United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For Reid Matthew Eley, Plaintiff: Douglas Tyrka, TYRKA & ASSOCIATES, LLC, Mclean, VA USA.
For District of Columbia, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC USA.
BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.
The plaintiff, Reid Eley, a special-education eligible student residing in the District of Columbia, is before this Court for the third time in the last three years in his ongoing fight to obtain a free appropriate public education, as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400 et seq. See Eley v. District of Columbia ( Eley II ), 999 F.Supp.2d 137, at *1 (D.D.C. Nov. 20, 2013); Eley v. District of Columbia ( Eley I ), No. 11-309, 2012 WL 3656471, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 24, 2012). This time, the plaintiff is asserting his rights under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j), the " stay-put" provision of the IDEA, to maintain his current educational placement during the resolution of the underlying appeal in this case. See Pl.'s Mot. Automatic " Stay-Put" Preliminary Inj. (" Pl.'s Mot." ) at 1, ECF No. 9. As in the previous two cases, the defendant, the District of Columbia, opposes the plaintiff's request for relief and, once again, the Court grants the plaintiff's motion.
Following remand after this Court issued its decision in Eley I, this matter was brought before a District of Columbia Hearing Officer " for the sole purpose of determining whether the $2,850 sought by the plaintiff as reimbursement [for private school tuition] is appropriate and reasonable." Eley I, 2012 WL 3656471, at *1. On November 21, 2012, a hearing officer found that the plaintiff was entitled to $2,850. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 1 (Hearing Officer Determination (" HOD" ) (Nov. 21, 2012)) at 8, ECF No. 9-1. Far from ending the dispute between the parties, the handling of the plaintiff's education by the defendant prompted the plaintiff to file multiple due process complaints against the defendant over the next year and a half.
Despite the clear instruction in Eley I that the defendant should " prepar[e] . . . an IEP for the 2012-13 school year" and address whether TLCIS should be the plaintiff's prospective placement " as soon as possible," 2012 WL 3656471, at *11, the defendant failed to re-evaluate the plaintiff or provide a location where he could receive educational services for the 2012-2013 school year, prompting the plaintiff's first  Administrative Due Process Complaint, filed February 21, 2013, see Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 2 (HOD (May 1, 2013)) at 1, ECF No. 9-1. On May 1, 2013, the hearing officer found that the defendant " denied Student a FAPE by failing to assign Student an educational placement for SY [school year] 2012/13, failing to provide Student with an appropriate annual [Individualized Education Plan (" IEP" )] for SY 2012/13, and failing to reevaluate Student since February of 2011." Id. at 12. The defendant was ordered to (1) convene a multidisciplinary team to " (i) review and revise, as appropriate, Student's IEP, and (ii) assign Student an educational placement where his IEP can be implemented for SY 2013/14 and for Summer 2013 ESY [Extended School Year] if appropriate[,]" id. at 12; (2) provide funding for the plaintiff's " specialized instruction through his current private provider," i.e., TLCIS,
" through the end of SY 2012/13[,]" id. at 13; (3) re-evaluate the plaintiff as required by 34 CFR § 300.303(b)(2), id. at 11; and (4) provide certain equipment and reimbursements as a " compensatory award[,]" id. at 13.
In accordance with the May 1, 2013 HOD, the plaintiff's IEP team met on May 14, 2013 to develop a new IEP. Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 3 (HOD (July 26, 2013)) at 6-7, ECF No. 9-1. A final IEP was produced based on this meeting and subsequent communications between the parties, on May 28, 2013. Id. This IEP called for the plaintiff to receive just over thirty-three hours of specialized services per week. See id. at 7-8. It did not " identify the location of services where [the plaintiff's] special education related services will be provided for either ESY or the 2013-14 school year." Id. at 8. Thus, left undone was the portion of the May 1, 2013 HOD requiring the defendant to assign an " educational placement," i.e., a location for educational services to be provided, for the next school year, 2013-2014.
In June 2013, the defendant's " Location of Services team" met without the plaintiff, who was not invited to participate. Id. at 8-9. The defendant " determined that the ESY program [for Summer 2013] at [Eastern Senior High School] would be able to implement [the plaintiff's] ESY program." See id. On June 7, 2013, prior to the plaintiff being notified of the location of his ESY services, the plaintiff's mother filed her second due process complaint against the defendant alleging, inter alia, that the defendant failed to provide the plaintiff with a Free Appropriate Public Education (" FAPE" ) by failing to comply with the May 1, 2013 HOD to provide an appropriate IEP. See id. at 1-2. In a July 26, 2013 HOD, the hearing officer found that the plaintiff's mother had " not met her burden of proof to establish that the May 28, 2013 IEP was deficient . . . or that the IEP was not reasonably calculated to provide [the plaintiff] educational benefits." Id. at 21. Nevertheless, the HOD found that Eastern Senior High School was " not a location capable of implementing [the plaintiff's] ESY requirement for 1:1 instruction." Id. at 24. Therefore, the defendant was ordered to fund sixty hours of " 1:1 instruction of [the plaintiff] by [TLCIS] . . . to be completed before the end of [D.C. Public Schools'] summer break." Id. at 26.
