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D.F., A Minor, Individually and By His Parent and Legal Guardian, A.C v. Collingswood Public Schools

May 23, 2011

D.F., A MINOR, INDIVIDUALLY AND BY HIS PARENT AND LEGAL GUARDIAN, A.C.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COLLINGSWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

Plaintiff D.F., individually and by his parent and legal guardian, A.C., brings this Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") suit, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1491, against Collingswood Public Schools ("Collingswood").*fn1 D.F. appeals four decisions of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and seeks compensatory education for the period that he was not provided with a one to one aide. In addition, D.F. seeks attorneys' fees and costs.

Pending before the Court are Collingswood's and D.F.'s cross motions for summary judgment.

I.

During the 2008-2009 school year, when the present dispute arose, D.F. was enrolled in a regular education kindergarten program at Collingswood.*fn2 (July 2009 Order at 3.) Collingswood developed an IEP for D.F. which was signed by A.C at an IEP conference on September 4, 2008. (See Collingswood's Br. in Support, Ex. D ¶ 2; D.F.'s Appx. to Br. in Support at DF-1.) Collingswood sought to enroll D.F. in a self-contained classroom, but because D.F.'s brother was enrolled in that class, A.C. requested that he be placed elsewhere. (Id.) As a result of this request, D.F. was assigned to a regular education kindergarten class. (Id.)

On January 21, 2009, D.F. filed a due process petition, seeking an independent psychiatric evaluation, an independent behavior assessment, compensatory education for the period he was not provided with a one to one aide, and an IEP with proper goals and objectives. (Id.)

On August 24, 2009, Collingswood applied for emergent relief seeking to change D.F.'s placement. Following the denial of this application, Collingswood filed a second due process petition and again sought emergent relief on October 29, 2009, requesting an out-of-district placement for D.F. and cooperation from A.C. in the application process.*fn3 (Collingswood's Stat. of Facts ¶ 7.) On November 6, 2009, the ALJ issued an Order placing D.F. on home instruction while a suitable placement could be found and directing A.C. to cooperate in the application process. (Nov. 6, 2009 Order at 8.) In an Order dated April 1, 2010, the ALJ determined that the Archway School was the appropriate out of district placement for D.F. (Apr. 1, 2010 Order at 8.)

On July 15, 2010, D.F. filed another due process petition alleging that Collingswood improperly restrained him and asserting a compensatory education claim for the period that Collingswood failed to provide D.F. with a free and appropriate education ("FAPE") in the least restrictive environment. (Collingswood Br. in Support Ex. S) In response, Collingswood filed a Notice of Insufficiency, arguing that D.F. did not plead specific facts as required by N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.7(c). (Id. Ex. T.) In an Order dated July 27, 2010, the ALJ dismissed D.F.'s due process petition for failing to provide sufficient details regarding the allegedly improper restraint. (July 27, 2010 Order at 2-3.)

On July 27, 2010, A.C. advised the ALJ that she had moved with D.F. from New Jersey to Georgia. (Aug. 4, 2010 Order at 2.) On August 4, 2010, the ALJ issued an Order denying D.F.'s request to expand his compensatory education claims on the grounds of undue delay and mootness and dismissed D.F.'s and Collingswood's pending due process petitions as moot. (Id.)

On February 3, 2010, D.F. filed the instant Complaint in this Court. On February 28, 2011, Collingswood filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. On March 11, 2011, D.F. filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

II.

"When deciding an IDEA case, the district court applies a modified de novo review and is required to give due weight to the factual findings of the ALJ." M.S. v. Ramsey Bd. of Ed., 435 F.3d 384, 389 (3d Cir. 2006). The Court must "defer to the ALJ's factual findings unless it can point to contrary non-testimonial extrinsic evidence on the record." S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. Dist., 336 F.3d 260, 270 (3d Cir. 2003). The Court's decision is based on the preponderance of the evidence. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(B)(iii).

"Because the IDEA requires a district court to grant a judgment on the record based on its own ascertainment of the preponderance of the evidence, many IDEA claims do not fit into the typical summary judgment standard of 'no genuine issues of material fact.'" L.B. v. Nebo Sch. Dist., 379 F.3d 966, 974 (10th Cir. 2004). The parties in this case are effectively seeking "a judgment on the administrative agency's record." Id. Although seeking judicial review of an administrative agency's decision by way of a summary judgment motion "is permissible under the IDEA, it is not a true summary judgment procedure. Instead, ...


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