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T.W. v. Leander Independent School District

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

February 25, 2018

T.W., by next friend K.J., Plaintiff,
v.
LEANDER INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SAM SPARKS SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BE IT REMEMBERED on this day the Court reviewed the file in the above-styled cause, and specifically, Defendant Leander Independent School District (Leander)'s Motion to Dismiss for Insufficient Service of Process and Failure to State a Claim [#9], Plaintiff T.W.'s Response [#10] in opposition, and Leander's Reply [#28] in support, as well as Leander's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction [#31], Plaintiffs Response [#33] in opposition, and Leander's Reply [#34] in support. Having reviewed the documents, the relevant law, the arguments of counsel, and the case file as a whole, the Court now enters the following opinion and orders.

         Background

         This is an IDEA case. In the administrative proceedings below, the Special Education Hearing Officer (SEHO) found in favor of Defendant Leander Independent School District (Leander). Compl. [#1]. Plaintiff T.W., by next friend K.J., subsequently filed a complaint with this Court requesting review of the SEHO decision. Id. Plaintiffs amended complaint asserts claims under § 504 and the ADA as well as under the IDEA. Am. Compl. [#5].

         On June 26, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed a complaint requesting review of the SEHO decision. Compl. [#!]. However, Plaintiff did not file proof of service of process at that time, and on September 14, 2017, this Court ordered Plaintiff to file proof of service of process by September 30 or else have the action dismissed for failure to prosecute. Order of September 14, 2017 [#4]; see also FED. R. Civ. P. 4(m) (allowing Court to dismiss action if plaintiff fails to effect service within 90 days or, in the alternative, allowing the Court to order service by a particular date). In a later submission to this Court, Plaintiffs counsel states she asked Leander to waive service of process on September 28, two days before the Court-imposed deadline for service of process. Resp. Mot. Dismiss [#10-4] Ex. D. Leander refused. Plaintiff then attempted to serve Leander on September 29. Id. [#10-1] Ex. F. Plaintiff states the attempt failed because the process server could not gain access to the locked administrative building. Id. Eventually, Plaintiff managed to serve Leander's general counsel, Jennifer Wells, on October 2. Id.

         Analysis

         Leander moves to dismiss for insufficient service of process, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Mot. Dismiss [#9]; Mot. Dismiss [#31]. Leander also argues Plaintiff should not be allowed to pursue claims raised in the amended complaint which do not "relate back" to the original complaint. Id. The Court disposes of these contentions in turn.

         I. Insufficient Service of Process

         Leander moves to dismiss for insufficient service of process on the ground Plaintiff failed to file within the 90-day period set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). Alternatively, Leander argues the Court should dismiss for insufficient service of process on the ground Plaintiff failed to comply with this Court's September 14, 2017 order mandating Plaintiff file proof of service by September 30, 2017.

         The Court declines to dismiss Plaintiffs suit for insufficient service of process. Rule 4(m) does not mandate the Court dismiss Plaintiffs suit for failure to effect service within 90 days. Rather, Rule 4(m) gives the Court the option of either (1) dismissing the action without prejudice, or (2) ordering service be made within a specified time. In this instance, the Court ordered Plaintiff to file proof of service by September 30, 2017. Fed. R. Crv. P. 4(m). After Leander refused to waive service of process, Plaintiff made a good faith (albeit dilatory) effort to comply with the Court's order, eventually serving Leander with a summons on October 2, 2017. In these circumstances, the Court finds Plaintiffs suit should not be dismissed for insufficient service.

         II. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Leander moves to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground Plaintiffs suit is barred by the statute of limitations. It is undisputed Plaintiff filed suit within the 90-day window for appeal of an SEHO decision. See 20 U.S.C. § l4l5(i)(2)(B). However, it is Leander's contention that by failing to effect service of process in a timely fashion, Plaintiff allowed the original complaint to "lapse, " and during this lapse, the statute of limitations expired.

         As the Court has explained above, the Court has found Plaintiffs service of process, although less than prompt, was not so dilatory as to merit dismissal of Plaintiff s suit. Insofar as ' the Court has found Plaintiffs service to be adequate, it follows that Plaintiffs complaint did not "lapse" and that therefore, the statute of limitations did not somehow[1] expire during the pendency of Plaintiff s lawsuit. In sum, the Court declines to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         III. Failure ...


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