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Platt v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 7, 2016

THERESA PLATT, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Theresa Platt brought this action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et. seq., against Defendant District of Columbia (“Defendant” or “the District”), seeking reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by Plaintiff in an administrative action brought by Plaintiff, on behalf of her minor child, under the IDEA against the District.

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff’s [21] Amended Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant’s [22] Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. On November 30, 2015, Magistrate Judge Alan Kay issued a Report and Recommendation (hereinafter “Magistrate Judge Kay’s Report”), recommending that both Plaintiff’s Amended Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant’s Cross Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, Magistrate Judge Kay recommended that Plaintiff be awarded $46, 498.23 in fees and $122.75 in costs, for a total amount of $46, 620.98. Report & Recomm. (“R&R”), ECF No. [29], at 16.

On December 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed objections to Magistrate Judge Kay’s Report, requesting that the Court sustain her objections and award her $86, 295.26 in attorney’s fees and costs. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s objections do not have merit.

Accordingly, the Court shall ADOPT Magistrate Judge Kay’s well-reasoned and thorough Report and Recommendation in its entirety. The Court shall GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Plaintiff's [21] Motion for Summary Judgment and shall GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendant's [22] Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court shall award Plaintiff $46, 620.98 in attorney’s fees and costs.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is the parent of M.P. (“Student”), a minor child found eligible to receive special education and related services under the IDEA as a student with a disability. See 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et. seq. Defendant is a municipal corporation that “receives federal funds pursuant to the [IDEA], . . ., in exchange for providing a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”), and is obligated to comply with the applicable federal regulations and statutes, including but not limited, to [the IDEA].” See 20 U.S.C. § 1411, 1412(a)(1)(A).

A. The Administrative Due Process Complaint

On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed an administrative due process complaint on behalf of M.P. against the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”), alleging that DCPS had failed to meet its obligations to provide Student with a FAPE under the IDEA. See Hearing Officer Determination (“HOD”), ECF No. [21-2], at 4. At the time the administrative complaint was filed, Student was seventeen years old and was repeating the 9th grade at Eastern Senior High School “(Eastern”). Id. at 1, n.2; 9. Also, at that time, Student was receiving special education and related services under the IDEA, pursuant to an individualized education plan (“IEP”) issued on October 11, 2012. Id. at 9.

Student’s IEP for the 2012-2013 school year required a weekly 5 hours of specialized instruction in the general education setting and 10 hours of specialized instruction outside the general education setting, with a monthly total of 120 minutes of behavioral support services outside general education. Id. at 10.

Student’s first referral for determination of special education eligibility occurred in 2005. Id. at 9. However, Student was found ineligible. Id. There was no additional referral for evaluation until Student’s attorney sent a letter referring Student for special education eligibility determination on May 18, 2012. Id. Subsequent to that letter, DCPS personnel held several eligibility meetings, and Student began receiving special education and related services on October 11, 2012 pursuant to the aforementioned IEP issued on the same day. Id.

Plaintiff’s administrative complaint asserted that Student was entitled to relief under the IDEA on several grounds: (1) Plaintiff alleged that Student had also received IDEA services during the 2009-2010 school year pursuant to an IEP purportedly issued in October 2009, but those services had been improperly stopped without notification; and (2) DCPS had denied Student a FAPE by failing to meet certain obligations under the IDEA in the 2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013 school years. See Id. at 3, 4.

B. Pretrial Conferences and Hearings before the Hearing Officer

The Hearing Officer held pretrial conferences on April 15, 2013 and April 25, 2013, as well as a status conference on May 1, 2013. Id. at 2. The Hearing Officer then conducted an evidentiary hearing on May 15, 2013 regarding Plaintiff’s claim that Student had received IDEA services as a 7th grader in 2009-2010 pursuant to an IEP allegedly issued in October 2009. Id. at 2. At the evidentiary hearing, Plaintiff argued that a Data Evaluation Review dated February 5, 2013 indicated that Student had received an IEP in October 2009. See Order re Evidentiary Hearing of May 15, 2013 (“Order re Evidentiary Hearing”); ECF No. [30-1], at 4. However, the author of the Data Evaluation Review testified at the hearing she had inadvertently included information about another student with a similar name, and that she subsequently had corrected the Data Evaluation Review to clarify that Student actually had not received the October 2009 IEP in question. Id. at 5.

In an order issued on May 16, 2013, the Hearing Officer denied Plaintiff’s requested relief in connection with the IEP purportedly issued in October 2009. Specifically, the Hearing Officer concluded that an IEP for Student did not exist in October 2009, and that Plaintiff had not put forward sufficient evidence to conclude that Student was receiving special education and related services under the IDEA at that time. Id. at 4. The Hearing Officer based her decision on her determination that the author of the Data Evaluation Review was a credible witness and on her consideration of additional documentary evidence provided by DCPS. Id. at 5-6.

In that same order, the Hearing Officer also denied Plaintiff’s “Motion for Missing Records Presumption, ” in which Plaintiff argued in the alternative that Student was an eligible student in 2009 on the basis that DCPS had failed to provide Plaintiff the opportunity to inspect and review educational records under applicable regulations. Id. at 6. The Hearing Officer further held that Plaintiff had not established a basis for extending IDEA’s two-year statute of limitations, and that the Hearing Officer would limit her inquiry to actions that were alleged to have occurred between March 11, 2011 and March 11, 2013-the two-year window immediately preceding the filing of the administrative due process complaint. Id. at 8.[2]

C. The Due Process Hearing and the Administrative Decision

On May 21, 2013 and May 22, 2013, the Hearing Officer held a due process hearing to determine whether Student was entitled to compensatory education on the basis that DCPS had denied Student a FAPE by failing to meet certain obligations under the IDEA between March 11, 2011 and March 11, 2013. Specifically, the due process hearing addressed four issues:

1. Whether DCPS denied Student a FAPE by failing to provide timely evaluations and re-evaluations in all areas of suspected disability (“Ground 1”);
2. Whether DCPS denied Student a FAPE by failing to timely identify Student as having an emotional disability, a specific learning disability, and an intellectual disability (this allegation was in part an assertion that DCPS did not meet its “Child Find” responsibilities to Student) (“Ground 2”);
3. Whether DCPS denied Student a FAPE by failing to provide an adequate IEP (“Ground 3”);
4. Whether Student was entitled to compensatory education.

Id. at 4.

The Hearing Officer admitted 45 exhibits on behalf of Plaintiff, 26 exhibits on behalf of DCPS, and 35 exhibits related to the procedural posture of the administrative proceeding. Id. at 6-8. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified and presented 8 witnesses, including two experts in the areas of psychology and speech-language evaluation. Id. at 8-9. DCPS presented 2 witnesses, a case manager / special education teacher and a special education coordinator from Eastern. Id. at 8-9.

On June 4, 2013, the Hearing Officer issued an administrative decision, concluding that Student was entitled to certain compensatory education. See Id. at 26-30. With respect to Plaintiff’s asserted grounds for ...


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