United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. Mehta, United States District Judge.
Jasmin Richardson filed suit under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., to
seek review of a Hearing Officer's determination that
Defendant District of Columbia correctly concluded that her
minor son, C.S., did not have a qualifying disability in
2015, despite subsequent testing that confirmed C.S. exhibits
symptoms consistent with at least one disability recognized
under the statute.
the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. For the reasons that follow, the court grants
Plaintiff's four-year-old son, began receiving special
education services under Part C of the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), in 2014 at
Early Learning Center, a nonprofit service provider in
Washington, D.C. See Admin. Rec., ECF No. 9, Pts.
1-10, ECF Nos. 9-1 through 9-10 [hereinafter A.R.], at
Part C of the IDEA provides for early intervention services
for at-risk infants and toddlers until the age of three.
See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1431-1433. The D.C.
Office of the State Superintendent of Education determined
C.S. was eligible for Part C educational services based upon
a Strong Start D.C. Early Intervention Program evaluation
conducted in October 2014, as part of which the evaluators
administered the Battelle Developmental Inventory, Second
Edition (“BDI-2”), and the Assessment, Evaluation
and Programming System for Infants and Children, Second
Edition; reviewed C.S.'s medical records; and observed
C.S. A.R. at 6-7.
C.S. would turn three years old in late 2015 and no longer be
eligible for Part C services, he underwent an initial special
education evaluation, consisting of multiple parts, in order
to determine whether he qualified for services under Part B
of the IDEA. Id. at 7, 10; see 20 U.S.C.
§ 1412(a)(9). Part B of the IDEA provides special
education and related services to children and young adults
between the ages of 3 and 21. See 20 U.S.C. §
1412(a)(1)(A). In April 2015, C.S. was referred to a school
psychologist at Early Stages Center, a D.C. Public Schools
assessment center, and he underwent a psychological
evaluation in mid-July 2015. A.R. at 7-8. As part of that
evaluation, the psychologist reviewed C.S.'s October 2014
Strong Start evaluation; interviewed Plaintiff and
Plaintiff's mother (C.S.'s grandmother); tested C.S.
using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second
Edition, assessment and the Pervasive Development Disorder
Behavior Inventory assessment; and, on July 28, 2015, issued
a report with his findings. Id. at 7- 8, 55-63.
Additionally, an occupational therapist observed C.S. in
class in early July and interviewed his teacher. Id.
at 9, 68-69. Lastly, a speech-language pathologist evaluated
C.S. in July, as well. She observed C.S. in class;
interviewed C.S.'s speech-language provider and classroom
teacher; reviewed the Early Stages' interview of
Plaintiff and Plaintiff's mother; administered an
Otoacoustic Emissions test and Preschool Language Scales,
Fifth Edition, assessment; and committed her findings to a
report issued on July 22, 2015. Id. at 8, 45-54.
July 2015, a Multi-Disciplinary Team (“Defendant's
team”) held a meeting, which Plaintiff and
Plaintiff's mother attended, and concluded C.S. was not
eligible for Part B services because he did not qualify as a
child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Speech or Language
Impairment, or Developmental Delay. Id. at 8-9. In
making that determination, the team reviewed C.S.'s BDI-2
scores from 2014, the July 2015 psychological evaluation by
the Early Stages school psychologist, the July 2015
speech-language assessment, and the July 2015 classroom
observations by the occupational therapist. Id. at
75-89. As a result of Defendant's team's
determination, C.S. stopped receiving speech-language and
occupational therapy services in fall 2015 because he had
aged-out of eligibility for Part C services. Id. at
disagreed with Defendant's team's determination and
requested that Defendant fund an Independent Educational
Evaluation of C.S. Pursuant to Plaintiff's request,
Defendant provided funding for psychological and speech
evaluations of C.S. in the early part of 2016 to determine
whether he qualified as a child with a disability.
Id. at 10. First, on February 10, 2016, an
independent audiologist performed a speech-language
evaluation of C.S. and concluded he “had an expressive
language deficit in verbal language communication for which
he needed speech-language therapy.” Id. at 11.
Next, in mid-February 2016, an independent psychologist
observed C.S. in the classroom and administered a variety of
cognitive, educational, and behavioral assessments.
