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Dickens v. Friendship-Edison P.C.S.

August 4, 2009

JANICE DICKENS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FRIENDSHIP-EDISON P.C.S., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alan Kay United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION*fn1

Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [16], Defendant's Reply to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment*fn2 and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [17], Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [19], and Defendant's Reply in Support of Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [21].

Plaintiffs, on behalf of their minor children, brought this action against Friendship-Edison Public Charter School ("FEPCS") to obtain reimbursement for attorneys' fees incurred in administrative hearings conducted pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") as amended. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1444 (2006). Plaintiffs now seek summary judgment regarding the reimbursement of their attorneys' fees. (Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pls.' Mem. of P. & A.") at 2.) Defendant opposes Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and has filed its own motion for summary judgment on the issue of attorneys' fees. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1.)

I. Statutory Background

The core purpose of the IDEA is to "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education . . . ." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). In furtherance of that goal, the IDEA provides "guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a free appropriate public education" for children with disabilities and their parents.

20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). These safeguards include the "opportunity for the parents of a child with a disability to examine all records relating to such child and to participate in meetings with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child" or "to obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1). Under section 1415(b)(6), any party may also present a complaint "with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6)(A).

When a party files a section 1415(b)(6) complaint, "the parents or the local educational agency involved in such complaint shall have an opportunity for an impartial due process hearing." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1)(A). "[A] decision made by a hearing officer shall be made on substantive grounds based on a determination of whether the child received a free appropriate public education." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(3)(E)(i). If a party is aggrieved by the decision in this hearing or on appeal, it may bring a civil action in any state court with jurisdiction or in a federal district court regardless of the amount in controversy. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). Additionally, for any action brought under section 1415 of the IDEA, "the court, in its discretion, may award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs" to the "prevailing party," whether that party be the parent of a child, a state, or local educational agency. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i).

II. Factual Background

Plaintiffs seek reimbursement of reasonable attorneys' fees from FEPCS for administrative due process hearings conducted in accordance with the IDEA on behalf of five students: T.D. (DOB 95), T.D. (DOB 97), A.M., G.W., and B.S. (Pls.' Mem. of P. &. A. at 2.)

A. T.D. (DOB 95)

Counsel for Janice Dickens, parent and next friend of T.D. (DOB 95), a minor, sent a letter to Friendship Southeast Elementary Academy ("FSPSC"), a FEPCS school, requesting an evaluation of the student for special education on December 20, 2005. (A.R.*fn3 for T.D. (DOB 95) at 3.) Participants at a February 24, 2006, Multi-disciplinary Team ("MDT") meeting recommended that the student receive psychological, speech and language, educational, and occupational therapy screening. (Id. at 4.) On April 14, 2006, counsel for Dickens requested an IDEA administrative due process hearing because FSPSC allegedly failed to (1) fully evaluate the student, (2) convene another MDT to review the evaluations, (3) address eligibility for an Individualized Education Program ("IEP"), and (4) develop an IEP, if necessary, within the appropriate time period. (Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. at 2.) For relief, Dickens requested funding for the evaluation and a meeting to determine eligibility for an IEP. (Id. at 3.)

Although FSPCS did complete the occupational therapy and psychological evaluations in May 2006, it did not complete the educational and speech and language evaluations until a few days before the student's hearing. (A.R. for T.D. (DOB 95) at 4.) At the administrative due process hearing on June 19, 2006, the Hearing Officer determined that FSPSC did not comply with District of Columbia Municipal Regulations 3005 and 3019 because it did not complete the special education process within 120 days from the December 2005 referral date. (Id.) However, the parties apparently agreed to voluntarily convene a MDT meeting to determine the student's eligibility for special education the next day, and the Hearing Officer ordered FSPSC to provide the student with compensatory education only if he was found eligible for an IEP at that meeting. (Id.)

B. T.D. (DOB 97)

Counsel for Dorothea Dixon, parent and next friend of T.D. (DOB 97), a minor, filed a due process hearing request on April 27, 2004, alleging that the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") and FEPCS failed to (1) develop an appropriate IEP for the student, (2) convene a MDT/IEP meeting to evaluate the student's IEP in a timely manner, and (3) deliver compensatory education services. (A.R. for T.D. (DOB 97) at 3-4.) The student was eligible for special education and had received an IEP in April 2003. (Id.) As relief, the parent requested that DCPS/FEPCS convene a MDT meeting within ten days of the hearing, revise the student's IEP, and fund the compensatory services. (Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. at 3.) FEPSC actually proposed to expel the ...


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