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McKnight v. Lyon County School District

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 17, 2017

TERRIA MCKNIGHT, PARENT OF JAREL MCKNIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
LYON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         Before the Court is Defendant Lyon County School District's (“Defendant” or “LCSD”) Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 32), Motion on Plaintiff's Appeal of Administrative Decisions of Special Education Review Officers (“Motion to Affirm”) (ECF No. 33), and Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Supplementary Pleading (“Motion to Strike”) (ECF No. 38). The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's response to Defendant's Motion and Motion to Affirm (ECF No. 35) and Defendant's reply (ECF No. 36) as well as all accompanying exhibits. Plaintiff also filed a supplementary pleading (ECF No. 37) further opposing Defendant's Motion and Motion to Affirm almost a month after filing her initial response, which Defendant has now moved to strike. Because Plaintiff filed this document without leave of court, the Court declines to consider it in ruling on Defendant's Motion and Motion to Affirm and will strike the supplement.[1]

         For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part but without prejudice as to Count 4. Defendant's Motion to Affirm is denied without prejudice. Defendant's Motion to Strike is granted. The Clerk is instructed to strike Plaintiff's supplementary pleading (ECF No. 37).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Terria McKnight, proceeding pro se, asserts claims on behalf of her son, Jarel (“Student”), against LCSD.[2] Plaintiff filed her initial complaint on January 26, 2016.[3](ECF No. 4.) With leave of court, she filed her first amended complaint (“FAC”) (ECF No. 17) on June 16, 2016. (ECF No. 16.)

         Student attends Yerington Elementary School in the Lyon County School District. The claims in this case primarily concern Student's individualized education program (“IEP”) for the 2014-15 and 2015-16[4] school years[5] and the process by which these plans were developed. During the 2014-2015 school year, Student was eligible for special education and related services based on a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), Student is entitled to an IEP that complies with the requirements of a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) under the statute. See M.L. v. Fed. Way Sch. Dist., 394 F.3d 634, 642 (9th Cir. 2005). An IEP is an educational program designed specifically for a student with a disability. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). FAPE is also required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504” or “Rehabilitation Act”), but the requirements for FAPE under Section 504 are not identical to those under IDEA. See Mark H. v Lemahieu, 513 F.3d 922, 933 (9th Cir. 2008). For instance, where a school adopts a valid IDEA IEP, this is “sufficient but not necessary” to satisfy Section 504's FAPE requirements. Id. (citing 34 C.F.R. § 104.33(b)(2)). Pursuant to IDEA, if a parent believes her child's IEP is inappropriate, they may request an impartial due process hearing. Schaffer ex rel. Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 51 (2005) (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)) (internal quotation marks removed). Plaintiff filed a due process complaint for Student's March, April, and May 2015 IEPs, which was administratively exhausted by the time she filed suit on January 26, 2016.

         Plaintiff asks for injunctive and compensatory relief as well as relief for emotional distress, requesting damages in the amount of $5, 952, 004.80. (ECF No. 17 at 27.) She also asks for a declaratory judgment that LCSD violated her and Student's rights. (Id.)

         III. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         A. Legal Standard

         The purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials when there is no dispute as to the facts before the court. Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving party and a dispute is “material” if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, however, summary judgment is not appropriate. See id. at 250-51. “The amount of evidence necessary to raise a genuine issue of material fact is enough ‘to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.'” Aydin Corp. v. Loral Corp., 718 F.2d 897, 902 (9th Cir. 1983) (quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)). In evaluating a summary judgment motion, a court views all facts and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Kaiser Cement Corp. v. Fishbach & Moore, Inc., 793 F.2d 1100, 1103 (9th Cir. 1986).

