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Pinto v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 29, 2014

NILS RAFAEL PINTO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

Page 276

For NILS RAFAEL PINTO, MARTA RIVERA, Plaintiffs: Benjamin W. Massarsky, Paula Amy Rosenstock, Michael J. Eig , MICHAEL J. EIG & ASSOCIATES, PC, Chevy Chase, MD.

For K. P.R., a minor, by his parents and next friends, Plaintiff: Paula Amy Rosenstock, Michael J. Eig, MICHAEL J. EIG & ASSOCIATES, PC, Chevy Chase, MD.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A Municipal Corporation, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC.

Page 277

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DEBORAH A. ROBINSON, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiffs, Nils Rafael Pinto and Marta Rivera, in their own right and on behalf of K.P-R., their minor child, commenced this action pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400 et seq., challenging the portion of a Hearing Officer Determination (" HOD" ) denying tuition reimbursement and prospective placement of K.P-R. at the Lab School of Washington as a remedy for denial of a free appropriate education (" FAPE" ). Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Document No. 1), ¶ ¶ 1-2, 62-64.

The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are pending for determination by the undersigned. See Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document Nos. 11, 13); Defendant District of Columbia's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document Nos. 12, 15). Upon consideration of the motions; the memoranda in support thereof and in opposition thereto, including the pre-hearing and post-hearing memoranda filed by the parties (Document Nos. 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 26, 30, 31); the administrative record (Document No. 9); and the entire record herein, the undersigned will deny Plaintiffs' motion, and grant Defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiffs in this action are [K.P-R.], a student eligible to receive special education and related services under the IDEA, and his parents and next friends, Nils Rafael Pinto and Marta Rivera. During the fall of 2010, [K.P-R.] was enrolled at Horace Mann Elementary School, a public school within the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ). Compl. ¶ 13. Around that time, [K.P-R.] was diagnosed with a learning disability, a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, inability to sustain attention, deficits in certain subject areas, and difficulties with organization, planning and motor control. Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 15, 17-21.

During the 2010-2011 school year, plaintiffs met with DCPS officials on several occasions to develop an individualized education program (" IEP" ) for [K.P-R.] Compl. ¶ ¶ 22-24, 28, 44. According to

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plaintiffs, DCPS refused to incorporate adequate special education support and speech and language therapy into [K.P-R.'s] IEP. Id. ¶ ¶ 26, 30-33, 45-46, 49, 52. On January 11, 2011, [K.P-R.'s] parents notified DCPS that they were removing [K.P-R.] from Horace Mann and would be seeking reimbursement for appropriate non-public special education services. Id. ¶ 35. [K.P-R.] finished the school year at [Kingsbury] Day School, a private school that serves learning disabled students. Id. ¶ 36. Before the 2011-2012 school year began, [K.P-R.'s] parents transferred [K.P-R.] to the Lab School of Washington, another private educational institution providing services exclusively to learning disabled children. Id. ¶ 53.

In April 2012, [K.P-R.'s] parents filed a request for an administrative due process hearing to challenge the IEP created for [K.P-R.] Compl. ¶ 54. After a four-day hearing in June and July 2012, the Hearing Officer determined that DCPS had failed to conduct appropriate evaluations of [K.P-R.] and, as a result, had developed an inappropriate IEP . . . [.] Id. ¶ ¶ 56, 60. The Hearing Officer declined, however, to grant plaintiffs' request for publicly funded placement at the Lab School or reimbursement for already-paid tuition expenses, on the basis that the Lab School was not the least restrictive environment for [K.P-R.] Id. ¶ ¶ 62, 65. The Hearing Officer instead ordered DCPS to conduct appropriate evaluations of [K.P-R.] and convene a meeting to revise [K.P-R.'s] IEP as appropriate within 30 days of a written request by plaintiffs. Compl. ¶ 64.

On July 26, 2012, plaintiffs timely notified DCPS of their desire to have DCPS commence this process. Id. ¶ 68. By October 2012, however, DCPS had not completed the required evaluations. Id. ¶ 71. Plaintiffs brought two actions in this Court: the first seeking compliance with the Hearing Officer's order that DCPS conduct the necessary evaluations and develop an appropriate IEP; the second requesting review of the Hearing Officer's decision not to place [K.P-R.] at the Lab School or grant tuition reimbursement.