On August 26, 2013, the plaintiff's mother filed a third due process complaint against the defendant, alleging that the defendant " failed to provide the [plaintiff] any school for the student to attend for SY 2013-2014." Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 4 (HOD (Nov. 9, 2013)) at 3, ECF No. 9-1. In an HOD issued on November 9, 2013, the hearing officer found that the plaintiff's mother " sustained the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence that [the defendant] was to propose and [sic] educational placement for the [plaintiff] for SY
2013-2014 and failed to do [so] and thereby denied the [plaintiff] a FAPE." Id. at 7. The November 9, 2013 HOD ordered the defendant to continue to fund the plaintiff at TLCIS for " up to 160 hours of instruction . . . that shall be completed by . . . January 31, 2014" as well as necessary transportation. Id. at 8. The HOD also ordered the defendant to " within ten school days of the issuance of [the November 9, 2013 HOD], convene and the parent shall attend an IEP meeting to review the student's most recent evaluation(s) and review and update the student's IEP as appropriate and propose a placement and location to implement the IEP for the remainder of SY 2013-2014." Id. at 9. The plaintiff's parent was ordered to " make all reasonable and prompt efforts to comply with any request(s) that the [plaintiff] visit the proposed location of services." Id. Notably, in an appendix to the November 9, 2013 HOD, TLCIS was identified as the plaintiff's " most recent educational placement during SY 2012-2013." Id. at 12.
On December 6, 2013, the plaintiff's mother filed her fourth due process complaint against the defendant, alleging that the defendant " denied [the plaintiff] a . . . . FAPE by failing to identify a school for [the plaintiff] to attend . . . and by not following IDEA procedures in making changes to [the plaintiff's] IEP in September 2013."  Administrative Record (" AR" ) at 344-45. During the pendency of that administrative proceeding, on January 29, 2014, the defendant issued a new IEP for the plaintiff after a meeting at which the plaintiff and the plaintiff's mother were not present. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 6 (IEP (Jan. 29, 2014)) at 1, ECF No. 9-1. On February 3, 2014 the plaintiff filed a fifth due process complaint against the defendant, alleging, inter alia, that the plaintiff was not properly re-evaluated as required by the prior HODs before the issuance of the new IEP; the new IEP included inappropriate changes to the plaintiff's " prescribed hours of instruction and services and his instructional setting and mode" ; and, yet again, the new IEP did " not identify a location" for implementation. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 11 (Due Process Compl. Not. (Feb. 3, 2014)) at 1-2, ECF No. 9-1.
The administrative hearing on the plaintiff's fourth, December 6, 2013 complaint was held on February 4, 2014. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 5 (Hrg. Tr. (Feb. 4, 2014)) at 1, ECF No. 9-1. In a letter dated the next day, February 5, 2014--more than halfway through the 2013-2014 school year--the defendant notified the plaintiff that " [n]o changes to [his] IEP [were] being proposed at [the] time" and that " [t]he location of services for IEP implementation for [him] for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year [was], High Road Academy of Washington, D.C." Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 12 (Letter from defendant to plaintiff (Feb. 5, 2014)) at 1, ECF No. 9-1.
The hearing officer issued an HOD on February 16, 2014, denying the plaintiff's fourth due process complaint, finding that any delay in the defendant's identification of a school for the plaintiff to attend was the fault of the plaintiff. See AR at 372-73. The instant matter was filed with this Court on February 27, 2014, appealing
from the February 16, 2014 HOD. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 3, 11-14, ECF No. 1.
The plaintiff filed the instant motion for injunctive relief on April 6, 2014, exercising his stay-put rights under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). See Pl.'s Mot. at 1. The plaintiff seeks an injunction requiring the defendant to " fund the provision of all of the instruction and related services prescribed in [the plaintiff's] May 2013 IEP, at TLCIS at their customary rates, until the IDEA proceedings regarding [the plaintiff's] placement have concluded." Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Pl.'s Mot. (" Pl.'s Mem." ) at 8, ECF No. 9.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Section 1415(j) states that, except in certain circumstances inapplicable to the plaintiff here, " during the pendency of any proceedings conducted pursuant to this section, unless the State or local educational agency and the parents otherwise agree, the child shall remain in the then-current educational placement of the child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). By its terms, this procedural safeguard, commonly known as the " stay-put" provision, " functions, in essence, as an automatic preliminary injunction." Drinker by Drinker v. Colonial Sch. Dist., 78 F.3d 859, 864 (3d Cir. 1996) (discussing the identical IDEA provision when it was codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(3)); see also Laster v. District of Columbia, 439 F.Supp.2d 93, 98-99 (D.D.C. 2006) (collecting cases and noting " courts have consistently interpreted the stay-put provision to be an automatic injunction." ). The stay-put provision is among the " various procedural safeguards" established by the IDEA to " guarantee parents both an opportunity for meaningful input into all decisions affecting their child's education and the right to seek review of any decisions they think inappropriate." Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311-312, 108 S.Ct. 592, 98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988). The Supreme Court explained in Honig, that the " unequivocal" language of this provision shows " that Congress very much meant to strip schools of the unilateral authority they had traditionally employed to exclude disabled students, particularly emotionally disturbed students, from school," pending completion of the review proceedings. Id. at 323 (emphasis in original); see Flour Bluff Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Katherine M. by Lesa T., 91 F.3d 689, 695 (5th Cir. 1996) (" One of the obvious purposes of the 'stay-put' provision is to reduce the chance of a child being bounced from one school to another, only to have the location changed again by an appellate court." ).
In evaluating requests for injunctive relief under the stay-put provision, the traditional four-part test for a preliminary injunction does not apply. See Andersen by Andersen v. District of Columbia, 877 F.2d 1018, 1023-24, 278 U.S. App.D.C. 230 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (noting that " if the [stay-put] provision applies, injunctive relief is available without the traditional showing of irreparable harm" ); see also District of Columbia v. Vinyard, 901 F.Supp.2d 77, 84 (D.D.C. 2012) (finding a school's " unilateral change to that [current educational] placement" entitles movants to " enforcement of their stay-put ...