(s) in federal court. Id. The Court also recommended that lower courts consider the history of the proceedings and whether a plaintiff has previously invoked the IDEA's formal procedures to handle the dispute in analyzing the crux of his complaint. Id. at 757.

         The Fry hypotheticals are instructive to the case at hand because if Plaintiff's complaint fails to allege the denial of a FAPE, he has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted under the Act. See J.S. v. Houston Cty. Bd. of Educ., 877 F.3d 979 (11th Cir. 2017) (using elements outlined in Fry to determine whether the plaintiff stated a claim under the IDEA). Such is the case here. Plaintiff could have brought an identical claim if he was abused by an aide in a public library. He could also press the same grievance if he were an adult with a developmental delay who was treated in a similar fashion while visiting the school. Moreover, the Court provided an example in Fry that supports the conclusion that Plaintiff's complaint seeks something other than the denial of a FAPE. It provides:

[S]uppose that a teacher, acting out of animus or frustration, strikes a student with a disability, who then sues the school under a statute other than the IDEA. Here too, the suit could be said to relate, in both genesis and effect, to the child's education. But the school districts opine, we think correctly, that the substance of the plaintiff's claim is unlikely to involve the adequacy of special education-and thus is unlikely to require exhaustion. A telling indicator of that conclusion is that a child could file the same kind of suit against an official at another public facility for inflicting such physical abuse-as could an adult subject to similar treatment by a school official. To be sure, the particular circumstances of such a suit (school or theater? student or employee?) might be pertinent in assessing the reasonableness of the challenged conduct. But even if that is so, the plausibility of bringing other variants of the suit indicates that the gravamen of the plaintiff's complaint does not concern the appropriateness of an educational program.

Id. at 756 n.9 (internal citations omitted).

         Since Plaintiff seeks relief for something other than the denial of a FAPE, his claim for relief under the Act itself fails. See Shaw v. Dolton Riverdale Sch. Dist. 148, No. 19 C 1241, 2019 WL 5695825 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 4, 2019) (dismissing plaintiffs' IDEA claim where plaintiffs provided only conclusory statements about how their child was denied a FAPE). Accordingly, the District's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's IDEA claim is GRANTED, and the claim is DISMISSED.

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Procedures

         The District's argument on exhaustion of the IDEA's administrative procedures applies to the federal claims Plaintiff brings against it. In Fry, the Court resolved the issue of whether a plaintiff needed to exhaust the administrative procedures under the Act before bringing suit under a statute other than the IDEA. 137 S.Ct. at 748. The Court held a plaintiff is not required to exhaust the administrative procedures under the Act if the gravamen of his complaint does not seek relief for the denial of a FAPE. Id. at 752. Because the gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint does not seek relief for the denial of a FAPE, Plaintiff is not required to exhaust the administrative procedures under the Act before bringing his federal claims. He also need not demonstrate that his IDEA claim falls under one of the exceptions to the exhaustion requirement, which Plaintiff attempts to do in his response to the District's motion to dismiss. (D. 31 at 2-3.) Accordingly, Plaintiff was not required to exhaust the administrative procedures under the IDEA before bringing his claims under § 1983 or Title II of the ADA.

         II. Violations of the ADA

         To support his contention that his rights under the ADA were violated, Plaintiff states: (i) he qualifies as a child with a disability; (ii) Defendants had a duty not to discriminate against him; (iii) Defendants discriminated against him; and (iv) as a result, he suffered injuries. (D. 1 at 14-17.) In response, Curry and Webster argue they cannot be held liable under Title II of the ADA, as the statute makes clear that violations of the Act may only be brought against public entities and not individuals. (D. 22 at 10; D. 24 at 11.) Additionally, Curry argues Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible cause of action. (D. 24 at 12-13.) The issue before the Court is whether Plaintiff has pleaded sufficient factual content for a claim under Title II of the ADA against Defendants. The Court finds Plaintiff has sufficiently stated a valid ADA claim only against the District.[2] Therefore, his claims against Curry and Webster are DISMISSED.

         The ADA seeks to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities[.]” § 12101(b)(1) (2009). “Title II of the ADA requires that ‘no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services . . . of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.' ” Foley v. City of Lafayette, Ind., 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted).

         To state a claim for a violation of Title II of the ADA, a plaintiff must allege: “(1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) that he was either excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of some public entity's services, programs, or activities or was otherwise discriminated against; and (3) that such exclusion, denial of benefit or discrimination was by reason of his disability.” Novak v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., No. 12-cv-7, 2012 WL 5077649, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Oct. 18, 2012) (quoting Toledo v. Sanchez, 454 F.3d 24, 31 (1st Cir. 2006)). “Under Title II of the ADA, which forbids discrimination by ‘any public entity', 42 U.S.C. § 12131, the proper defendant is that ‘entity.' ” Walker v. Snyder, 213 F.3d 344, 346 (7th Cir. 2000), abrogated on other grounds by Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001). Title II does not provide for individual capacity suits against state officials. Garcia v. S.U.N.Y. Health Scis. Ctr., 280 F.3d 98, 107 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing Walker, 213 F.3d at 346)). Additionally, “[o]fficial-capacity suits . . . generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity on which an officer is an agent.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). “As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, ...


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