Id. at 10-11. The independent psychologist
determined that C.S. presented with clinical symptoms
consistent with Global Development Delay, as defined in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth
Edition, and Autism Spectrum Disorder, as defined under
District of Columbia law. Id. at 11. Lastly, in
April 2016, an occupational therapist reviewed C.S.'s
records; interviewed his classroom teachers, Plaintiff, and
Plaintiff's mother; made clinical observations; and
tested C.S. using the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales,
Second Edition, assessment. Id. The occupational
therapist concluded C.S. “needed support for fine motor
delays.” Id. at 12.
April 2016, Defendant's team reconvened and determined
C.S. met the eligibility criteria for Developmental Delay
and, therefore, was a child with a disability entitled to a
free appropriate public education (“FAPE”).
Id. Plaintiff subsequently sought a due process
hearing to review the team's earlier conclusion that C.S.
did not qualify as a child with a disability in July 2015.
Id. at 3.
holding a hearing on the matter, the Hearing Officer ruled in
favor of Defendant. First, the Hearing Officer concluded that
Defendant's team's July 2015 evaluation was
“comprehensive, ” as required by the IDEA,
because it included review of the psychological,
speech-language, and occupational therapy assessments that
the Early Stages assessment center conducted in July 2015, as
well as the BDI-2 assessment completed as part of the Strong
Start evaluation from October 2014. Id. at 15.
Although Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Keisha Mack, had
testified that there were “missing pieces” in the
July 2015 psychological evaluation, making it unreliable, the
Hearing Officer discounted Dr. Mack's opinion because Dr.
Mack also stated she had not reviewed the Strong Start
assessment data, on which the July 2015 psychological
evaluation relied, and, therefore, could not affirmatively
rebut the findings of the July 2015 psychological evaluation.
Id. at 15, 423-25. The Hearing Officer also rejected
Plaintiff's argument that the July 2015 psychological
evaluation was deficient because the Early Stages school
psychologist did not conduct any classroom observations of
C.S. or interview C.S.'s teachers himself, but instead,
relied on the classroom observations and interviews of the
speech-language pathologist. Id. at 15-16. Second,
the Hearing Officer determined that Defendant's team
appropriately concluded C.S. was not a child with a
disability in July 2015 because the data presented did not
meet the District of Columbia's definition of either
“Developmental Delay” or “Autism Spectrum
Disorder.” Id. at 17-21 (citing 5-E D.C.M.R.
§ 3001). Specifically, with respect to the possibility
of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the Hearing Officer explained
that Plaintiff had not proven C.S. qualified as a child with
an Autism Spectrum Disorder because her expert did not make
that conclusion on the record as part of her opinion.
Id. at 20. Separately, with respect to the
Developmental Delay, the Hearing Officer found Plaintiff had
not met her burden of proof because Dr. Mack “could not
dispute the conclusions and recommendations of the DCPS Early
Stages evaluators [in 2015]” because she had not
reviewed the data underlying that assessment. Id. at
21. Consequently, the Hearing Officer determined C.S. was not
a child with a disability in July 2015 and, therefore, was
not denied a FAPE. Id.
filed the present action on September 7, 2016, seeking review
of the Hearing Officer's determination. See
Compl., ECF No. 1. The parties submitted cross-motions for
summar y judgment, which are now ripe for the court's
review. See Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 10
[hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.]; Def.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ.
J., ECF No. 12.
parent dissatisfied with the outcome of a due process hearing
concerning an IDEA claim may appeal that decision to a
federal district court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). The
reviewing court “(i) shall receive the records of the
administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional
evidence at the request of a party; and, (iii) basing its
decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant
such relief as the court determines is appropriate.”
Id. § 1415(i)(2)(C). The party challenging the
hearing officer's ruling bears the burden of
“persuading the court that the hearing officer was
wrong.” Kerkam v. McKenzie, 862 F.2d 884, 887
(D.C. Cir. 1988). Although the court owes some deference to
the hearing officer's decision, “a hearing decision
without reasoned and specific findings deserves little
deference.” Reid ex rel. Reid v. District of
Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 521 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (internal
quotation marks omitted). When neither party presents
additional evidence to the district court, “a motion
for summary judgment operates as a motion for judgment based
on the evidence comprising the record.” S.S. ex
rel. Shank v. Howard Rd. Acad., 585 F.Supp.2d 56, 64
(D.D.C. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A “genuine dispute” of a
“material fact” exists when the fact is
“capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the
litigation” and “the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Elzeneiny v. District of Columbia, 125
F.Supp.3d 18, 28 (D.D.C. 2015). On cross-motions for summary
judgment, each party carries its own ...