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Wong v. State Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 22, 2018

WONG, et al., Plaintiffs,



         James Wong and Suzanne Hoy (“Plaintiffs”) filed this lawsuit alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act of (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“§ 504”), 29 U.S.C. § 794(a); and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g. The Complaint specifically alleges that Southington Board of Education (“Southington”) and the State Department of Education (“State DOE”) (collectively “Defendants”) have violated their son's (“Student”) right to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”).

         The State DOE moves to be dismiss from this lawsuit, ECF No. 14, and Southington moves to dismiss certain of Plaintiffs' claims for want of subject matter jurisdiction, ECF No. 13.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the State DOE's motion. The Court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part Southington's motion.



         Plaintiffs allege a number of general and specific claims under the IDEA. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Specifically, the Complaint maintains that Defendants failed to appropriately “label” Student and therefore Defendants failed to provide services that appropriately addressed Student's disability thus denying Student a FAPE for Student's “K-8 school years.” Id. ¶ 2; see also Id. ¶ 16. In addition to other remedies not relevant at this time, Plaintiffs seek reimbursement, with interest, for tuition, medical expenses, and transportation, due to Defendants failure to provide Student with a FAPE during Student's third through eighth grades. Compl. at 14.

         On May 9, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an administrative complaint, Case No. 16-0517, with the Connecticut Department of Labor. Board's Br. at 3. Hearing Officer Janis Jerman (“HO Jerman”) presided over the hearing concerning Plaintiffs' administrative complaint. Id. On May 12, 2016, the Board filed a motion to all claims in Plaintiffs' administrative complaint that fell outside the two-year statute of limitations under 34 C.F.R. § 300.507(a)(2) and Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-76h(a)(4), and any claim Plaintiffs raised regarding alleged violations of the FERPA. Id. HO Jerman ruled in the Board's favor and dismissed Plaintiffs' claims relating IDEA violations that allegedly occurred during school periods prior to May 10, 2014, and each claim alleging violations of the FERPA. Id. at 3‒4; May 24, 2016, Decision on Mot. to Dismiss at 2, Board's Br., Ex. 6, ECF No 13-8.

         After the presentation of evidence at a hearing on July 18, 2016, and continued on July 26, 27, and August 27 of 2016, HO Jerman issued a final decision and order in which she determined that Student's parents were not entitled to reimbursement for the cost of the unilateral private placement and no other remedy was appropriate. Board's Br. at 6‒7.


         On October 14, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Britain, under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A), appealing the final decision and order of HO Jerman. Compl. ECF No. 1-1. Southington then removed Plaintiffs' lawsuit to federal court under 20 U.S.C. § 1448(c). ECF No. 1. The lawsuit alleges four principal claims: (1) inappropriately labeling and denial of services, thus depriving Student of a FAPE, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.; (2) denial of an appropriate individualized education plan in violation of § 504, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a); (3) denial of other reasonable accommodations under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; and (4) denial of access to education records in violation of the FERPA, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g.

         The State Board of Education moves to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Southington also moves to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). ECF No. 13, and. ECF No. 14.[3]

         On January 16, 2018, the Court held a hearing on Defendants' pending motions. ECF No. 20. Plaintiffs failed to appear, but sent a message to counsel, on the morning of the hearing, that they wished to continue the hearing. Plaintiffs, however, failed to contact the Court and did not move to continue the hearing. Counsel for Defendants appeared for the hearing, but Plaintiffs did not. After waiting thirty minutes, the Court adjourned the hearing. As of the date of this opinion, Plaintiffs still have not contacted the Court to re-schedule the hearing, and since Defendants are the moving parties, the Court will issue its ruling without a hearing.


         A district court may not entertain a case where it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (“A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.”). The Court must “[c]onstrue all ambiguities and draw[ ] all inferences in [the plaintiff]'s favor, ” and “may refer to evidence outside the pleadings.” Id. “A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Id. (citing Malik v. Meissner, 82 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir. 1996)). This burden is met “as long as [the] complaint states a colorable federal claim.” Rodriguez v. DeBuono, 175 F.3d 227, 233 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), “a court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint.” Shipping Fin. Serv. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). “[J]urisdiction must be shown affirmatively, and that showing is not made by drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting it.” APWU v. Potter, 343 F.3d 619, 623 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         A district court may also dismiss a case for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 555, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, a complaint must offer more than “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless distinct from probability, and “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Id. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Although courts considering motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) generally “must limit [their] analysis to the four corners of the complaint, ” they may also consider documents that are “incorporated in the complaint by reference.” Kermanshah v. Kermanshah, 580 F.Supp.2d 247, 258 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). The Court may also consider matters subject to judicial notice, which include publicly filed documents. See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); DeSilva v. N. Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Sys. Inc., 770 F.Supp.2d 497, 506-07 (E.D.N.Y. 2011).

         Finally, pro se complaints “must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing the “special solicitude” courts afford pro se litigants).

         III. ...

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