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J.T. v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 1, 2019

J.T., Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BERYL A. HOWELL CHIEF JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, J.T., is the mother of V.T., an elementary-school student who suffers “from an autism spectrum disorder that interferes with his education, ” Am. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 14, and is entitled to protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. In this lawsuit, J.T. appeals three separate Hearing Officer Determinations (“HOD”) resolving separate administrative complaints under the IDEA. The first HOD, dated June 13, 2017 (“June 2017 HOD”), summarily rejected J.T.'s due process claim that the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) violated the IDEA by failing to schedule an April 2017 meeting to revise V.T.'s individualized education program (“IEP”) “at a mutually agreeable location.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 16, 18. The second HOD, dated November 27, 2017 (“November 2017 HOD”) largely rejected J.T.'s claim that an IEP developed on May 3, 2017 (“2017 IEP”) for V.T. failed to provide V.T. with a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, as required by 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(1)(A). Id. ¶¶ 3, 17. Finally, the third HOD, dated April 15, 2018 (“April 2018 HOD”), arising from an administrative proceeding brought by the District against J.T., ordered J.T. to participate in a future IEP meeting to revise the 2017 IEP. Id. ¶¶ 3, 19.

         Following referral of this case to a Magistrate Judge, see Referral Order, ECF No. 4, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, see Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 26; Def.'s Cross-Mot. Summ. J. & Opp'n Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 27. The Magistrate Judge issued a report, finding that J.T.'s challenge to the June 2017 HOD is “wrong both factually and legally, ” Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), at 22, ECF No. 34, and that her challenge to the November 2017 HOD and April 2018 HOD are each moot, id. at 26-30, 36-38, and, in any event, meritless, id. at 30-35, 39-47. Thus, the Magistrate Judge recommended denying J.T.'s motion for summary judgment and granting the District's motion. Id. at 47.

         J.T. timely objected to the R&R. See Pl.'s Obj. to R&R (“Pl.'s Obj.”), ECF No. 35; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); LCvR 72.3(b). Those objections, however, are limited to the recommended resolution of J.T.'s challenge to the November 2017 HOD rejecting her administrative complaint that the 2017 IEP failed to provide V.T. with a FAPE. Id. at 1. Consequently, J.T. has waived any objection to the portions of the R&R resolving disputes about the location of the 2017 IEP meeting, at issue in the June 2017 HOD, and the order that J.T. participate in a subsequent IEP meeting, at issue in the April 2018 HOD. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-55 (1985) (explaining that a party may waive the right to appellate review of a Magistrate Judge's decision if the party fails to timely object); see also LCvR 72.3(b); R&R at 48 (notifying parties that failure to object to the R&R may waive the right to seek appellate review). The Court adopts the portions of the R&R explaining why those claims are meritless, R&R at 22-26, and moot, id. at 26-30, respectively, and the District's motion for summary judgment as to the claim related to the June 2017 HOD is granted and the claim related to the April 2018 HOD is dismissed as moot.

         As to the contested part of the R&R, the Magistrate Judge correctly explained that J.T.'s claim regarding the November 2017 HOD is moot because the challenged 2017 IEP already has been modified and no claim for compensatory education has been made. Therefore, as discussed in more detail below, that component of J.T.'s case is dismissed as well.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Administrative Proceedings

         The R&R gives a comprehensive account of these parties' history. See R&R at 2-19. Only the facts that bear on the mootness of J.T.'s challenge to the November 2017 HOD concerning the adequacy of V.T.'s 2017 IEP are repeated here.

         In April 2017, following the resolution of an administrative complaint not at issue here, DCPS was ordered to convene a meeting to revise several parts of V.T.'s IEP. ECF No. 17-4 at 71[2]; see also R&R at 5-6. At that meeting, which took place on April 27, 2017, ECF No. 17-2 at 24; see also R&R at 10 n.5, disagreements emerged between V.T.'s parents and DCPS about V.T.'s IEP, ECF No. 18-1 at 1-45; see also R&R at 10-11. Specifically, V.T.'s parents believed that V.T. could not succeed in a classroom with a student-to-adult ratio of 4:1 and that he needed a classroom of less than eight students. ECF No. 18-1 at 15-16; see also R&R at 11. Additionally, the parents advocated for the IEP to restrict V.T.'s classmates to students unlikely to engage in outbursts and to require that V.T. be in a quiet classroom for all instruction, rather than just a quiet area of the classroom. ECF No. 18-1 at 21-22; see also R&R at 11. For lunch and recess, V.T.'s parents wanted him with no more than 25 other students, and wanted no more than ten students to be in the hallway at the same time as V.T. ECF No. 18-1 at 23; see also R&R at 11. Finally, V.T.'s parents wanted his classmates to remain the same as V.T. moved between different instruction sessions throughout the day. ECF No. 18-1 at 23; see also R&R at 11-12.

         On May 3, 2017, DCPS issued a new IEP for V.T. ECF No. 17-5 at 1-30. Against the parents' wishes, this 2017 IEP permitted a 4:1 student-to-adult ratio and capped V.T.'s class at eight students. ECF No. 17-5 at 26; see also R&R at 12. V.T. would be taught in a quiet part of the classroom and no limitations were imposed on how many students V.T. would share lunch, recess, or the hallway with. ECF No. 17-5 at 26; see also R&R at 12. Finally, the IEP did not require that all V.T.'s classmates remain the same across V.T.'s classes. ECF No. 17-5 at 26; see also R&R at 12.

         Two months later, in July 2017, V.T.'s parents filed an administrative complaint, alleging the “[d]evelopment of an inappropriate IEP.” ECF No. 17-1 at 3. The complaint alleged 12 ways in which the 2017 IEP was inadequate, including “too large a class”; “too high a student/adult classroom ratio”; “does not prescribe a quiet classroom”; “does not appropriately limit group sizes outside of the classroom”; and “does not prescribe that the student will attend all specials with the same small group as his academic class.” ECF No. 17-1 at 5. While that administrative complaint was pending, DCPS agreed to fund V.T.'s education at Kingsbury Day School for the 2017-18 school year. ECF No. 17-5 at 42.

         By the time of the administrative hearing for J.T.'s complaint, the complaint had been winnowed down to seven reasons that the 2017 IEP failed to provide V.T. with an appropriate education: the IEP (1) permitted too large a class size; (2) permitted too high a student-to-adult classroom ratio; (3) did not require a quiet classroom or limit noise and distractions outside the classroom; (4) did not appropriately limit groups permitted outside the classroom; (5) did not appropriately limit hallway activity; (6) did not mandate that V.T. would remain with the same small group of students for the entire school day; and (7) did not prescribe a location where V.T. would receive educational services. ECF No. 18-2 at 60-61; see also R&R at 13-14.

         The hearing officer resolved the administrative complaint in the November 2017 HOD, deciding that, “[i]n light of DCPS' responsibility for ensuring that Student's IEP adequately meets Student's needs and is not overly restrictive, . . . the May 3, 2017, amended IEP was reasonably calculated to provide Student educational benefit based upon the information available to the full IEP team at the time it was developed.” ECF No. 18-2 at 70.

         On July 10 and 13, 2018, V.T.'s IEP team met and amended V.T.'s IEP. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1, Annual IEP Meeting Notes, ECF No. 27-1; see also Pl.'s Obj. at 10 n.4 (“J.T. does ...


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