Bullying Lawsuit Dismissed Again

For the second time in less than a year, HLERK’s Michelle Todd and Stephanie Jones obtained dismissal of plaintiff’s bullying claims in Kuhner v. Highland Community United School District No. 5. In that case, a special education student alleged the school district had failed to respond to her bullying complaints.  The federal district court held that J.K. and her parents were seeking relief available under IDEA despite not invoking IDEA as the basis for their claims. The court reasoned that merely requesting monetary damages does not remove a cause of action from the ambit of IDEA.

The court found that where the plaintiff requests monetary damages so that she can compensate for failures of the school district that could be provided in-kind by the school district, the request was really one for relief available under IDEA, which required exhaustion of administrative remedies. Therefore, the court dismissed J.K.’s claims regarding her emotional distress and depreciation of access to a public education and advised her to complete IDEA administrative process pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). With regard to J.K.’s claims of physical injuries, the court granted J.K. leave to amend her complaint to address those claims where remedy is unavailable under IDEA.

J.K. filed an amended complaint with nearly identical claims to those in the first complaint. The district court noted that the amended complaint “allege[d] the same basic facts as the initial complaint, but add[ed] allegations of ‘bodily harm’ and ‘numerous medical bills.’” Once again, Michelle Todd, Stephanie Jones, and Frazier Satterly successfully defended the complaint.

The district court found that J.K. failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The court noted that, “When a point in that system fails, the parents must then pursue all avenues to ensure the safety and welfare of their child. Such is the purpose of the administrative remedies. While there are some exceptions to the exhaustion requirement, the Court cannot find that any of the exceptions apply in this matter. Therefore, this matter is being resolved once again on the exhaustion issue and the Court will not address Defendants’ claims of tort immunity.”

Please contact Michelle Todd or Stephanie Jones with your bullying inquiries.

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