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Isaac v. Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 6, 2015

STEWART ISAAC
v.
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES AND SUZY SONNIER, SECRETARY, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

RULING

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim.[1] Plaintiff, Stewart Isaac, has filed an Opposition [2] to which Defendants have filed a Reply .[3] For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion shall be denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In this disability action, Stewart Isaac ("Isaac") has asserted claims arising under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and ยง 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("RA") against the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") and Suzy Sonnier, in her official capacity as Secretary of DCFS. According to his Complaint [4], Isaac has Crohn's disease, a gastrointestinal disorder, which causes him frequent, painful attacks of diarrhea. Due to his disability, Isaac is unable to work and receives assistance though the federal program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP"), which is administered by DCFS.[5] In November of 2013, DCFS sent Isaac a Notice of Expiration of his SNAP benefits which explained that he would need to participate in a telephone interview on December 5, 2013. Additionally, Isaac was instructed to complete an on-line application prior to his scheduled telephone interview, or the interview would not occur. Isaac, however, did not have access to a computer. Therefore, he contacted DCFS and was told that he could pick up a paper application and mail it to DCFS.[6] Isaac contends he complied with these instructions.

Approximately one month lapsed during which time Isaac was never contacted by DCFS and his food stamps expired. Hence, on January 10, 2014, Isaac went to the DCFS office in LaPlace, Louisiana, where he was informed by a DCFS employee that his application had not been received.[7] This same employee gave Isaac another paper application and told him that he could take the application home, complete it, and then return it to the LaPlace DCFS office. Again, Isaac complied. However, when Isaac returned with his completed application on January 14, 2014, a different DCFS employee refused to accept his application, insisting in an allegedly rude and loud manner that the application had to be completed on-line. When Isaac informed her that he did not have access to a computer, the DCFS employee told him he could wait and someone would assist him in filing his application on-line.

Isaac alleges that the DCFS employee's rude treatment caused him immediate embarrassment, stress, nervousness, and anxiety, and within five minutes of their interaction, he began to experience sharp pains that had, in the past, preceded episodes of incontinence. Visibly upset, Isaac explained to the DCFS employee that he could not wait any longer due to his Crohn's disease. However, the DCFS employee did not acknowledge or inquire further about his statement regarding Crohn's disease. Instead, she instructed him to continue to wait and someone would be with him shortly. Before anyone could assist Isaac, he soiled himself and left without being permitted to submit his SNAP application. As a result, Isaac did not have SNAP benefits until sometime in April of 2014.[8]

Isaac filed the instant lawsuit against Defendants for failing to adopt policies and procedures to effectively accommodate disabled persons in accessing and maintaining their eligibility for SNAP benefits. He further alleges that Defendants failed to train DCFS staff regarding the rights of individuals with disabilities to such accommodations in the process of accessing and maintaining eligibility for SNAP benefits, programs, and services. Due to Defendants' alleged failures, Isaac claims he was denied meaningful access to SNAP benefits and that his ability to access SNAP benefits in the future remains in jeopardy. Isaac seeks various forms of relief, including compensatory damages, a permanent injunction, and declaratory relief.

Defendants now move for dismissal of Isaac's claims under Rule 12(b)(6), which Isaac opposes.

II. LAW

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'"[9] However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."[10] "Furthermore, while the court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, it will not strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff.'"[11] Rather, "[t]o survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'"[12] In order to satisfy the plausibility standard, the plaintiff must show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."[13] "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."[14] Furthermore, "[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do."[15] On a motion to dismiss, the court may consider "the complaint, its proper attachments, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.'"[16]

B. ADA and RA Claims

Congress enacted the ADA "[t]o provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities."[17] Under the ADA, "[n]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."[18] Similarly, under the RA, "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."[19] A qualified individual with a disability is "an individual with a disability, who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices....meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity."[20] Public entities include "[a]ny State or local government" and "[a]ny department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government."[21]

The elements of a prima facie claim under the ADA or the RA are generally the same, such that "jurisprudence interpreting either section is applicable to both."[22] Therefore, in order for a plaintiff to state a claim under the ADA or the RA, a plaintiff must demonstrate: "(1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that he is being excluded from participation in, or being denied benefits of, services, programs, or activities for which the public entity is responsible, or is otherwise being discriminated against by the public entity; and (3) that such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination is by reason of his disability."[23] Notably, "[t]he only material difference between the [ADA and the RA] lies in their respective causation requirements."[24] "Under Title II of the ADA, "discrimination need not be the ...


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