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Shanise Taylor v. District of Columbia

March 16, 2011

SHANISE TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Shanise Taylor seeks review of an administrative decision denying her request for relief from the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") for alleged violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., by failing to provide her son with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). Pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the applicable law, the administrative record, the additional evidence submitted by plaintiff, and for the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES without prejudice the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and REMANDS this action to the hearing officer for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law, as well as a determination of what, if any, relief plaintiff is entitled to receive on behalf of her son.

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Taylor is the parent of K.T., an eleven year-old boy who attended Amidon Elementary School ("Amidon") from the fall of 2004 - when K.T. was in kindergarten - through the 2008-2009 school year. See Pl.'s Statement of Facts Not in Dispute ("Pl.'s SMF") ¶ 1; Def.'s Statement of Facts Not in Dispute ("Def.'s SMF") ¶ 1. While at Amidon, K.T. had several behavior-related incidents, some of which resulted in K.T.'s removal from school. Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 2, 5.

As a result of these incidents, Ms. Taylor requested that K.T. be evaluated by DCPS for special education services. See Pl.'s SMF ¶ 7 (explaining that plaintiff had begun requesting special education evaluations for K.T. in 2006). On December 20, 2007, a Multidisciplinary Team ("MDT") met for the first time to develop a Student Evaluation Plan ("SEP") for K.T. Def.'s SMF ¶ 2. The MDT recommended, among other things, that K.T. receive a comprehensive clinical evaluation. Def.'s SMF ¶ 2; see also Administrative Record ("AR") 6 ¶ 2. Plaintiff, who participated in the December 20, 2007 MDT meeting, signed a "Consent for Evaluation" form. Def.'s SMF ¶ 3.

DCPS completed its psychological evaluation of K.T. on April 4, 2008. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 9. Its examiner found that K.T. did not qualify for special education services as a child with an emotional or learning disability. See Pl.'s Ex. 1 ("[T]he view of this examiner is that [K.T.] does not meet the legal criteria as detailed by the IDEA and Chapter 30 as an emotionally disturbed child. . . . [K.T.] does not meet the disability criteria as a Learning Disabled student."). On April 18, 2008, the MDT met to review the psychological evaluation and to determine whether K.T. was eligible for special education services. See Pl.'s SMF ¶ 11; Def.'s SMF ¶ 5. The meeting was subsequently adjourned, however, after the MDT determined that it needed additional information. See Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 11-12; Def.'s SMF ¶ 5; see also AR 58-59 ("Meeting was adjourned before eligibility was discussed. . . . MDT determined that additional information and/or report are required to be submitted for the purpose of determining functioning in the school setting. This information includes, suspension reports, office referral, any/all pertinent reports from community connection, SST intervention strategies as well as all educational data reports. Ms. Taylor to provide school with contact information for personnel at community connection[.]").*fn1

On June 5, 2008, plaintiff notified DCPS that she would not accept its April 4, 2008 psychological evaluation and requested authorization to obtain an independent psychological evaluation pursuant to 34 C.F.R. § 300.502.*fn2 Pl.'s SMF ¶ 16; Def.'s SMF¶ 6. After receiving no response from DCPS regarding her request, plaintiff filed an IDEA due process complaint on September 17, 2008.*fn3 Pl.'s SMF ¶ 18.

Plaintiff's due process complaint alleged, among other things, that DCPS had failed to respond to her request for authorization to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense. Def.'s SMF ¶ 16; see generally AR 46. A hearing on the administrative complaint was scheduled for October 22, 2008.

Def.'s SMF ¶ 17. A week prior to the hearing, however, on October 15, 2008, DCPS sent plaintiff a letter authorizing her to obtain an independent evaluation for K.T. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 19; Def.'s SMF ¶ 18. The due process hearing was nevertheless held on October 22, 2008, and the hearing officer issued her decision on October 31, 2008 (the "October 2008 HOD"). See generally AR 4-13.

In her decision, the hearing officer found, inter alia, that DCPS violated a procedural obligation of the IDEA by failing to timely respond to plaintiff's request for an independent evaluation of K.T. See AR 10 ("The time elapse between the Petitioner's request [for an independent evaluation], and the time DCPS responded was more than 4 months. The DCPS has provided no justification for the delay. . . . The DCPS should have authorized the evaluation or file [sic] a complaint defending the existing evaluation without delay. The Hearing Officer determines the DCPS has violated a procedural obligation."). The hearing officer also found, however, that K.T. "was not denied a FAPE because of the alleged procedural inadequacy." AR 11. Specifically, the hearing officer determined that "[t]he Student did not prove that a failure to get a psychological reevaluation denied the Student's right to a FAPE or deprive [sic] him of educational benefit." AR 11; see also AR 11 ("While the Petitioner has established a procedural violation of the IDEA, the Petitioner has not established that that violation caused harm to the Student that the IDEA is intended to address."). The hearing officer then dismissed plaintiff's due process complaint. AR 13.

Following dismissal of her administrative action, plaintiff filed suit in this Court alleging violations of the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794.*fn4 On May 28, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment seeking reversal of the October 2008 HOD and a declaration that DCPS denied K.T. a FAPE "by failing to provide for an independent evaluation of him for four months." Pl.'s Mot. for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s SJ Mot.") at 2. On July 16, 2010, the District filed a cross-motion for summary judgment asking the Court to affirm the October 2008 HOD. See Def.'s Mot. for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s SJ Mot."). These motions are now ripe for determination by the Court.

II. STATUTORY FRAMEWORK AND LEGAL STANDARD

A. The IDEA

The IDEA was enacted to "ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education 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. ยง 1400(d)(1)(A). It requires all states and the District of Columbia to provide ...


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