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J.B. v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 6, 2018

J.B., a minor by and through her parent ROBERT BELT, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Robert Belt thinks the District of Columbia Public School System (“DCPS”) has sold his granddaughter J.B. short. In Belt's view, DCPS has not done enough to ensure that J.B.-who was diagnosed first with a learning disability and later an intellectual disability-makes appropriate academic progress at her public elementary school. Belt and J.B. (collectively, “plaintiffs”) sought remedies through the proper administrative channels, but an administrative hearing officer denied their requests. Believing the hearing officer got it wrong, plaintiffs filed this federal lawsuit in June 2017. They claim that DCPS violated J.B.'s right to a “free appropriate public education” (“FAPE”) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Specifically, they allege that DCPS failed to develop an adequate Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) for J.B. and failed to comply with the terms of the IEPs it did produce. To right these alleged wrongs, plaintiffs want DCPS to subsidize J.B.'s placement in a non-public school.

         Plaintiffs moved for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment; the District responded with its own motion for summary judgment. The Court referred the motions to Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey, who recommended that the Court deny Belt's motions and grant the District's. Plaintiffs then filed objections to the recommendation, and the District responded to those objections. After a fresh review of the magistrate judge's work and plaintiffs' objections, the Court adopts the magistrate judge's recommendation and will grant summary judgment in the District's favor.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Magistrate Judge Harvey's Report and Recommendation provides a comprehensive recitation of the facts, see Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) at 2-21, so the Court will give only a brief summary.

         When this case was filed in June 2017, J.B. was a 14-year-old eighth-grader at LaSalle Backus Elementary School in the District of Columbia. Compl. ¶ 1. She had been given her first IEP as a Specific Learning Disabled student in 2010. Administrative Record (“AR”) Exh. 2 at 1. In 2013, J.B. was reevaluated and re-classified as intellectually deficient rather than learning-disabled. Id. A modified IEP followed in October 2014, and once annually over the next three years. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4, 7, 15.

         From the October 2014 IEP through January 2017, according to DCPS's own evaluations, J.B. made only limited-and in some categories, no-progress. See Compl. ¶ 19 (no change in performance in written expression and motor skills). J.B. stagnated in other areas from 2015 to 2017. Id. (no change in social/emotional development). And while J.B. improved in some competencies (like reading) from 2015 to 2017, the reading goals established for J.B. in her IEP stayed the same. Id.[1]

         Unhappy with the pace of J.B.'s progress, plaintiffs filed an administrative due process complaint with DCPS in January 2017. The complaint alleged that DCPS had denied J.B. a FAPE by failing to (1) include a special education teacher in J.B.'s IEP planning meetings; (2) develop an IEP in October 2016 and January 2017 that was reasonably calculated to provide educational benefits; (3) identify an appropriate location of services; and (4) implement J.B.'s IEPs effectively given that she had made minimal or no academic progress from October 2014 to January 2017. AR Exh. 1 at 4-5. For relief, plaintiffs sought funding to subsidize J.B.'s placement at a non-public school and enrollment in an extended-school-year program.

         An administrative due process hearing took place in March 2017, at which plaintiffs presented four witnesses and the District another two. AR Exs. 3-6; R & R at 3. Shortly thereafter, the hearing officer determined that DCPS had fulfilled its obligation to provide J.B. with a FAPE and denied plaintiffs' requested relief. AR Exh. 1 at 14-15.

         This lawsuit challenges that administrative determination. The plaintiffs moved for judgment on the pleadings and for summary judgment. The District opposed both motions and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The Court referred these motions to Magistrate Judge Harvey, who issued his R & R on May 5, 2018, recommending summary judgment in the District's favor. Plaintiffs timely filed their objections to the R & R, the District has responded, and the matter is now ripe for the Court's resolution.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Judgment on the Pleadings

         A party is entitled to judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) when “no material issue of fact remains to be solved, and the movant is clearly entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Montanans for Multiple Use v. Barbouletos, 542 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2008) (citations and alteration omitted). In considering a Rule 12(c) motion, “courts employ the same standard that governs a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, ” McNamara v. Picken, 866 F.Supp.2d 10, 14 (D.D.C. 2012), meaning it must accept a complaint's factual allegations as true but need not accept its legal conclusions, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         B. Sum ...


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