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Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 19, 2019

Maria Perez, next friend of Miguel Luna Perez, Plaintiff,
v.
Sturgis Public Schools and Sturgis Public Schools Board of Education, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Paul L. Maloney, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Miguel Luna Perez, by his next friend Maria Perez, brings claims that Defendants, Sturgis Public Schools and the Sturgis Public Schools Board of Education, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA), MCL 37.1101 et seq. Defendant Sturgis Public School District[1] moved to dismiss Perez's claims (ECF No. 11). On June 20, 2019, United States Magistrate Judge Ray Kent issued a Report & Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that the Court grant Defendant Sturgis Public School's motion for summary judgment because Perez failed to exhaust his administrative remedies (ECF No. 19). This matter is before the Court on Perez's objections to the R&R (ECF No. 25). For the reasons to be discussed, the Court will overrule all objections and adopt the R&R as the Opinion of the Court.

         Legal Framework

         With respect to a dispositive motion, a magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation, rather than an order. After being served with an R&R issued by a magistrate judge, a party has fourteen days to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). A district court judge reviews de novo the portions of the R&R to which objections have been filed. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).

         Only those objections that are specific are entitled to a de novo review under the statute. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (holding the district court need not provide de novo review where the objections are frivolous, conclusive, or too general because the burden is on the parties to “pinpoint those portions of the magistrate's report that the district court must specifically consider”). Failure to file an objection results in a waiver of the issue and the issue cannot be appealed. United States v. Sullivan, 431 F.3d 976, 984 (6th Cir. 2005); see also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 155 (upholding the Sixth Circuit's practice). The district court judge may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).

         Analysis

         I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Perez's first objection is that Magistrate Judge Kent applied an incorrect legal standard to the Rule 12(b)(6) motion because he did not read Perez's allegation that his Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., claim had been settled in the light most favorable to Perez. Perez argues that because his IDEA claim was settled, the IDEA exhaustion requirement does not apply, and the R&R's conclusion is incorrect. This objection fails.

         When considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all factual allegations, but need not accept any legal conclusions. Ctr. For Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Magistrate Judge Kent was required to accept Perez's allegation that his IDEA claim was settled, and he did: the R&R notes that Perez resolved his IDEA claim and that in this case, Perez's complaint does not explicitly plead a claim under IDEA (ECF No. 19 at PageID.282-3). However, at its core, this case presents a legal question-do Perez's ADA and PWDCRA claims seek the same type of relief available under IDEA? The Supreme Court has recently clarified that “[w]hat matters is the crux-or in legal-speak, the gravamen-of the plaintiff's complaint, setting aside any attempts at artful pleading.” Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, ___U.S.___, 137 S.Ct. 743, 755 (2017). If his claims seek the same type of relief available under IDEA (relief for the denial of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)) they are subject to the IDEA's exhaustion requirement. Id. at 752. A plaintiff may not skirt the exhaustion requirement by avoiding references to IDEA in his pleading.

         Under Fry, Perez cannot simply allege that the IDEA claim was settled to imply that his case does not involve denial of a FAPE and to avoid inquiry into the gravamen of his claim. See Id. It follows that Magistrate Judge Kent was not required to accept the pleaded legal conclusion-i.e., that because the case does not reference IDEA, it does not involve denial of a FAPE. Accordingly, this objection is overruled.

         II. Existence of Exhaustion Requirement

         Perez next objects to the R&R's holding that he was required to exhaust his claims before bringing them in this Court. This objection also fails.

         Section 1415 (l) of the IDEA “requires that a plaintiff exhaust the IDEA's procedures before filing an action under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, or similar laws when (but only when) [his] suit ‘seek[s] relief that is also available' under the IDEA.” Id. at 752 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1415 (l)). Therefore, the IDEA's exhaustion rule “hinges on whether a lawsuit seeks relief for the denial of a free appropriate public education. If a lawsuit charges such a denial, the plaintiff cannot escape 42 U.S.C. § 1415 (l) merely by bringing [his] suit under a statute other than the IDEA.” Id. at 754. If, however, the plaintiff seeks redress for other harms, “independent of any FAPE denial, ” the IDEA's exhaustion requirement does not apply. Id. As explained above, the focus of this analysis is the substance of a plaintiff's complaint, not any “magic words” or which labels a plaintiff uses. Id. at 755. The Supreme Court provided two questions that can guide the analysis:

First, could the plaintiff have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility that was not a school-say, a public theater or library? And second, could an adult at the school-say, an employee or visitor-have pressed essentially the same grievance? When the answer to those questions is yes, a complaint that does not expressly allege the denial of a FAPE is also unlikely to be truly about that subject; after all, in those other situations there is no FAPE obligation and yet the same basic suit could go forward. But when the answer is no, then the complaint probably does concern a FAPE, even if it does not explicitly say ...

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