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Robinson v. District of Columbia

August 1, 2007

SAMANTHA ROBINSON, FOR A.B., A MINOR, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth U.S. District Court Judge,

MEMORANDUM OPINION

By complaint [1] originally filed with this court on July 12, 2006, forty minors sought compensation for fees associated with administrative hearings conducted in regards to their disability status under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Since then, plaintiffs have voluntarily withdrawn these claims with respect to all parties except for J.G., J.H., and J.W. (See, Notice of Vol. Dismissal Partial [4], Oct. 10, 2006.) Defendants have filed a motion [5] to dismiss the § 1983 claims of all plaintiffs (J.G., J.H. and J.W.) and the IDEIA claims of J.G. and J.W. For reasons articulated herein, the defendants' motion is GRANTED. The claims of plaintiffs J.G. and J.W. are therefore entirely dismissed and the only matter still pending before this court is J.H.'s claim under the IDEIA.

I. Statutory Background

In 2005, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in order to make certain that children with learning disabilities are able to fully utilize the public educational system. Congress found that, even though disabilities are a "natural part of the human experience," 20 U.S.C. 1400 § (c)(1) millions of children with disabilities were not receiving appropriate educational services, Id. § (c)(2)(A) and these children were being entirely excluded from the public school system Id. § (c)(2)(B). The Act is meant to ensure that, "all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). If a child is found to have special needs, the Act requires that the child be enrolled in a special education program at public expense. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(9)(A).

In order to determine the specifics of the child's special education and whether special education is even necessary, the child must undergo a full initial evaluation, Id. § 1414 (a)(1) and be subject to reevaluation at least once every three years Id. § 1414 (A)(2)(B)(ii). This evaluation is used to develop the child's "individualized education program" (IEP). 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). This program must include "a statement of the child's present levels of educational performance... a statement of measurable annual goals, [and] a statement of the special education and related services...to be provided to the child..." Holbrook v. Dist. of Columbia, 305 F.Supp.2d 41, 44 (D.D.C.2004) (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)).

In order to ensure that the IDEIA fulfills its intended protections of handicapped children, the act provides for several procedural safeguards. These include an opportunity for mediation, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(5); a complaint process with the right to an "impartial due process hearing," Id. § 1415(f)(1); and a right to appeal the determination of the hearing officer, Id. § 1415(g). If the parents of the child are dissatisfied with the results of the evaluation, e.g. the child was not found to have a disability; he or she may use the hearing process to obtain relief. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6). If the parent prevails at such hearing, he or she may recover reasonable attorney's fees under the IDEIA. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). Further, even though the Hearing Officer only provides administrative rather than judicial relief, parents may still obtain attorney's fees associated with obtaining a favorable administrative order. "It is well-established in this Circuit that section 1415(i)(3)(B) also authorizes a parent who prevails in an IDEA administrative hearing to recover attorney's fees by filing suit for the fees in federal court." Kaseman v. District of Columbia, 329 F.Supp.2d 20, 23 (D.D.C. 2004). See also, Moore v. Dist. of Columbia, 907 F.2d 165, 176 (D.C.Cir.1990); Holbrook v. Dist. of Columbia, 305 F.Supp.2d 41, 44 (D.D.C.2004).

III. J.G.'s Factual Background

J.G. is a student enrolled at Stanton Elementary School, and is eligible for special education services. His current learning disability classification is learning disabled (LD), as concluded by his last IEP meeting on May 4, 2005. (Pl. Ex. 13, Hearing Officer's Decision, Jan. 17, 2006.)J.G. had been previously enrolled at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, but after he displayed increasingly disruptive and threatening behavior in class,*fn1 he was transferred to Stanton Elementary School. (Ex. 13 at 3; Admin. Due Process Compl. Notice.) While his mother and teachers hoped that this new environment would help solve the problem, J.G. continued to exhibit the same behavior problems. A MDT/IEP meeting was held on October 19th, 2005 to review the findings of a clinical assessment that was previously held in 2004. (Id. at 4.) At this meeting, D.C. Public Schools conducted the following evaluations and did not find that the child was emotionally disturbed: a Psycho-Educational Evaluation, Social History Evaluation, Occupational Therapy Evaluation, Clinical Psychological Evaluation, and a Language Evaluation*fn2 . (Pl. Ex. 13, Hearing Officer's Decision at 4, Jan. 17, 2006.) The MDT team decided to increase the student's counseling services and also implemented a Behavioral Intervention Plan. (Id.) However, DCPS did not conclude that the child should be classified as emotionally disturbed. J.G.'s mother was convinced that her child was misclassified and filed a complaint in the State Enforcement and Investigation Division of the Education Agency of the District of Columbia alleging that this denied her child free access to a public education.(See, Pl. Ex. 13, Administrative Due Process Complaint Notice.)

