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HOLMES v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

February 25, 1988

Jonathan Holmes, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
The District of Columbia, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

 This case is now before me on defendants ' motion for "Relief From the Court Order Entering Judgment in Favor of Plaintiffs" and plaintiffs ' "Request for Reasonable Attorneys ' Fees." After careful consideration of these motions I have decided to deny defendants ' motion and to grant the motion made by plaintiffs.

 These motions have come before me after the completion of a one day bench trial where I entered judgment on behalf of plaintiffs. The heart of defendants ' request for relief is that I failed to make a finding about the appropriateness of the Buchanan School as a placement for Mr. Holmes for the 1985-86 school year -- and that it was therefore inappropriate for me to order the defendants to pay the costs of Jonathan Holmes ' education at the Chelsea School for that school year. Defendants assert:

 
This circumstance together with the absence of a finding in the judgment of the Court on the issue of the appropriateness of Buchanan for the school year 1985-86 is contrary to § 1415(e)(2) and Rowley. . . "The ultimate question for a court under the Act is whether a proposed IEP is adequate and appropriate for a particular child at a given point in time." Moreover, because plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any alleged inappropriateness with regard to the 1985-86 IEP and defendants have demonstrated an ability to implement the IEP, plaintiffs are required to bear the financial cost of the minor plaintiff's private school placement.

 Defendants ' Brief at 4. Defendants make the corollary claim that "it is premature for the Court to decide on an appropriate placement for the 1987-88 school year." They also request relief from that judgment -- and my order that they pay the cost of Jonathan Holmes ' education at Chelsea for those two years. Defendants ' Brief at 5. Defendants ' two requests for relief amount to a request for me to vacate my Order in its entirety.

 Defendants are wrong on both counts. I found that the Chelsea School was appropriate for the past two school years and that it is an appropriate placement for this school year. In fact, in rendering my Opinion from the Bench, I stated:

 Whether or not that finding was understood by defendants to completely resolve this matter, I now emphasize that Chelsea is and has been the appropriate placement for Mr. Holmes. It is also my finding and conclusion that the Buchanan School was not and is not an appropriate placement for this youngster. It is not often that a court can be as positive in making a finding as I am in this case. My finding is based on testimony I heard firsthand about how well this handicapped youngster has adapted to the Chelsea School environment. I do not know how the Buchanan School, which is virtually in a start-up posture, could have come even close to meeting the needs of the plaintiff. For any court to have ordered this youngster to attend the Buchanan School for the 1985 school year, during the school's start-up period, would have been a reckless and wanton act. Such an act would have been particularly wrongheaded in light of plaintiff's complete adjustment to the environment of the Chelsea School program. Moreover, to now send the plaintiff to the Buchanan School to complete the last semester of his schooling would not only be inappropriate, but would also be insensitive and indefensible.

 Accordingly, the District must pay for Mr. Holmes ' schooling at Chelsea for all of the time he has attended and will attend that school. As I have already stated, at no time during this ongoing proceeding was Buchanan an appropriate placement for Mr. Holmes. A brief review of the procedural history of this case will make it clear that defendants have only themselves to blame for Mr. Holmes ' placement in a private school and the concomitant imposition of the costs of that placement on the District of Columbia.

 Because of defendants, initial failure to submit a timely IEP for Mr. Holmes when he was preparing to enter high school, as well as other procedural mistakes by defendants, the hearing examiner found that Mr. Holmes ' parents were justified in placing Mr. Holmes in Chelsea. She found the defendants should pay for that placement from the date of Jonathan Holmes ' enrollment until the date of her decision. She further found that Buchanan would be an appropriate placement for Jonathan Holmes after the date of her decision -- which was rendered on March 6, 1986.

 Plaintiffs appealed the hearing officer's ruling that Buchanan would be an appropriate placement after March 6, 1986 (or, in other words, that after March 6, 1986, either Mr. Holmes would have to enroll in Buchanan or his parents would have to absorb the cost of his attending Chelsea). During the pendency of that appeal, defendants were required by the EHA to pay the costs of Mr. Holmes ' placement at Chelsea. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(3) ("status quo provision").

 Judge June Green, relying in part on the fact that the egregious procedural performance by the defendants was fundamentally responsible for Jonathan Holmes ' initial placement at Chelsea, followed the "status quo provision" of the EHA on July 23, 1987, when she granted plaintiffs ' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Her ruling resolved the question of who would pay for Jonathan Holmes ' placement at Chelsea during the pendency of this litigation -- it would be the District of Columbia. There is no question that she was correct -- and I was at no time asked to consider, nor did I consider her judgment one that was subject to my review on October 29, 1987. Therefore, regardless of how I resolved the issue of where Jonathan Holmes was to be placed for the balance of this school year, defendants were responsible for paying for his placement at Chelsea from the date of his enrollment there until the date of my decision.

 After reviewing their argument, it seems that defendants are arguing that a court cannot rule on the appropriateness of a placement unless there has been a full and independent administrative record already ...


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