BY AND THROUGH LEE v. CLOVIS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT (2020)
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
A. L., BY AND THROUGH her guardian, I. LEE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CLOVIS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Decided: March 18, 2020
Before: RAWLINSON and CALLAHAN, Circuit Judges, and BOLTON,* District Judge.
Barbara E. Ransom, Attorney, Mt . Laurel, NJ, for Plaintiff-Appellant Sloan R. Simmons, Attorney, Lozano Smith, LLP, Sacramento, CA, Amanda Ruiz, Lozano Smith, Fresno, CA, for Defendants-Appellees Joanna Powell, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, Oakland, CA, for Amicus Curiae California School Boards Association's Education Legal Alliance Selene A. Almazan-Altobelli, Esquire, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Towson, MD, for Amicus Curiae Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.
Appellant A.L. and her guardian appeal the district court’s dismissal of claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1291. We review de novo both a district court’s application of IDEA’s exhaustion requirement and its grant of a motion to dismiss for the failure to state a claim. Hoeft v. Tucson Unified Sch. Dist., 967 F.2d 1298, 1303 (9th Cir. 1992); In re Nat’l Football League’s Sunday Ticket Antitrust Litig., 933 F.3d 1136, 1149 (9th Cir. 2019). We affirm.
When the gravamen of a complaint is a request for relief for the denial of a free and appropriate education (“FAPE”), a substantive right created by IDEA, plaintiffs must exhaust IDEA administrative remedies before suing in federal court. Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 743, 754, 197 L.Ed.2d 46 (2017). Counts I and II (the federal-law claims) of Appellants’ Second Amended Complaint request injunctive relief requiring the school district to limit A.L.’s segregation from the school’s general population and to change its policy of prohibiting aides from communicating with parents. As the district court noted, integration into general population classes and communication between a school and parents are topics typically discussed when crafting a FAPE. Application of Fry’s clues indicate that Appellants’ claims could only be brought in the context of a school setting. The district court correctly concluded that the gravamen of Counts I and II is a request for relief for the denial of a FAPE. See Fry, 137 S. Ct. at 756, 758.
Appellants did not exhaust IDEA remedies because they settled their IDEA claims without receiving an administrative decision on the merits. See Paul G. by and through Steve G. v. Monterey Peninsula Unified Sch. Dist., 933 F.3d 1096, 1098 (9th Cir. 2019). Because Appellants’ decision to settle in lieu of pursuing IDEA administrative remedies was “clear from the face of the complaint,” dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) was proper. See Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1169 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc) (“[I]n those rare cases where a failure to exhaust is clear from the face of the complaint, a defendant may successfully move to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.”).
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