The hearing complaint alleges that DCPS failed to comply with the August 15, 2005 Hearing Officer Determination, failed to appropriately identify the student's special education eligibility, failed to develop an appropriate IEP, failed to conduct a functional behavioral assessment, failed to place the student in an appropriate placement, and failed to timely provide the student with his special education instruction and related services. (Compl. at 21.) For relief, plaintiff asked that DCPS place the student in various other schools,*fn3 fund his education, fund the parent's independent psychiatric and neuropsychological evaluations, convene a MDT/IEP meeting within ten business days to review and revise the student's IEP, and fund four hours of individualized tutoring each week for three years. (Id.)

On January 17, 2006, Hearing Officer Charles Jones issued a ruling that DCPS did not deny J.G. free access to a public education because, "a preponderance of the evidence supports DCPS' contention that DCPS did comply with the Hearing Officer's Determination (of August 15, 2005) as the team did discuss assessments and, thereafter, the MDT team did not agree to further evaluate the student, as the battery of evaluations performed did not warrant further evaluations." (Pl. Ex. 13, Hearing Officer's Decision at 5, Jan. 17, 2006.) However, the hearing officer did find that, "[T]he record reflects significant unanswered questions concerning J.G., which justify the performance of a Psychiatric Evaluation." (Id.) Therefore, the hearings officer ordered DCPS to conduct a psychiatric evaluation within 30 days of the order, and within 15 days of this evaluation convene a MDT/ IEP meeting to review all current evaluations. (Id. at 6.) Whether the child would actually be placed in a different school or receive compensatory education was still yet to be determined by the MDT team and the psychiatric evaluation.

IV. J.W.'s Factual Background

J.W. is a thirteen year-old male student attending Rock Creek Academy who has been found to be eligible for special education services due to his classification as a student with an emotional disturbance. (Pl. Ex. 38, Hearing Officer's Decision, January 18, 2006 at 2.) On June 8, 2005 the child was evaluated by a clinical psychologist who recommended he undergo a neuropsychological evaluation in order to rule out the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This evaluation would assess the cognitive abilities of the student in the areas of executive functioning, memory and visuospacial functioning. (Pl. Ex. 38, Administrative Due Process Complaint Notice, October 5, 2005, at 2.) Plaintiff notified DCPS of the doctor's recommendation, but DCPS did not order such an evaluation before the hearing complaint was filed. (Id. at 3.) The psychologist also recommended that the student undergo a psychiatric evaluation in order to determine if the child indeed had ADHD and to possibly prescribe medication to treat the disorder. Plaintiff also notified DCPS of this recommendation, and at a November 17, 2005 MDT/IEP meeting DCPS agreed to perform the psychiatric evaluation. (Pl. Ex. 38, Hearing Officer's Decision, January 18, 2006 at 2.)

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the State Enforcement and Investigation Division of the Education Agency of the District of Columbia alleging that DCPS had denied J.W. free access to a public education because the District had not performed either of these evaluations. For relief, plaintiff sought an order requiring DCPS to perform these evaluations, convene an IDT/MDT meeting withing five days of the evaluations to revise the student's IEP, provide compensatory one-on-one tutoring for one year. (Administrative Due Process Complaint Notice at 4.) The hearings officer found that DCPS had not denied J.W. free access to a public education. DCPS had performed a neuropsychological evaluation,*fn4 and DCPS agreed to perform the psychological evaluation, but had not ...


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