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Takahashi v. District of Columbia Dep't of Human Services

May 22, 2008; as amended August 19, 2008


On Petitionfor Review of a Decision and Order of the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings (No. HSP 10115-06).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blackburne-rigsby, Associate Judge

Argued March 20, 2008

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and KERN, Senior Judge.

Petitioner Tomoyuki Takahashi petitions for review of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") denial of his request for reimbursement from the District of Columbia Department of Human Services Rehabilitation Service Agency ("RSA") for tuition and other costs for his Fall 2005 semester at Beacon College.*fn1 At issue is whether RSA was required to pay fall semester benefits (tuition and costs) to Mr. Takahashi when he enrolled and obligated himself to pay the tuition prior to applying for and seeking approval from RSA for the benefits.

We conclude that the ALJ's determination that RSA was not required to pay these benefits was not arbitrary and capricious. Further, the ALJ's conclusion that RSA fulfilled its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (the "Rehabilitation Act") to provide transition services to children and adults under an Individualized Plan of Employment (the "Plan") by complying with the Memorandum of Agreement ("Agreement") among the various agencies in the District of Columbia government charged with providing comprehensive services to individuals with disabilities, was supported by substantial evidence.

The Agreement required District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") to be the lead agency for the purpose of identifying those students in need of transition services and referring them to RSA for transition and vocational benefits. Mr. Takahashi contends that RSA, not DCPS, was required under the Rehabilitation Act to have procedures to identify and complete the Plan for eligible students prior to their leaving school. He argues that as a result of RSA's failure to implement such procedures, a timely Plan was not completed on his behalf, and consequently, RSA's determination not to pay for all of his college expenses was erroneous. We are not persuaded by this argument. Accordingly, we affirm.


A. Factual Background

From 1998 through 2005, Mr. Takahashi attended George Washington Community Preparatory School ("GW Prep") a private secondary school in Springfield, Virginia, as a special-education student placed by the DCPS. The placement was funded by DCPS through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400- 1490. In 1999, a number of service agencies including DCPS, RSA, and four other service providers entered into an Agreement, in an effort to identify students with disabilities expected to exit DCPS within two years and to provide those students with transition services into the adult community. The Agreement delineates the roles and responsibilities of each of the agencies that are signatories to the agreement. DCPS is designated in the Agreement as the lead agency responsible for identifying students within DCPS who may qualify for the RSA program in order to timely begin the transition services. Once a referral is received, RSA representatives attend the Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") meetings, when invited by DCPS, and assess the students to determine their eligibility to receive adult transitional and rehabilitative services.

Mr. Takahashi graduated from GW Prep in 2005 without ever being identified by DCPS as a student who might qualify for RSA benefits. In addition, DCPS never provided information about RSA to Mr. Takahashi or his mother. RSA was never aware that he was in the DCPS system, and therefore RSA never assessed him for transition services. In June 2005, Mr. Takahashi applied and was accepted to attend Beacon College in Florida. His mother, through her efforts to research public assistance programs to help fund his education, learned about RSA. On August 22, 2005, she applied for RSA benefits on Mr. Takahashi's behalf. At this point in time Mr. Takahashi was scheduled to begin his first semester at Beacon College a week later.

When RSA received Mr. Takahashi's application, it scheduled a two-day orientation session during the week of September 20, 2005 for him to learn about the RSA program; subsequently assigned him a vocational counselor; and had him take a psychological evaluation that confirmed his diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Learning Disability, and Asperger's Syndrome. After a psychiatric evaluation on November 8, 2005, Mr. Takahashi was approved for his vocational goals. RSA did not immediately grant him services, but ultimately RSA formulated the Plan in July 2006, authorizing payments for him to attend Beacon College in Spring 2006. RSA, however, declined to reimburse him for his educational costs for Fall of 2005 on the grounds that Mr. Takahashi incurred that debt before the date of application for RSA benefits and before the date of formal approval of his Plan. RSA conceded that it should have completed the Plan no later than December 2005, which is why it agreed to pay for the Spring 2006 semester.

B. The ALJ's Order

On June 30, 2006, Mr. Takahashi filed a petition with the OAH challenging RSA's decision not to reimburse him for the expenses incurred for the Fall 2005 semester. The ALJ framed the issues before the OAH as follows:

First, is the RSA program obligated (and if so, to what extent is it obligated) to identify a minor [child who is a] disabled student as a candidate for RSA benefits while he is receiving special education benefits? Second, assuming the answer to the first sub-issue is no, is the RSA program required to fund an educational program that the applicant has ...

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