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Santamaria v. District of Columbia

February 6, 2007

GLORIA SANTAMARIA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, parents and next friends of children enrolled in the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"), sued the District of Columbia ("the District") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA" or "the Act"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., seeking to recover attorneys' fees as prevailing parties in administrative hearings regarding the District's alleged failure to provide a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") to plaintiffs' children. The District has moved to dismiss the claims of eleven plaintiffs, arguing they are not prevailing parties within the meaning of IDEA. Because plaintiff Tiffanie Little achieved only a de minimis change in the legal relationship between herself and the District, she is not a prevailing party under the Act, and the District's motion to dismiss with respect to her claim will be granted. Because the remaining plaintiffs achieved a material change in the legal relationship between themselves and the District in their administrative hearings, they are prevailing parties under the Act and eligible to receive attorneys' fees, and the motion to dismiss their claims will be denied.

BACKGROUND

I. ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS

Plaintiffs individually requested hearings pursuant to the IDEA seeking various forms of relief because of the District's alleged failure to provide their children with a FAPE.

Tiffanie Little, as parent and next friend of student T.B., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS prepared an individualized education program ("IEP")*fn1 and a placement for T.B. that were inappropriate. Little sought a finding that DCPS had denied T.B. a FAPE and an order that DCPS provide compensatory education. The hearing officer found that "there [was] no reason to conclude that DCPS denied the student [a] FAPE," but did order that "an MDT meeting should be held to ensure that the IEP the mother has is the same as that being implemented." (Compl., Ex. 3 at 11.)

Melissa Boyd, as parent of student P.B., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to comprehensively assess P.B. for written language expression, failed to provide written notice of its failure to assess, and prepared an inappropriate IEP for P.B. Boyd sought a finding that DCPS denied P.B. a FAPE, requested that DCPS fund an independent written language assessment of P.B., and requested that an MDT meeting be scheduled to incorporate the assessment into P.B.'s IEP. The hearing officer found that DCPS's failure to assess P.B. "was an unintentional oversight, which had been cured by DCPS" and that "DCPS [had] provided this student a free appropriate public education." (Compl., Ex. 4 at 13.) The hearing officer ordered that a "MDT/IEP meeting to review all current evaluations" be held and that "DCPS shall provide compensatory education and develop a Compensatory Education Plan to include all additional[] services in the revised IEP." Id.

Karen Fisher, as parent and next friend of student L.F., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to timely determine L.F.'s eligibility for special education, failed to develop an appropriate IEP for L.F., failed to appropriately place L.F., failed to conduct evaluations, and failed to timely provide L.F. with special education instruction. Fisher sought a finding that DCPS had denied L.F. a FAPE due to these failures and requested that DCPS fund evaluations and tutoring, and convene an MDT meeting to revise L.F.'s IEP. The hearing officer determined that "[b]ased on the record, there is insufficient evidence that DCPS has denied the student [a] FAPE[,]" but did order DCPS to "convene an MDT/Eligibility meeting to determine the student's eligibility for special education." (Compl., Ex. 6 at 18.)

Kathy Johnson, as parent and next friend of student M.J., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to convene an MDT meeting to review and respond to certain independent assessments of M.J. as ordered by another hearing officer and that DCPS failed to implement M.J.'s IEP. Johnson sought a finding that DCPS had denied M.J. a FAPE due to these failures and requested that DCPS convene an MDT review meeting and implement or fund a compensatory education plan. The hearing officer acknowledged that DCPS did not convene an MDT meeting, but held that this failure did not result in a denial of a FAPE because the evaluation did not recommend additional services for M.J. However, the hearing officer did order DCPS to convene an MDT meeting to determine if special education services required by M.J.'s IEP had not been provided. (See Compl., Ex. 9 at 10-11.)

Pamela King, as parent and next friend of student D.K., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to conduct a neuropsychological evaluation and failed to develop an appropriate IEP for D.K. King sought a finding that DCPS had denied D.K. a FAPE due to these failures and requested that DCPS fund an independent neuropsychological evaluation, convene an MDT review meeting, revise D.K.'s IEP as necessary and provide compensatory education. The hearing officer found that notes from D.K.'s MDT indicated that a neuropsychological evaluation was recommended and that DCPS had not shown that it conducted the recommended testing. The hearing officer ordered that DCPS conduct the evaluation and convene an MDT meeting to review the evaluation. (See Compl., Ex. 11 at 10-11.)

Lisa Miller, as parent and next friend of student S.M., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to convene timely a complete team for S.M.'s annual IEP review, failed to convene a meeting at Miller's request, failed to implement S.M.'s IEP and failed to appropriately place S.M. for the 2005 to 2006 school year. Miller sought a finding that DCPS had denied S.M. a FAPE due to these failures and requested that DCPS convene an MDT review meeting with all necessary participants, fund a suitable private placement and provide compensatory education. The hearing officer found that DCPS had not denied S.M. a FAPE. Nonetheless, the hearing officer ordered DCPS to provide three months of home-schooling to S.M. to serve as a bridge to enable S.M to attend his placement school. (See Compl., Ex. 13 at 18-19.)

Jeanuel Partridge, as parent and next friend of J.P., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to complete a vocational assessment and comprehensive evaluation of J.P. Partridge sought a finding that DCPS had denied J.P. a FAPE due to these failures and requested that DCPS fund the requested evaluations, reconvene an MDT meeting and provide tutoring. The hearing officer found that DCPS had committed a technical violation of the statute by not conducting the evaluation, but had not denied S.M. a FAPE. Further, the hearing officer ordered DCPS to conduct the vocational assessment and convene an MDT meeting afterwards. The hearing officer also noted that DCPS had agreed to do the testing. (See Compl., Ex. 15 at 19.)

Theresa Brown, as parent and next friend of student A.P., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS did not provide a FAPE to A.P. because it failed to appropriately place A.P. after she was discharged from her previous placement. Brown requested that DCPS issue a prior notice of placement for A.P. to the Oaks Treatment Center in Texas. The hearing officer found that DCPS warranted additional time to locate an appropriate placement with Medicaid reimbursement and had not denied A.P. a FAPE. However, the hearing officer did order DCPS to convene an MDT meeting within thirty days of the decision and to place and fund A.P. at the Judge Rotenburg Residential Treatment facility if at the MDT meeting DCPS failed to identify an appropriate placement for A.P. (See Compl., Ex. 16 at 9-10.)

Terry Johnson, as parent and next friend of student R.W., requested an administrative hearing, alleging that DCPS failed to develop an appropriate IEP for R.W., failed to provide compensatory education despite previous denials of a FAPE, failed to appropriately place R.W., and failed to conduct a psychiatric evaluation and functional behavioral assessment. Johnson sought a finding that through these failures DCPS had denied R.W. a FAPE, and requested that DCPS amend R.W.'s IEP, provide compensatory counseling and instructional services, conduct a psychiatric evaluation or functional behavior assessment, and convene an MDT meeting to review the results. The hearing officer did not ...


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