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J.M. v. Francis Howell School District

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 7, 2017

J.M., Next Friend Kristine McCauley Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Francis Howell School District Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 10, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         On behalf of her minor son, J.M., Kristine McCauley sued Francis Howell School District, claiming unlawful use of isolation and physical restraints. Her second amended complaint asserted violations of: (1) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988; (2) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12182; (3) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and (4) the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), RSMo § 213.010 et seq. The district court[1] dismissed the federal claims for "lack of subject matter jurisdiction for failure to exhaust administrative remedies" and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the MHRA claim, dismissing it without prejudice.[2] Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

         In 2011, J.M. began kindergarten in the Francis Howell School District. J.M. qualified for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) based on his diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, Asperger's/autism spectrum disorder, and generalized anxiety. See 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Under the IDEA, J.M. had an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

         McCauley alleges that between January 2012 and September 2014, J.M. repeatedly was placed in physical restraints and isolation without her knowledge. Learning of this, she immediately contacted the District, requesting restraints only when necessary and no isolation. On September 5, McCauley removed J.M. from the District.

         McCauley sued in federal court under the IDEA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, and Missouri common law (torts of negligence per se, false imprisonment, and battery). She amended the complaint to add claims under the ADA and MHRA. The District answered, claiming failure to exhaust administrative remedies for the federal claims, and sovereign immunity for the common law tort claims. McCauley voluntarily amended her complaint, removing the IDEA and common law tort claims. Her second amended complaint thus included claims under the Equal Protection Clause, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the MHRA.

         The District moved to dismiss, alleging lack of subject matter jurisdiction for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA. McCauley argued her claims were not under the IDEA, and thus not subject to exhaustion. In the alternative, she asserted exceptions to the exhaustion requirement. The district court granted the motion to dismiss.

         I.

         This court reviews de novo whether exhaustion of administrative remedies was required. J.B. ex rel. Bailey v. Avilla R-XIII School Dist., 721 F.3d 588, 592 (8th Cir. 2013), citing Brown v. J.B. Hunt Transp. Servs., Inc., 586 F.3d 1079, 1083 n.4 (8th Cir. 2009).

         "In the IDEA, Congress established procedural safeguards to ensure individuals with disabilities will have the opportunity to obtain a free appropriate public education (FAPE)." Id., citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). One safeguard is an opportunity to present complaints about the provision of a FAPE in "an impartial due process hearing." Id., quoting Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311-12 (1988). See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). "A party aggrieved by the outcome of an IDEA due process hearing may challenge the outcome before the state educational review agency." J.B., 721 F.3d at 592, citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(g)(1). "The outcome of the administrative review hearing may then be disputed in district court." Id., citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A).

         The IDEA's exhaustion requirement also applies to claims under the Constitution, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal laws protecting children with disabilities to the extent those claims seek relief "that is also available under [the IDEA]." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1); Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. School, No. 15-497, 2017 WL 685533, at *8 (U.S. Feb. 22, 2017) ("Section 1415(1) 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) her suit 'seek[s] relief that is also available' under the IDEA."); J.B., 721 F.3d at 592 ("[B]efore parties may bring a claim in district court under a different statute for which they seek relief which is also available under the IDEA, the parties must first exhaust the administrative remedies under the IDEA."). After argument in this case, the Supreme Court held that "'relief that is also available' under the IDEA" means "relief for the denial of a FAPE, because that is the only 'relief' the IDEA makes 'available.'" Fry, 2017 WL 685533, at *8. Thus, "exhaustion is not necessary when the gravamen of the plaintiff's suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA's core guarantee-what the Act calls a 'free appropriate public education.'" Id., at *3, quoting § 1412(a)(1)(A).

         "[D]etermining whether a suit indeed 'seeks' relief for [denial of a FAPE], a court should look to the substance, or gravamen, of the plaintiff's complaint." Id., at *8. The inquiry "does not ride on whether a complaint includes (or, alternatively, omits) the precise words(?) 'FAPE' or 'IEP.'" Id., at *11. Rather, "[i]n addressing whether a complaint fits that description, a court should attend to the diverse means and ends of the statutes covering persons ...


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