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Klos v. Belanger

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 27, 2019

THOMAS KLOS and MESENIA GUZMÁN, as parents and next friends of E.K., a minor, Plaintiffs
WENDY BELANGER, et al., Defendants


          John H. Rich III, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Thomas Klos and Mesenia Guzmán, as parents and next friends of E.K., a minor, sue Maine School Administrative District 13 (“District”), the Maine Department of Education (“MDOE”), and 16 individuals, including school personnel, school attorneys, and MDOE personnel, for violations of, inter alia, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and their due process rights. See Complaint (ECF No. 1) ¶¶ 2, 4-21, 149-54. I grant the plaintiffs' request to proceed in forma pauperis and, because the complaint states a claim against the District pursuant to the IDEA, recommend that the court permit this case to proceed.[1]

         I. Application To Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         In forma pauperis status is available under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In his motion to proceed in forma pauperis, plaintiff Klos declares under penalty of perjury that (i) his income consists of Social Security Disability payments totaling $1, 103 monthly for himself and $551 for his child, (ii) he has $74.54 in cash in a checking or savings account, (iii) he owns a 2001 Subaru Outback worth approximately $1, 000, (iv) he has a mortgage payment of $730.11 monthly as well as approximately $253 monthly in utility costs (water, sewer, electricity, and phone), and (v) he has approximately $60, 000 in student loan debt. Even assuming, as the word “mortgage” suggests, that the plaintiff owns real estate, these circumstances entitle him to proceed in forma pauperis.

         II. Section 1915(e)(2)(B) Review

         A. Applicable Legal Standard

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines[, ]” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989); see also Mallard v. United States Dist. Court S.D. Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 307-08 (1989) (“Section 1915(d), for example, authorizes courts to dismiss a ‘frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so even in the absence of this statutory provision.”).[2]

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, a court must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim[, ]” Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner in which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). As noted, the statute that provides for waiver of the filing fee also requires the court to determine whether the plaintiff's case may proceed. In other words, the plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed if the court finds it to be frivolous or malicious, seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In this regard, a pro se plaintiff's complaint must be read liberally. Donovan v. Maine, 276 F.3d 87, 94 (1st Cir. 2002).

         B. Factual Background

         So read, the plaintiff's complaint alleges, in relevant part:

E.K., a minor child with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and other developmental disorders, attended Moscow Elementary School from 2014 through September 2018. Complaint ¶ 3. In December 2016, Edward Ferreira, then the District's Director of Special Education, conducted a meeting during which E.K. was determined eligible for special education services in the category of “emotional disturbance.” Id. ¶ 41.

         The District did not hold a subsequent meeting to draft an individualized education program (“IEP”), instead drafting the IEP without input from the plaintiffs. Id. ¶ 43. The District claims to have implemented the IEP in late January 2017. Id. The IEP required weekly therapy with Marcy Melcher, as well as referral to Ms. Melcher and notification to the plaintiffs whenever E.K. became emotionally dysregulated. Id. Although the District requested that the plaintiffs sign ...

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