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Doe v. City of New Bedford

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 28, 2018

JOHN DOE, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF NEW BEDFORD, et al., Defendants.


          Indira Talwani United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiffs Jane Doe and John Doe, on behalf of their child, Plaintiff Bill Doe, brought this action alleging that Defendants had negligently maintained school facilities, had failed to adequately respond to a pattern of bullying by other students, and had failed to provide adequate accommodations for Bill's disability. Am. Compl. [#9].[1] Defendants City of New Bedford and New Bedford School Committee now seek judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining two claims: Count IV for a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (“Section 504”), and Count V for a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 (“Title II”). Defs. Mot. Summary. Judgment [#58]. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that the parties' Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release (“Settlement Agreement”) bars the remaining two claims, and ALLOWS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [#58].

         II. Procedural History and Related Facts

         In 2011, Bill Doe suffered a head injury at Carney Academy in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 1-2, 11 [#60]. During the following several school years, Plaintiffs and Defendants had numerous disagreements over § 504 accommodation plans for Bill's subsequent disability. Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 31-45 [#60]. On February 10, 2014, Plaintiffs' attorney submitted a letter to the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”) requesting a hearing. Defs.' SOF ¶ 43 [#60]; Defs.' SOF Ex. Q [#60-18]. The letter was “in part for the exhaustion of claims under 29 USC 794 and MGL c. 71B against the New Bedford Public Schools. . . .” Defs.' SOF Ex. Q [#60-18]. The letter reported that Plaintiffs had filed a M.G.L. c. 258 demand letter “to protect all state claims.” Id.

         Ten months later, on December 12, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the instant action. See Compl. [#1]. Plaintiffs asserted a claim relating to Bill Doe's injury at the school (Count VII for gross negligence), claims arising from Defendants' alleged subsequent failure to protect Bill Doe from bullying (Counts I and II for violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Count III for violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Count VI for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Count VIII[2] for negligent infliction of emotional distress), and the claims arising from Defendants' alleged failure to accommodate Bill's subsequent disability (Count IV for violation of Section 504 and Count V for violation of Title II). Id. On March 6, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint to fix typographic errors but did not amend or add claims. Am. Compl. [#9].

         On March 16, 2015, shortly after the Amended Complaint was filed, John Doe and a representative of the New Bedford Schools executed the Settlement Agreement. Defs.' SOF ¶ 46 [#60]; Defs.' SOF Ex. R [#60-19]. Plaintiffs' attorney negotiated the Settlement Agreement on Plaintiffs' behalf. Defs.' SOF ¶ 47 [#60]. The relevant portions of the Settlement Agreement provide:

In full and final settlement of any and all specific claims which the Parents and/or [Bill Doe] (Student) have or might have asserted against the New Bedford Public Schools (District), its officers, agents, and employees specifically pertaining to, or arising out of any and all obligations which the District had or now has to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the Student for any and all periods since he enrolled in the District to the date of this Agreement, with the exception of the tort claims as set forth in paragraph 8 below . . .
. . .
8. The terms of this Agreement resolve all of the issues which exist or may exist to date, including those currently pending before the BSEA, arising under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (IDEA), G.L. c. 71B, and the “exhaustion” requirements of federal and state law, except as provided as follows:
a. With respect to any potential tort or damages claim(s) that either party has asserted or might assert in the future pertaining to [Bill Doe], the Parents and the District agree that any such claims shall be pursued in a court of competent jurisdiction, and the parties agree that the . . . [BSEA] . . . is not a court of competent jurisdiction as to any tort or damages claims. The parties agree that there is no disability related issue arising under or related to the IDEA, Section 504, ADA, or MGL c. 718. The parties further agree that any such tort and/or damages claim(s) is/are not subject to administrative agency review . . . [T]he parties agree that this Agreement shall not extend any statutory time limitations pertaining to such tort or damages claims.

Defs.' SOF Ex. R [#60-19]. John Doe testified that at the time he signed the Settlement Agreement, he “thought this would resolve the open matters of [Defendants'] noncompliance.” Defs.' SOF Ex. B, 340:12-18 [#60-3].[3]

         On April 1, 2015, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss [#11]. The court allowed the motion in part, dismissing all claims arising from Defendants' alleged failure to protect Bill Doe from bullying (Counts I, II, III, VI, VIII, IX) and for Defendants' alleged gross negligence in failing to maintain the gym floor where Bill Doe sustained his injury (Count VII). Mem. & Order [#34]. The court denied Defendants request to dismiss Counts IV and V based on the Settlement Agreement, as the Settlement Agreement was not referred or attached to the Amended Complaint, and the factual allegations in the Amended Complaint were not expressly linked to and dependent upon the Settlement Agreement. Id. Defendants did not seek to raise the issue by an early summary judgment motion, and instead, the parties proceeded with discovery.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment as to the two remaining counts, arguing that: (1) Plaintiffs released Defendants from these two claims in the Settlement Agreement; (2) there is no evidence of intentional discrimination by Defendants; and (3) there is no separate liability for the school committee. This order addresses focuses on the first ...

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