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R___S. v. Highland Park Independent School District

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 21, 2017

R___S., by and through his next friend, Ruth B., Plaintiff,
v.
HIGHLAND PARK INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Highland Park Independent School District (“HPISD”) moves under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss plaintiff's claims under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons that follow, the court grants the motion in part and denies it in part, and grants plaintiff leave to replead.

         I

         This is an action by plaintiff R ___ S ___ (“RS”), [1] by and through his next friend Ruth B, seeking relief from defendant HPISD under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (“IDEA”); § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. RS is a 13 year-old student with disabilities who attended school in HPISD from the spring of 2012 through the spring of 2015.[2] While he was enrolled, he received special education services from HPISD.

         RS alleges that several incidents at HPISD compromised his safety and ability to progress in his education. According to the amended complaint, RS was left in dried feces on multiple occasions; HPISD staff failed to address pressure sores properly; he fell at least five times because HPISD personnel failed to implement necessary protocols; HPISD staff used improper equipment, such as chairs without appropriate locks, or equipment that RS had outgrown; RS did not receive appropriate educational services; and HPISD failed to inform or collaborate with RS's parents regarding these issues and his education. RS asserts that HPISD was indifferent to these issues, suggesting that they “were simply an inevitable occurrence for a child such as [RS].” Am Compl. ¶ 12. In 2015 RS's parents removed him from HPISD.

         RS filed an administrative due process complaint in April 2015. The administrative hearing officer (“AHO”) denied RS's requested relief in July 2016. RS then filed suit in this court pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i), appealing the AHO's decision and raising claims under the IDEA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and for municipal liability under § 1983. HPISD moved under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss RS's § 504 and § 1983 claims in his complaint.[3] RS then filed an amended complaint, and HPISD again moves to dismiss the § 504 and § 1983 claims. RS opposes the motion.

         II

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court evaluates the pleadings by “accept[ing] ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004)). To survive this motion to dismiss, RS must allege enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level [.]”). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Rule 8(a)(2)). Furthermore, under Rule 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Although “the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” it demands more than “‘labels and conclusions.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). And “‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         III

         HPISD first moves to dismiss RS's claim under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

         A

         Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act mandates that “[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the 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). In the educational context, “[a] cause of action is stated under § 504 when it is alleged that a school district has refused to provide reasonable accommodations for the handicapped plaintiff to receive the full benefits of the school program.” D.A. ex rel Latasha A. v. Hous. Indep. Sch. Dist., 629 F.3d 450, 454 (5th Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original) (quoting Marvin H. v. Austin Indep. Sch. Dist., 714 F.2d 1348, 1356 (5th Cir. 1983)). The term “refusal” requires “something more than a mere failure to provide [a] ‘free appropriate education, '” as required by law. Id. (quoting Monahan v. Nebraska, 687 F.2d 1164, 1170 (8th Cir. 1982)). Rather, “facts creating an inference of professional bad faith or gross misjudgment are necessary to substantiate a cause of action for intentional discrimination under § 504 . . . against a school district predicated on a disagreement over compliance with IDEA.” Id. at 455.

         HPISD contends that the “professional bad faith or gross misjudgment” standard is equivalent to the “deliberate indifference” standard courts apply to claims under Title IX. The Fifth Circuit has stated “[t]here is no ‘deliberate indifference' standard applicable to public entities for purposes of the . . . [Rehabilitation Act].” Delano-Pyle v. Victoria Cnty., Tex., 302 F.3d 567, 575 (5th Cir. 2002); but see Estate of Lance v. Lewisville Indep. Sch. Dist., 743 F.3d 983, 995-96 (5th Cir. 2014) (applying deliberate indifference standard to § 504 claim in context of student-on-student harassment). Even so, because applying a deliberate indifference standard does not affect the result that the court reaches concerning RS's § 504 claim, the court will assume arguendo that the deliberate indifference standard applies. See Liese v. Indian River Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 701 F.3d 334, 345 (11th Cir. 2012) (compiling cases, noting that almost every circuit has agreed with position taken here by HPISD, but citing contrary Fifth Circuit opinion).

         “[T]he deliberate indifference standard is a high one.” Doe ex rel Doe v. Dall. Indep. Sch. Dist., 220 F.3d 380, 384 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Doe ex rel Doe v. Dall. Indep Sch. Dist., 153 F.3d 211, 219 (5th Cir. 1998) (“Doe I”)). Deliberate indifference occurs when the response to an ...


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