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Mary G-N v. City of Northampton

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 20, 2014

MARY G-N, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NORTHAMPTON, Defendant

For Mary G-N, Plaintiff: Stephen R. Kaplan, Attorney Stephen R. Kaplan, Florence, MA.

For City of Northampton, Defendant: Regina W. Tate, Murphy, Hesse, Toomey, and Lehane, Quincy, MA.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM

(Dkt. No. 8)

MARK G. MASTROIANNI, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Mary G-N is the parent of a minor child (" Student" ) who has attended school and received special education services pursuant to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), in the public school system of Defendant, City of Northampton. She filed a complaint against Defendant in connection with a dispute involving Student and, with the assistance of counsel, pursued her complaint through a proceeding before the

Page 268

Board of Special Education Appeals (" BSEA" ). Following the conclusion of the BSEA proceeding, Plaintiff filed this action seeking an award of attorneys' fees, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), which allows a court to " award reasonable attorneys' fees . . . to the parents of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party" in a proceeding before the BSEA.

Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's suit pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), asserting that her claim is time-barred. Plaintiff filed her complaint on the ninetieth day after the date of the BSEA decision. The court must now determine whether the applicable statute of limitations is less than ninety days. After carefully considering the different limitations periods which could apply to this action, the court determines the most appropriate limitations period is the three-year statute of limitations borrowed from the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, § 4, and applicable to civil actions instituted against public employers. As Plaintiff's claim was filed just ninety days after the date of the BSEA ruling, this court will deny Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

I. Background

During the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, Student attended John F. Kennedy Middle School (" JFK" ), a public school in Northampton operated by Defendant, City of Northampton. Student is disabled and has an Individualized Education Plan (" IEP" ). Shortly after the start of Student's seventh grade year, in September 2013, Student was found to have brought a pocket knife to school. Following a " manifestation determination meeting," Student was expelled from JFK. Plaintiff appealed the expulsion and a hearing was held before the BSEA. On March 25, 2014, the BSEA issued its decision, setting aside, as erroneous, the determination made at the 2013 manifestation determination meeting. As the BSEA's decision invalidated the expulsion, the BSEA also ordered that the expulsion be expunged from Student's record.

The BSEA's decision included a section near the end addressing the parties' rights to appeal the decision, which specified appeals must be filed in state or federal court within ninety days of the date of the BSEA's decision, citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(B). No deadline related to attorneys' fees actions was provided in the notice. Nonetheless, Plaintiff initiated this action for attorneys' fees, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3), on June 23, 2014, the ninetieth day following the date of the BSEA decision.

II. Standard of Review

" [A] statute of limitations defense can be considered on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion" provided the " complaint and any documents that properly may be read in conjunction with it show beyond doubt that the claim is asserted out of time." Rodi v. S. New ...


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