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J.N. v. Mt. Ephraim Board of Education

December 21, 2007

J.N., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MT. EPHRAIM BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel Schneider United States Magistrate Judge

[Doc. No. 15]

OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's incorrectly titled "Motion for Summary Judgment." [Doc. No. 15]. Rather than requesting summary judgment plaintiff is asking the Court to issue an Order awarding attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiff's attorney is Jamie Epstein, Esquire. Plaintiff's fee claim covers "the complete history of this case which encompasses over two years of litigation and consists of proceedings in the following Courts:

(a) the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law from February to May 2005;(b) the District Court from May 2005 to May 2007." See Affidavit and Brief in Support of Dispositive Motion at ¶1, Doc. No. 15-3. In addition to plaintiff's Motion, the Court has also received plaintiff's Second Affidavit and Brief in Support of Dispositive Motion [Doc. No. 17], defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion [Doc. No. 31] and plaintiff's Reply Affidavit and Brief in Support of Dispositive Motion. [Doc. No. 32].

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78 and L. Civ. R. 7.1(b)(4), the Court has exercised its discretion to decide plaintiff's motion without oral argument. For the reasons to be discussed, the Court enters this Order granting plaintiff a total award of attorney's fees and costs of $25,424.

Background

The factual background of this case is set forth in the March 26, 2007 Opinion and Order of the Honorable Joseph H. Rodriguez. J.N. v. Mt. Ephraim Board of Education, C.A. No. 05-2520, 2007 WL 928478 (D.N.J. March 26, 2007)("Opinion"). This Court's Opinion and Order incorporates by reference the factual background and procedural history set forth in Judge Rodriguez' Opinion.

Plaintiff's Complaint against the Mt. Ephraim Board of Education ("Mt. Ephraim") was filed on May 13, 2005. [Doc. No. 1]. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint was filed on May 20, 2005. [Doc. No. 2]. This action was brought on behalf of J.N., an infant individually, and by his parent, P.S. J.N. is an "educationally handicapped child" and alleges that his rights were violated by defendants. Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §1401, et. seq., 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794 and the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1983 and 42 U.S.C. §1988.

J.N. is a 16 year old male with multiple disabilities, including intractable epilepsy and social, motor and speech delays. At all relevant times J.N. was domiciled within the Mt. Ephraim School District and has been eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA. Pursuant to the IDEA, the Board, through its Child Study Team, developed a series of Individualized Education Programs ("IEPs") for J.N. During the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years, J.N.'s special education program was implemented at the Bankbridge Elementary School. During the 2004-2005 school year, J.N.'s parent, P.S., became frustrated with Bankbridge's faculty and administration. Despite numerous requests, Mt. Ephraim refused to assign J.N. a one-to-one classroom aide throughout the school day. Thereafter, P.S. demanded J.N.'s transfer to the Bancroft School in Haddonfield, New Jersey. After the Mt. Ephraim Child Study Team denied the demand for a change in placement from Bankbridge to Bancroft, and maintained its position that J.N. did not need a one-to-one classroom aide while at Bankbridge, plaintiff filed a Due Process Petition ("Petition") with the New Jersey Office of Special Education on March 2, 2005. The Petition forms the basis of plaintiff's Complaint seeking attorney's fees. The Petition complained of the following issues:

1. Failure of the Board to provide J.N. with an in-class aide and needed accommodations for his disability;

2. Failure of the Board to offer J.N. toilet training in his IEP;

3. Failure of the Board to evaluate J.N. for a positive behavior intervention plan; and

4. Failure of the Board to offer J.N. a placement that met his needs and is closer to his residence for which placement at Bancroft was requested.

On Friday, March 11, 2007, the business day before a scheduled court appearance, the Board, via an e-mail to plaintiff, offered to provide a one-to-one classroom aide for J.N. Plaintiff did not respond before the March 14, 2005 scheduling conference with the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The issue of the oneto-one aide was not finally resolved at that conference. Subsequently, on May 5, 2005, the parties engaged in further discussions with an ALJ regarding possible settlement. On May 12, 2005, with the ALJ's ...


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