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De La Fuente v. Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 30, 2019

Esther De La Fuente, Plaintiff,
v.
Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Dominic W. Lanza, United Slates District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         This case involves troubling allegations of negligence by a school district when attempting to address the special needs of one of its students. In March 2013, a minor named A.D. was enrolled as a student in a school within the Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66 (“the District”). Around that time, the District created a specialized education plan for A.D.-known as a “Section 504 plan”- in an attempt to provide an accommodation for his attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”).

         Unfortunately, it appears the District simply forgot to implement the Section 504 plan after it was created. This oversight went undetected for over two years, until a May 2015 incident in which A.D. had an altercation with one of his teachers in the classroom. In the aftermath of this altercation, A.D.'s mother, Esther De La Fuente (“Plaintiff”), filed a complaint with the United States Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”). This complaint, which was filed in June 2015, specifically addressed the District's failure to implement A.D.'s Section 504 plan. Although the District initially responded to the complaint by denying it had ever created a Section 504 plan for A.D., it eventually changed course, acknowledged its failure to provide an appropriate education to A.D., agreed to expunge certain incidents from A.D.'s official disciplinary record, and also agreed to provide “compensatory/remedial” educational services to A.D., including extra tutoring.

         In December 2017, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, which seeks damages (both on her own behalf and on behalf of A.D.) for alleged violations of two different federal disabilities statutes. Now pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the District and the individual Defendants (together, “Defendants”). (Doc. 77.) They seek summary judgment on four grounds: (1) Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing this suit; (2) Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations; (3) Plaintiff is not entitled to recover damages for her own emotional distress in these circumstances; and (4) the official capacity claims against the individual Defendants are duplicative of the claims against the District. The motion is fully briefed and nobody has requested oral argument.[1]

         As explained below, Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. This is an unfortunate outcome, because Plaintiff and A.D. are deserving of sympathy, but it is an outcome compelled by the facts and relevant case law. Accordingly, the Court will grant summary judgment to Defendants without considering their other three arguments.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Legal Framework

         It's helpful to begin by briefly summarizing the relevant legal framework. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), states receive federal funds in exchange for committing to furnish a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to all students with particular disabilities. Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S.Ct. 743, 748 (2017). “[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.” Id. at 748-49 (citations omitted). A school furnishes a FAPE by providing the child with an individualized education program (“IEP”), which “spells out a personalized plan to meet all of the child's ‘educational needs.'” Id.; see also 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d).

         Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, similarly protect the interests of students with disabilities. “Title II forbids any ‘public entity' from discriminating based on disability, ” and an implementing regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(7), “requires a public entity to make ‘reasonable modifications' to its ‘policies, practices, or procedures' when necessary to avoid such discrimination.” Fry, 137 S.Ct. at 749. Likewise, Section 504 prohibits “federally funded ‘program[s] or activit[ies]'” from discriminating based on disability, id. (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12132; 29 U.S.C. § 794(a)), thereby “demanding certain ‘reasonable' modifications to existing practices in order to ‘accommodate' persons with disabilities, ” id. (citation omitted). “Like the IEP, a § 504 Plan is the mechanism for providing a FAPE under § 504.” Lauren G. ex rel. Scott G. v. W. Chester Area Sch. Dist., 906 F.Supp.2d 375, 391 (E.D. Pa. 2012); see also 34 C.F.R. § 104.33(a) (“A recipient that operates a public elementary or secondary education program or activity shall provide a free appropriate public education to each qualified handicapped person who is in the recipient's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person's handicap.”).

         II. Factual Background

         A.D. was enrolled as a student at Bernard Black Elementary School within the District from 2010 through May 19, 2015, at which time he was “promoted to 9th grade” and no longer enrolled in the District. (Doc. 77 at 40.)

         In February and March 2013, the District evaluated A.D. under Section 504. (Doc. 84 at 1-13.) The District determined that A.D.'s ADHD “adversely impact[s] his ability to receive instruction and consequences which impacts his learning” and “impact[s] his ability to function in the general education setting without accommodations.” (Id. at 6.) Consequently, on March 8, 2013, the District provided A.D. with a Section 504 plan. (Id. at 9.) The accommodations provided in this plan included: (1) “[s]horten[ing] homework assignments”; (2) “[t]esting in small group or 1:1 instruction”; (3) [n]ursing [s]ervices for [d]aily [m]edication [a]dministration”; (4) “[p]rovid[ing] intermittent (chunk) longer projects/assignments to ensure completion”; and (5) using a “[p]oint sheet.” (Id.) The Section 504 plan also included a “Projected Re-Evaluation Date” of March 8, 2014, one year later. Plaintiff received a copy of the Section 504 Plan. (Doc. 85 at 10.)

         In May 2015, A.D. had an altercation with one of his teachers in the classroom. (Doc. 77 at 17-27.) A.D. had also had several minor and major disciplinary ...


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