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Mweborn v. Gov't of District of Columbia

March 22, 2005

ELIZABETH MEWBORN, GUARDIAN AND NEXT FRIEND OF THE MINOR CHILD N.V., PLAINTIFF,
v.
GOVERNMENT OF DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et. seq. ("IDEA") on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment ("Pl. Mot."). Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment ("Def. Mot."). Plaintiff then filed an opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment and a reply to defendant's opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment ("Pl. Opp'n"). Defendant filed a reply to plaintiff's opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment ("Def. Reply"). Upon consideration of the filings and the applicable law, the Court will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and deny defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background*fn1

The plaintiff is the guardian of N.V., who was 16-year-old boy at the time this dispute arose and is eligible for special education as a result of multiple learning disabilities, including emotional disturbance and learning disabilities. (A.R. at 4, 144-63). In August, 2002, District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") placed N.V. at the Pines Residential Treatment Center ("the Pines"), the most restrictive educational environment available in the DCPS system. (A.R. at 4). After determining that N.V. had made progress at the Pines, DCPS and the Pines considered moving N.V. back to a more traditional educational environment during July, 2003. (Id.) At the same time, the educators at the Pines developed for N.V. an Individualized Educational Program ("IEP"), which included an allotment of 18.25 hours per week of specialized instruction in classes like English, Math and Science, and 14.25 hours per week of general education instruction in classes like Social Skills and P.E.A.C.E. (A.R. at 4, 146). The IEP also called for group and individual counseling, recreational therapy and substance abuse counseling. (A.R. at 170-77). DCPS did not participate in the development of this IEP. (A.R. at 163).

At some point during the summer of 2003, DCPS placement specialist Sharon Woodson ("Woodson") took over responsibility for monitoring students at the Pines. (A.R. at 4). Woodson monitored these children by reviewing their progress reports; however, neither she nor anyone else from DCPS contacted N.V.'s therapist at the Pines until September, 2003. (Id.).

In September, 2003, plaintiff's counsel called Woodson regarding the need for a placement meeting and new placement for the student. (Id.) On September 15, 2003, counsel filed a due process hearing request to initiate a placement meeting. (A.R. at 26-31). Woodson received N.V.'s report card and IEP from the Pines on September 24, 2003. (Id.) Apparently due to scheduling difficulties, N.V.'s placement meeting for the student was not held until October 7, 2003. (Id.) Via telephone, Woodson convened a meeting that included the education director from the Pines, two student therapists from the Pines, N.V.'s classroom teacher at the Pines, N.V.'s guidance counselor from the Pines, plaintiff and her counsel, and Ms. Ingram ("Ingram") from the Spingarn Center ("Spingarn"). (Id.)

At the meeting, the multi-disciplinary team ("MDT") discussed N.V.'s IEP, and decided that many of the student's goals and objectives remained appropriate for him. (A.R. at 5).*fn2 N.V.'s behavioral assessment did not change from what was stated in his IEP. (Id.) The MDT, however, failed to discuss N.V.'s need for therapeutic services, including his potential need for substance abuse treatment and tutoring. (Id.) Though he received therapeutic services during his time at the Pines, neither the July IEP nor this October 7, 2003, meeting addressed these needs. (Id.)

The MDT then determined that N.V. would require 32 hours of specialized instruction and related services and would be in a full-time special education program. (Id.) This kind of instruction was not called for in N.V.'s July, 2003, IEP implemented by the Pines, which called for only part-time special education. (Id.) The IEP called for N.V. to be eased back into a traditional educational environment with both special and general education. (Id.) According to DCPS, this change in IEP during the October 7, 2003, meeting constituted an amendment to N.V.'s IEP. (Id.) Woodson made notes during this meeting concerning the new program for N.V. (Id.) At this point, DCPS recommended Spingarn, which has three social workers and classrooms limited at ten students with a certified special education teacher, as an appropriate location in which to carry out N.V.'s IEP. (Id.)

II. Applicable Law

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) when no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). As with Rule 12(b)(6) motions for dismissal, facts and inferences drawn from those facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). Summary judgment may still be granted, however, if evidence favoring the non-moving party is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Once the moving party files a proper summary judgment motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. For a non-moving party to establish a genuine issue for trial exists, it must do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

B. IDEA

IDEA "confers upon disabled students an enforceable substantive right to public education... and conditions federal financial assistance upon a State's compliance with the substantive and procedural goals of the Act." Honig v. John Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 310 (1988).*fn3

The goal of IDEA is to ensure that all children are afforded "a free and appropriate public education... designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and ...


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