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Duncan v. Eugene School District 4J

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 6, 2020

RILEY DUNCAN, Plaintiff,
v.
EUGENE SCHOOL DISTRICT 4J, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Eugene School District 4J (“Defendant” or the “District”) violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), and Oregon Revised Statute Chapter 659A. ECF Nos. 1, 14. Both parties consent to jurisdiction by a U.S. Magistrate Judge. ECF No. 11.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 15. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED as to the IDEA claim and the Oregon law claim; and is DENIED as to the ADA and Section 504 claims, and their related declaratory relief.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges the following in the Complaint. Plaintiff was a student eligible for special education services and was enrolled in the International High School, International Baccalaureate, and the French Immersion Program offered by the District. First Am. Compl. ¶ 28, ECF No. 14. The District created an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) to provide specially designed instructions and related services, and to accommodate Plaintiffs disabilities. Id. ¶¶ 28-29.

         During the 2013-14 school year (the ninth grade), Plaintiff was enrolled in a French language class taught by Michael Stasack (“Stasack”) at South Eugene High School (“SEHS”). Id. ¶ 33. Stasack failed to implement the accommodations listed in Plaintiffs IEP. Id. ¶¶ 34-35.

         During the 2014-15 school year (the tenth grade), Plaintiff was not enrolled in a class taught by Stasack. Id. ¶ 34. All of Plaintiff s teachers properly implemented Plaintiffs accommodations described in Plaintiffs IEP. Id. ¶ 36.

         During the 2015-16 school year (the eleventh grade), Plaintiff again enrolled in Stasack's French language class. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff alleges that Stasack refused to implement the accommodations listed in Plaintiffs IEP and made belittling remarks towards him. Id. ¶¶ 37-45, 54. “Plaintiffs self-esteem and emotional stability was fragile.” Id. ¶ 44. On January 31, 2016, Plaintiffs parents contacted SEHS administrators expressing concerns about the discriminatory behavior towards Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiffs parents filed a bullying and harassment complaint against Stasack with the District and with the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission. Id. ¶¶ 50-51, 53.

         The District completed its investigation in late March 2016 and found that Stasack had failed to implement Plaintiffs IEP accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 54, 58. The District offered Plaintiff an alternative educational placement for the rest of the 2015-16 school year in which Plaintiff would be “fully entitled to pursue his current academic program and [would] be supported in doing so with unquestioned implementation of his IEP.” Id. ¶ 57. Plaintiff was placed with a native French licensed educator for independent study. Id. Plaintiff alleges that this independent study placement was an inferior educational opportunity. Id. ¶ 175. The District also reassigned Stasack to another school for the following school year of 2016-17. Id. at 59. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, students in the French Immersion Program organized a walkout to protest Stasack's reassignment. Id. ¶ 61. The walkout excluded Plaintiff. Id.

         In their subsequent email correspondence with SEHS, Plaintiffs parents complained that students bullied Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 68. Plaintiffs parents wrote: “The fact that Mr. Stasack set the tone for [the] special education kids to be treated as not deserving of participation in the French Immersion/IB program set the stage for nearly the entire class to think that is OK to leave behind the kids with special needs and even to brazenly act in ways that was certain to leave them feeling powerless and ostracized.” Id. at ¶ 74. Plaintiffs parents also wrote that Plaintiff “was left in a position to be unreasonably differentiated … in a way that substantially interferes with his educational benefit by creating a hostile environment.” Id.

         During the 2016-17 school year (the twelfth grade), Plaintiff alleges that other students enrolled in the French Immersion Program bullied and harassed Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 77-85. Plaintiffs mother reported to SEHS that other students' parents planned to invite Stasack to the graduation ceremony and requested SEHS not allow Stasack's attendance. Id. ¶ 77. SEHS responded that it could not refuse Stasack's attendance because the ceremony was a public event. Id. Plaintiffs mother also reported to SEHS the “harassment” behavior by a student who stood in SEHS wearing a sweatshirt showing “Meeesieur Mike” and “sayings” associated only with Stasack. Id. ¶ 78. Plaintiff alleges that the student ordered the sweatshirt and invited other students to order the sweatshirt. Id. ¶ 79. Plaintiff also alleges that the International High School office had distributed the sweatshirts to students. Id. SEHS declined to prohibit students from wearing the sweatshirts citing students' right to free speech, but SEHS recommended that the sweatshirts not be worn to the graduation ceremony. Id. ¶ 80.

         One student wore the sweatshirt to the graduation rehearsal, but no one wore it at the graduation ceremony. Id. ¶ 83. At the graduation ceremony, one of the student speakers was the student who had “engaged in bullying behavior” towards Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 85. This student spoke that she was proud of her class' civil rights actions, what they had learned about civil rights and how to address bullying at SEHS. Id. Plaintiff alleges that even though SEHS was aware of Plaintiffs distress over these events, SEHS let the bullying student speak at the ceremony and approved her speech. Id. The student's speech caused additional emotional distress to Plaintiff. Id.

         Plaintiff graduated in June 2017 and attended college. Id. ¶¶ 85, 87. He turned eighteen on August 22, 2017. Id. at Ex. 1, p. 9, ECF No. 14-1.

         On July 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Request for a Due Process Hearing (“Due Process Complaint”) with the Oregon Department of Education (“ODE”) on his own behalf raising claims under the IDEA, Section 504, the ADA, and Oregon law. First Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 14. The ODE referred this matter to the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”). First Am. Compl. Ex. 1, p. 1, ECF No. 14-1. The Senior Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Joe L. Allen granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Due Process Complaint and dismissed Plaintiffs Due Process Complaint with prejudice. Id. at Ex. 1, pp. 1-2, 9.

         Plaintiff filed this action on January 15, 2019 “in appeal of the underlying due process hearing” In the Matter of the Education of Student and Eugene School District 4J, OAH No. 2018-ABC-01842 (“Final Order”). See Compl., ECF No. 1; First Am. Compl. 1, ECF No. 14. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 15.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Where the plaintiff “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, ” the action must be dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, the 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).

While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, see Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level....

Id. at 555 (citations omitted). Moreover, when assessing the sufficiency of any civil complaint, a court must distinguish factual contentions - which alleged behavior on the part of the defendant that, if true, would satisfy one or more elements of the claim asserted - and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In short, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         Where amendment would be futile, it is appropriate to dismiss the claim with prejudice. See Universal Mortg. Co. v. Prudential Ins. Co., 799 F.2d 458, 459 (9th Cir.1986) (“Although leave to amend ‘shall be freely given when justice so requires,' it may be denied if the proposed amendment either lacks merit or would not serve any purpose because to grant it would be futile in saving the plaintiff's suit.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. General Framework of the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA Claims

         The IDEA was enacted to ensure all children with certain physical or intellectual disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). 20 U.S.C. § 1400. As defined in the IDEA, a FAPE comprises “special education and related services” - both “instruction” tailored to meet a child's “unique needs” and sufficient “supportive services” to permit the child to benefit from that instruction. Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S.Ct. 743, 748-49 (2017) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The only relief available under the IDEA is relief for the denial of a FAPE. Id. at 752, 755.

         “By contrast, Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act cover people with disabilities of all ages, and do so both inside and outside schools.” Id. at 756. Title II of the ADA prohibits any “public entity” from discriminating based on disability and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in any “federally funded program or activity.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-32; 29 U.S.C. § 764(a). “In short, the IDEA guarantees individually tailored educational services, while Title II and § 504 promise non-discriminatory access to public institutions.” Fry, 137 S.Ct. at 756. ...


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