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Lague v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 16, 2015

ADAM LAGUE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

Page 306

          For ADAM LAGUE, MAURA LAGUE, M. R-I., a minor, by his parents and next friends, Plaintiffs: Michael J. Eig, LEAD ATTORNEY, MICHAEL J. EIG & ASSOCIATES, PC, Chevy Chase, MD.

         For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, a municipal corporation, Defendant: Veronica A. Porter, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Civil Litigation Division, Washington, DC.

Page 307

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         DEBORAH A. ROBINSON, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs Adam and Maura LaGue commenced this action against the District of Columbia on behalf of M.R-I., their minor child, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. See Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Document No. 1). In their complaint, Plaintiffs claim that (1) the District of Columbia

Page 308

Public Schools (" DCPS" ) failed to provide M.R-I. with a free appropriate public education (" FAPE" ) (Count I); (2) DCPS failed to develop an appropriate individualized education program (" IEP" ) for M.R-I. (Count II), and (3) the Hearing Officer committed error and violated Plaintiffs' due process rights by failing to apply correct legal standards, thus failing to render a proper decision (Count III). As relief, Plaintiffs ask that the decision of the Hearing Officer be vacated; that they be reimbursed for tuition and other costs of M.R-I.'s enrollment at Kingsbury Day School (" Kingsbury" ) for the 2013-14 school year; that Defendant be ordered to place and fund M.R-I. at Kingsbury, and to " declare it to be [M.R-I.'s] current educational placement[,]" and that they be awarded their costs, including reasonable attorney's fees, of this action. Id. at 10-11.

         This action was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for full case management. Referral (Document No. 3); see also 08/20/2014 Minute Order. Pending for consideration by the undersigned are Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 12) and Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 17). Upon consideration of the motions; the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto (Document Nos. 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25); the administrative record (" AR" ) (Document Nos. 9, 10, 13-1), and the entire record herein, the undersigned will deny both motions without prejudice, and remand this matter to the Office of the State Superintendent for Education Student Hearing Office for further findings in accordance with the Memorandum Opinion.[1]

         BACKGROUND[2]

         M.R-I., a resident of the District of Columbia who was seventeen years old at the time this action was commenced, has been determined by DCPS to be eligible for special education and related services as a student with a disability, Other Health Impairment (" OHI" ), based upon a diagnosis Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder. See HOD at 6. For four school years beginning with the 2009-10 school year, DCPS placed and funded M.R-I. at Kingsbury Day School (" Kingsbury" ) -- a non-public, full-time special education school -- and maintained that placement through the end of the 2012-13 school year. See id. at 8. During a meeting on June 14, 2013, the IEP team, consisting of representatives of DCPS and the Plaintiffs, agreed that M.R-I. " was ready" to attend Columbia Heights Educational Center (" CHEC" ) -- a general education school -- for the 2013-14 school year with agreed upon " supports[.]" An IEP for the 2013-14 school year was finalized at that meeting.[3] See id. at 11-12.

         During the first 30 days of the 2013-14 school year, M.R-I. " earned all As and Bs

Page 309

in his classes." Id. at 14. During an IEP meeting conducted on September 30, 2013, concerns regarding " tracking" of assignments, the need for additional support in writing and editing and behavioral support services were discussed. Id. at 15-16. As the school year progressed, M.R-I.'s parents expressed concern in communications directed to the Special Education (" SPED" ) Coordinator about M.R-I. " missing" assignments during October. Id. at 17-18. On November 18, 2013, Plaintiff Adam LaGue emailed the SPED Coordinator regarding his desire to meet to discuss M.R-I's failure to complete homework assignments and attend classes, among other concerns. Id. at 20. On the same day, the SPED Coordinator offered to meet the parents at their home or at a coffee shop in the evening to discuss those concerns; however, the parents did not respond to the request and no meeting took place. Id.

         On December 20, 2013, Plaintiff Adam LaGue met with the SPED Coordinator at CHEC to discuss the need for attendance monitoring due to M.R-I. " skipping school and staying home playing video games." Id. at 21-22. After this meeting, at some point between December 20 and 25, 2013, M.R.-I. apparently attempted suicide and was found hours later by Plaintiff Maura LaGue several miles away from home. AR at 468-70; see also HOD at 24.

         On January 9, 2014, after the holiday break, Nickaya Foster, the DCPS Case Manager assigned to M.R-I., reached out to the IEP team " to schedule an IEP meeting to address [M.R-I.'s] progress, parent concerns, and location of services." AR at 239; see also HOD at 25. The meeting was scheduled for January 16, 2014, and Plaintiff Adam LaGue responded that both he and Plaintiff Maura LaGue would attend. AR at 239, 243. However, on January 15, 2014, Plaintiffs, through counsel, notified DCPS by letter that M.R-I. would return to Kingsbury, effective January 29, 2014, due to M.R-I's " failure to make progress at CHEC and need for significantly more services and supports than he is currently receiving." Id. at 245-246; see also HOD at 27. Plaintiffs' counsel advised that the parents would seek public funding for M.R-I.'s attendance at Kingsbury. Id. Plaintiff's counsel also requested cancellation of the January 16, 2014 meeting, which he characterized as one " to discuss [the Student's] recent absences." AR at 246; see also HOD at 27. On the same day, a case manager offered to reschedule the IEP meeting, inviting the parties to " let us know what date and time you are available to meet." AR at 248; see HOD at 28.

         On January 16, DCPS responded to Plaintiffs' notification letter, and in it, maintained that M.R-I. had received all of the supports for which the IEP provided, with the exception of occupational therapy, the subject of a prior authorization for services other than by DCPS. AR at 251; see HOD at 26.

         On January 30, 2014, counsel advised that M.R-I. returned to Kingsbury on that day. AR at 250. In the same communication, counsel stated that " the parents . . . are available and willing to attend an IEP meeting, if DCPS wishes to convene one." AR at 250, 251; see also HOD at 30. Later on the same day, the SPED Coordinator replied: " At this time [CHEC] will not be convening an IEP meeting for your client." AR at 259; see also HOD at 31.

         Plaintiffs filed a due process complaint on February 22, 2014, challenging the decision not to fund M.R-I.'s placement at Kingsbury and alleging a failure to provide a FAPE. AR at 263-69. The due process hearing was conducted on April 21, 2014. The following issues were presented for determination:

Page 310

(a) Since the beginning of School Year (" SY" ) 2013-2014, has Respondent denied the Student a Free Appropriate Public Education (" FAPE" ) by failing to propose an appropriate Individualized Education Program (" IEP" ) to meet his needs because he requires a full-time special education setting?
(b) Since the beginning of SY 2013-2014, has Respondent denied the Student a FAPE by failing to implement his IEP fully by failing to provide all of the Occupational Therapy (" OT" ) and behavioral ...

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