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Akron Board of Education v. Wallace

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

November 22, 2017

AKRON BOARD OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff,
v.
JASON D. WALLACE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER [RESOLVING ECF NO. 46]

          BENITA Y. PEARSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP's (“RLB”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and/or to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. ECF No. 46. Plaintiff Akron Board of Education (the “Board”) opposes the motion. ECF No. 47. Defendant replied. ECF No. 48. This case involves an application for attorneys' fees and costs in connection with Defendants Jason Wallace, Daniel Bache, RLB, and Wallace & Bache, LLP's (collectively “Defendants”) due process complaint filed on behalf of Delaina Barney's child against Plaintiff under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Defendant RLB's Motion (ECF No. 46) is denied and the matter will proceed against the defendants named in the First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 36).

         I. Background

         On December 15, 2014, Defendants filed an IDEA due process complaint on behalf of Delaina Barney, the parent of J.B. (“Student”), against the Board challenging Student's Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), and alleging that he was not afforded a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). ECF No. 36 at PageID#: 535. The complaint was received by the Ohio Department of Education, and an impartial hearing officer (“IHO”) was assigned. Id. at PageID#: 538. The remedies sought by Defendants in filing the due process complaint included attorneys' fees for themselves, for the parent to be determined the prevailing party, compensatory education, extended school year services, and education in the least restrictive environment. Id.On June 11, 2015, the IHO issued a Decision denying the parent's due process complaint in its entirety, thereby, entitling the Board to prevailing party status. Id. at PageID#: 542.

         Defendants appealed the decision of the IHO to the state law review officer (“SLRO”). Id. at PageID#: 546. After reviewing the record, the SLRO issued a Final Decision and Order on November 9, 2015, affirming the decision of the IHO. Id.The SLRO found that the IHO conducted the hearing in a fair and appropriate manner. ECF No. 36 at PageID#: 547.

         In December 2015, Defendants continued to litigate their due process action by filing a Notice of Appeal seeking a review of the SLRO's decision in the Summit County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas, being Case No. CV-2015-12-5779. Id.The Board removed the case to this Court on January 19, 2016, on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, identified as Case No. 5:16-CV-112. See ECF No. 1 at PageID#: 2 (Case No. 5:16-CV-112) (related case).

         Pending resolution of the administrative appeal, Case No. 5:16-CV-112, Plaintiff Board filed an action to recover fees in the administrative proceedings under the IDEA. ECF No. 1. On February 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint to recover attorneys' fees and costs against Defendants, while adding a new party-Defendant Wallace & Bache LLP, and clarifying their new address. ECF No. 36. Pursuant to the Court's Case Management Order (ECF No. 31), the Court stayed proceedings in this case until the final resolution of the administrative appeal, Case No. 5:16-CV-112. On September 22, 2017, the Court rendered judgment in favor of the Board, granting the Board's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record, and affirming the determinations of the IHO and SLRO. ECF Nos. 36 and 37 (Case No. 5:16-CV-112) (related case).

         On May 5, 2017, Defendant RLB filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and/or to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. ECF No. 46. Plaintiff Board responded, ECF No. 47, and Defendant replied, ECF No. 48. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 46).

         II. Standard of Review

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is reviewed under the same standard applicable to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss, [the complaint] must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Michigan Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Bell Atl. 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 is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). A court may dismiss a claim if its finds on the face of the pleading that “there is an insurmountable bar to relief indicating that the plaintiff does not have a claim[, ]” Ashiegbu v. Purviance, 76 F.Supp.2d 824, 828 (S.D. Ohio 1998), aff'd 194 F.3d 1311 (6th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1001 (2000).

         “For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true.” Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, LLC, 539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008)). The Court “‘must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to [the] plaintiff[.]'” Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant RLB moves for judgment on the pleadings and/or to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint on the bases that 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(II) and (III) do not expressly impose vicarious liability on law firms; Plaintiff's action was not timely commenced within the alleged applicable statute of limitations; Plaintiff lacks standing to file a fee action under the IDEA; the Court is not authorized to award hearing officer and transcription fees as “costs” under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(II) and (III); and, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint fails to plead facts that are sufficient to state a claim for relief under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(III). ECF No. 46. Each argument fails and is addressed in turn.

         A. Law Firm Liability Under 20 U.S.C. ยง ...


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