Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Montuori v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 26, 2018

DON MONTUORI & LOUIS BAYARD, on behalf of A.M. Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Don Montuori and Louis Bayard, on behalf of their minor child A.M., brought this action against Defendant District of Columbia alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et. seq. Plaintiffs initiated this action to challenge the adequacy of a Hearing Officer's Determination that, in part, rejected their claim that Defendant failed to provide A.M. with a free and appropriate public education.

         Presently before the Court are Plaintiffs' [13] Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant's [14] Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. On August 28, 2018, Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather issued a Report and Recommendation (hereinafter “Magistrate Judge Meriweather's Report”), recommending that both Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, Magistrate Judge Meriweather recommended that the Court:

1) Determine that Defendant violated its Child Find obligations by delaying its evaluation of A.M.;
2) Reject Plaintiffs' challenge to the Hearing Officer's rulings regarding Defendant's alleged delay in conducting a functional behavior assessment and alleged failure to update the functional behavior assessment;
3) Reject Plaintiffs' challenge to the adequacy of the February 2016 individualized education plan, including A.M.'s educational placement; and
4) Remand for further administrative proceedings regarding the award of compensatory education.

         Report & Recomm. (“R&R”), ECF No. [22], at 45.

         On September 11, 2018, Plaintiffs filed objections to Magistrate Judge Meriweather's Report, requesting that the Court grant Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment in full. On that same day, Defendant also filed an objection to Judge Meriweather's conclusion that Defendant violated the Child Find provision of the IDEA. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that only one of Plaintiffs' objections has merit. In addition to agreeing with the findings and conclusions in Magistrate Judge Meriweather's Report, the Court also finds that A.M. was denied a free and appropriate education during the first half of the 2016-2017 school year based on Defendant's failure to properly implement A.M.'s Behavior Intervention Plan.

         Accordingly, the Court shall ADOPT Magistrate Judge Meriweather's well-reasoned and thorough Report and Recommendation. But, the Court goes further and also concludes that A.M. was denied a free and appropriate education during the first half of the 2016-2017 school year. The Court shall GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Plaintiffs' [13] Motion for Summary Judgment and shall GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendant's [14] Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court shall remand for further administrative proceedings regarding the award of compensatory education.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the IDEA, a “party aggrieved by the findings and decision” of the Hearing Officer may bring a civil action in federal court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). The court “shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings, ” “shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party, ” and, “basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.” Id. at § 1415(i)(2)(C). In a civil action reviewing an IDEA administrative determination, “[a] motion for summary judgment operates as a motion for judgment based on the evidence comprising the record and any additional evidence the Court may receive.” D.R. ex rel. Robinson v. District of Columbia, 637 F.Supp.2d 11, 16 (D.D.C. 2009). Where, as here, neither party asks the Court to consider additional evidence, “the motion for summary judgment is simply the procedural vehicle for asking the judge to decide the case on the basis of the administrative record.” Heather S. v. Wisconsin, 125 F.3d 1045, 1052 (7th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations omitted).

         The party challenging the Hearing Officer's Determination bears the burden of proof and must “‘at least take on the burden of persuading the court that the hearing officer was wrong.'” Reid ex rel. Reid v. District of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 521 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (quoting Kerkam v. McKenzie, 862 F.2d 884, 887 (D.C. Cir. 1989)). The preponderance-of-the-evidence standard in this context does not grant the reviewing court unfettered de novo review. See Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982) (“Thus the provision that a reviewing court base its decision on the ‘preponderance of the evidence' is by no means an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review.”). Rather, courts must give “due weight” to the administrative proceedings. Id. “‘[F]actual findings from the administrative proceeding are to be considered prima facie correct.'” Roark ex rel. Roark v. District of Columbia, 460 F.Supp.2d 32, 38 (D.D.C. 2006) (quoting S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 270 (3d Cir. 2003)). Because the IDEA permits a reviewing court to entertain additional evidence at the request of a party, courts employ “‘less deference than is conventional' in administrative proceedings.” Reid, 401 F.3d at 521 (quoting Kerkam, 862 F.2d at 887). Nevertheless, the Court should “defer to the [hearing officer's] factual findings unless it can point to contrary nontestimonial extrinsic evidence on the record.” S.H., 336 F.3d at 270; accord Alfono v. District of Columbia, 422 F.Supp.2d 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2006); Armstrong v. District of Columbia, No. 03-2598, 2005 WL 433448, at *2 (D.D.C. Feb. 24, 2005). Additionally, the Court reviews de novo those portion of a Magistrate's Report and Recommendation to which the parties have objected. See Local Civil Rule 72.3(c).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are the parents of A.M., 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 IDEA. See 20 U.S.C. § 1411, 1412(a)(1)(A).