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Zoslaw v. MCA Distrib. Corp., 693 F.2d 870, 883 (9th Cir. 1982). “In order to carry its burden of production, the moving party must either produce evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or defense or show that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial.” Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd v. Fritz Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). Once the moving party satisfies Rule 56's requirements, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party “may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists, ” Bhan v. NME Hosps., Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th Cir. 1991), and “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Orr v. Bank of Am., NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 783 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         Mindful of the fact that the Supreme Court has “instructed the federal courts to liberally construe the ‘inartful pleading' of pro se litigants, ” Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam)), the Court will view Plaintiff's pleadings with the appropriate degree of leniency.

         B. Discussion

         1. Count 1[6]

         Count 1 of the FAC alleges that Plaintiff's and her son's rights under the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments, and Article VI Section II of the Constitution were violated. (ECF No. 17 at 14-15.) Preliminarily, there is no Section II to Article VI of the United States Constitution. Therefore, the Court only considers the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth Amendment claims.[7]

         Plaintiff contends that her First Amendment rights were violated when “during the first hearing [she] was restricted from giving testimony as to the facts of the case by not being able to fully speak about the issues” and “during [the] second hearing [she] was not allowed to quote laws that she felt were relevant to the facts of the case.” (ECF No. 17 at 14.) These claims appear to be against the hearing officers, who are not named as defendants in this action. Therefore, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendant on this claim.

         Plaintiff contends that her and/or her son's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when an autism specialist at LCSD conducted an observation of Student without Plaintiff's consent and also when LCSD permitted the local newspaper to take Student's photo and post his personally identifiable information in the paper without Plaintiff's consent. (ECF No. 17 at 14-15.) The purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials. Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 504 (1978) (internal citation omitted). Because a newspaper employee took the photograph (i.e., conducted the search/invaded Student and/or Plaintiff's privacy), and there is no allegation that the newspaper employee was a government official, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to Plaintiff's claim about the photograph. Regarding Plaintiff's claim concerning observation of her son for educational purposes, because Student had already qualified for FAPE (see ECF No. 17 at 4 (stating that the first IEP was implemented May 27, 2013)), the specialist's routine observation of Student for purposes of evaluating Student does not fall within the province of an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, Plaintiff does not allege that her son had a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning evaluations by LCSD for his educational needs.[8] Therefore, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendant on this claim.

         Plaintiff contends that her Sixth Amendment rights were violated because she should have been informed as to the reason the observation was conducted, because she was denied the ability to confront witnesses during the first resolution meeting, and because she was not presented with appropriate legal information from LCSD that would have allowed her to obtain a lawyer who specialized in education law. (See ECF No. 17 at 15.) The Sixth Amendment applies only to criminal prosecutions. U.S. Const. amend. VI (stating that the provisions apply “in all criminal prosecutions”). Therefore, summary judgment is granted in favor of Defendant on this claim.

         Plaintiff contends she was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment when “the hearing officer used a law from 1870 to say that nothing has to be proven” so as to punish Plaintiff for filing her due process complaint. (ECF No. 17 at 15.) The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment applies only to convicted prisoners. See, e.g., Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 284 (“The [cruel and unusual punishment] clause prohibits not only barbaric punishments, but also sentences that are disproportionate to the crime committed”). Therefore, as this is not a legally cognizable claim, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendant.

         Finally, Plaintiff contends that under the Ninth Amendment LCSD denied her son's right to an appropriate education. Plaintiff cites no case law establishing that the Ninth Amendment guarantees individuals a right to an appropriate education. Moreover, the Ninth Amendment does not independently create a constitutional right for purposes of stating a claim. Schowengerdt v. United States, 944 F.2d 483, 490 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing Strandberg v. City of Helena, 791 F.2d 744 (9th Cir. 1986)). Instead, the Amendment is “simply a rule about how to read the Constitution.” San Diego Cnty. Gun Rights Comm. v. Reno, 98 F.3d 1121, 1125 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal citation omitted). Therefore, as Plaintiff has not stated a legally cognizable claim, summary judgment is granted to Defendant on this claim.

         In sum, Defendant's Motion is granted as to Count 1.

         2. ...


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