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Taylor v. State, Department of Education

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

January 28, 2016

KATHY TAYLOR, as parent and legal guardian of C.T., Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MAINE, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

RICHARD O'MEARA, ESQ. MURRAY, PLUMB & MURRAY, Plaintiffs Counsel

PHYLLIS GARDINER, AAC. SARAH A. FORSTER, AAG. OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Defendant's Counsel

ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

Lance E. Walkar Justice, Superior Court

Before the court is Defendant Maine Department of Education's ("DOE") motion to dismiss Plaintiff Kathy Taylor's complaint for review of an administrative hearing officer's order and for enforcement of an alleged settlement agreement between the parties. For the following reasons, DOE's motion to dismiss is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kathy Taylor is the mother of C.T., a 19-year-old man with severe autism. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-3.) C.T. is a "state agency client" under Maine's Unified Special Education Regulations, which implement the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). (Id. ¶ 3.) DOE is responsible for providing state agency clients with a free appropriate public education, as required by IDEA. (Id. ¶ 6.) C.T. currently receives educational services at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders ("CADD") in South Portland, pursuant to an Individualized Education Plan funded by DOE. (Id. ¶ 8.)

On December 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed an IDEA due process complaint against DOE alleging that C.T. had not received a free appropriate public education between 2010 and 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) A hearing officer was appointed and a hearing was scheduled for January 30, 2015. (Hr'g Officer Ruling 1.) The parties attended mediation on January 12, 2015, but did not reach an agreement. (Compl. ¶ 21.) On January 20, 2015, DOE extended a settlement offer via email, in which DOE offered to provide an additional year for C.T. at CADD or an equivalent educational program and a payment of $15, 000 to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiffs counsel subsequently exchanged emails with DOE, in which DOE clarified that its offer encompassed a full 12-month period and that the $15, 000 payment would not constitute income to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) Plaintiff accepted this offer on January 21, 2015. (Id. ¶ 28.)

Several weeks later, it became apparent that the parties had differing interpretations of the agreement. On February 4, 2015, DOE informed Plaintiff that it would pay $75, 000 toward C.T.'s educational services for the 2016-2017 school year. (Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff had believed that DOE's offer included all of C.T.'s educational services, which cost $206, 444 for the 2014-2015 school year and will likely cost more for the 2016-2017 school year due to inflation. (Compl. ¶ 34; Def. Mot. Dismiss 2.) Plaintiff brought this dispute to the attention of the administrative hearing officer and requested that the hearing officer hold the hearing in abeyance until the dispute was resolved. (Hr'g Officer Ruling 2; Compl. 36.) On February 11, 2015, the hearing officer convened a conference call to discuss whether she had jurisdiction to decide if the parties had entered into a settlement agreement. (Hr'g Officer Ruling 2.) On March 13, 2015, the hearing officer issued an order concluding that she lacked jurisdiction to decide whether the parties had entered into a settlement agreement. (Hr'g Officer Ruling 11; Compl. ¶ 37.) A hearing on Plaintiffs due process complaint has not occurred.

Plaintiff filed this complaint on March 24, 2015. (Compl. at 1.) The complaint contains one count, which seeks review of the hearing officer's order and enforcement of the alleged settlement agreement. (Id. ¶¶ 42-45.) On April 21, 2015, DOE filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Def. Mot. Dismiss 1.) Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion on April 27, 2015. (Pl. Opp'n to Def. Mot. Dismiss 1.) DOE filed a reply on May 6, 2015. (Def. Reply to PL Opp'n to Def. Mot. Dismiss 1.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Although DOE moved to dismiss pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), because DOE is challenging the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the appropriate standard is actually Rule 12(b)(1). See Ewing v. Me. Dist. Court, 2009 ME 16, ¶ 12, 964 A.2d 644 (stating the court should have dismissed claim under Rule 12(b)(1) when inquiry was whether court had authority to decide the case before it).

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction. M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). "When a court's jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing that jurisdiction is proper." Commerce Bank & Trust Co. v. Dworman, 2004 ME 142, ¶ 8, 861 A.2d 662. The court makes no favorable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Persson v. Dep't of Human Servs., 2001 ME 124, ¶ 8, 775 A.2d 363. ...


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