To remedy DCPS' noncompliance with the Hearing Officer's order, plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction in a related case. Blackman v. Dist. of Columbia, Civ. Action No. 97-1629, Dkt. No. 2289. The Court referred the preliminary injunction motion to Special Master Elise Baach. While the motion was pending, DCPS completed the required evaluations and developed a new IEP for [K.P-R.], which includes special education services as well as speech and language therapy. See Plaintiffs' Supplemental Memorandum, Blackman v. Dist. of Columbia, Civ. Action No. 97-1629, Dkt. No. 2293. On December 11, 2012, the Special Master issued her report agreeing with plaintiffs that DCPS had failed to timely comply with the Hearing Officer's order. Blackman R & R at 5-8. The Special Master declined to award plaintiffs their requested relief of prospective placement at the Lab School, however, explaining:

An outright adoption of the requested relief would require DCPS to fund a placement at [the Lab School]. What makes the recommendation of this remedy particularly problematic here is that the Hearing Officer expressly rejected a request for the same relief. It is one thing to penalize DCPS for not doing what a Hearing Officer has ordered; it is entirely different to require DCPS to do something that a Hearing Officer expressly declined to order.
Moreover, the Hearing Officer's refusal to order placement at the [Lab School], and the rationale for that refusal, is now the subject of the appeal in this Court. Unlike this request for injunctive

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relief, which is discretionary in nature, the plaintiffs have a statutory right under the IDEA to appeal in federal court part or all of an HOD, and they have now exercised that right. By doing so, the plaintiffs and the local education agency will both be presented with an opportunity to address the soundness of the Hearing Officer's reliance on the IDEA's mandate to educate a student in the " least restrictive environment." The combination of these two factors -- the Hearing Officer's rejection of the same relief and the fact that the resolution in federal court might answer an outstanding question of substance -- lead to the conclusion that a decision on placement and funding under IDEA is preferable to granting the relief sought in this forum.

Blackman R & R at 8.

The Special Master noted that DCPS' delay in conducting the necessary evaluations had forced plaintiffs to choose between continuing [K.P-R.'s] enrollment at the Lab School or starting [K.P-R.] at a public school without an appropriate IEP. Blackman R & R at 8-9. Accordingly, she recommended tuition reimbursement for the period between August 28, 2012 through February 15, 2013. Id. 9-10. Neither party filed objections, and the Court therefore adopted and approved the Report and Recommendations. See Blackman v. Dist. of Columbia, Civ. Action No. 97-1629, Dkt. No. 2305, (Jan. 9, 2013).

Plaintiffs brought the instant action to challenge the Hearing Officer's decision denying placement at the Lab School and reimbursement for already paid tuition and fees. Plaintiffs assert four claims against the District: (1) failure to provide a free, appropriate public education, in violation of the IDEA and District of Columbia law; (2) failure to place and fund [K.P-R.] in an appropriate program and placement, in violation of the IDEA and District of Columbia law; (3) failure by the Hearing Officer to properly evaluate the relevant facts and apply the relevant legal standards, in violation of plaintiffs' due process rights under the IDEA and District of Columbia law; and (4) failure by the Hearing Officer to award the requested remedy, including reimbursement for tuition expenses and costs. Compl. ¶ ¶ 78-87. Plaintiffs request declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, including reimbursement for tuition expenses and costs incurred in enrolling [K.P-R.] at the Lab School for most of the 2011-2012 school year, as well as prospective placement of [K.P-R.] at that institution. Id. at 13.

ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

At the time Plaintiffs Pinto and Rivera, through their counsel, filed their April 2012 due process complaint notice, see Pinto, 938 F.Supp.2d at 27-28, K.P-R. had been a student at the Lab School of Washington since October 2011. AR (Document No. 9-5) at 5. In the notice, Plaintiffs stated that prior to his enrollment at Lab, K.P-R. was a student at Kingsbury Day School from January to October 2011, and spent the first semester of the 2010-2011 school year at Horace Mann, a DCPS elementary school. Id. Plaintiffs alleged that " [w]hile at Horace Mann, [K.P-R.] was denied critical special education services[,]" and that " [t]he school system's continued unwillingness to provide an effective Individualized Education Program (" IEP" ) forced the parents to enroll [K.P-R.] at [Kingsbury] and now at Lab, and to initiate this due process appeal." Id. Plaintiffs maintained that the October 2010 IEP was " ...


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