         A. Statutory Framework

         The IDEA mandates that local school districts ensure that “[a]ll children with disabilities residing in the State … regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated.” 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)(A). Once such children have been identified, located, and evaluated the school district must provide them with a FAPE. A FAPE is defined as “special education and related services that-- (a) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with [a child's] individualized education program.” Id. § 1401(9).

         To ensure children with disabilities receive a FAPE, IDEA requires that the school district create and implement an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). Lesesne ex rel. B.F. v. District of Columbia, 447 F.3d 828, 830 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The IEP is created at multi-disciplinary meetings with a representative of the school district, teachers, parents or guardians, and the child if appropriate. Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988). The IEP sets out the child's baseline educational performance, establishes long-term and short-term goals for improvement, and lays out the specialized educational services the child will require to meet those goals. Id. At a minimum, the IEP must be reasonably calculated to provide “personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction.” Rowley, 458 U.S. at 203-04.

         After the IEP is created, the school district must provide the child with an appropriate educational placement that is in line with the IEP. See Alston v. District of Columbia, 439 F.Supp.2d 86, 90 (D.D.C. 2006). A child's appropriate educational placement should be in the least restrictive environment possible. See Brown v. District of Columbia, 179 F.Supp.3d 15, 26-27 (D.D.C. 2016). If the child's appropriate educational placement is in the regular classroom of a public education system, the IEP “should be reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.” Rowley, 458 U.S. at 204. But, if there is no public school which is suitable, the school district “must pay the cost of sending the child to an appropriate private school.” Reid, 401 F.3d at 519 (internal quotations omitted).

         B. Factual Background

         After reviewing Magistrate Judge Meriweather's Report, the administrative record, and the parties' arguments, the Court adopts in full Magistrate Judge Meriweather's Factual Background. The Court has considered each of the parties' objections. Considering the objections, the Court concludes that Magistrate Judge Meriweather's recitation of the factual background is supported by the administrative record.

         The Court will address more fully one of Plaintiffs' objections to Magistrate Judge Meriweather's factual findings. The Hearing Officer and Magistrate Judge Meriweather both found that, in elementary school, school officials had developed a plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that A.M. was receiving proper accommodations in light of his ADHD diagnosis. R&R, ECF No. [22], 4; AR 8. A 504 Plan is a “legal document designed to plan a program of instructional services to assist students with special needs who are in regular education settings.” Parker v. Friendship Edison Pub. Charter Sch., 577 F.Supp. 2d. 68, 71 n.2 (D.D.C. 2008). Plaintiffs object to this factual finding, claiming that A.M. never had a 504 plan during elementary school or any time prior to May 2015. But, Plaintiffs fail to meet their burden of proof in demonstrating that the Hearing Officer's factual finding was erroneous.

         There are at least two places in the record indicating that A.M. had a 504 Plan prior to attending middle school. A 2015 comprehensive psychological reevaluation conducted by District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) states that A.M. “has been receiving services through a 504 plan since attending … Elementary School.” AR 78. A final eligibility determination report from DCPS in January 2016 also indicated that A.M. had been receiving “services through a 504 plan for years.” AR 122.

         Plaintiffs counter that the only evidence that A.M. had a 504 Plan in elementary school comes from DCPS's own records. Plaintiffs argue that, while they had told A.M.'s elementary school about his ADHD diagnosis, there had been no meetings or discussions concerning any sort of specialized education plan. But, given that the 504 Plan is referenced in two different official documents, this testimonial evidence is not sufficient to meet Plaintiffs' burden of proof for overturning a Hearing Officer's factual findings. See Savoy v. District of Columbia, 844 F.Supp.2d 23, 30 (D.D.C. 2012) (explaining that the Court should defer to a Hearing Officer's factual finding absent contrary nontestimonial evidence).

         Plaintiffs also argue that A.M.'s middle school sent them an initial 504 plan in May of 2015. Assuming this to be true, this fact does not contradict evidence that A.M. also had a 504 Plan in elementary school. Plaintiffs fail to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the Hearing Officer's factual finding was in error.

         Giving full consideration to the objections on both sides, the Court adopts the Factual Background section of Magistrate Judge Meriweather's Report. C. The Hearing Officer's Determination On May 30, 2017, Plaintiffs filed an administrative complaint on behalf of A.M. against DCPS. AR 371. On June 27, 2017, the Hearing Officer completed a Prehearing Order which identified six issues to be adjudicated:

1) Whether DCPS denied A.M. a FAPE by failing to implement its Child Find Obligation from June 1, 2015, to the present because it failed to perform a comprehensive psychological evaluation and a FBA.
2) Whether DCPS denied A.M. a FAPE by failing to provide him with a Functional Behavior Assessment (“FBA”) pursuant to the parent's written request on March 24, 2015, failing to update the FBA appropriately, leading to an ineffective and ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.