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.

K.G. v. Cinnaminson Township Board of Education

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 19, 2018

K.G., individually, and as guardian ad litem of R.L. Plaintiff,
v.
CINNAMINSON TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          LORI MICHELLE GAINES ASHLEY N. RICHARDSON BARGER & GAINES On behalf of Plaintiff

          ERIC L. HARRISON JARED SAMUEL SCHURE JOSEPH D. CASTELLUCCI, JR. METHFESSEL & WERBEL, ESQS. On behalf of Defendant

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Presently before the Court the are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff, K.G. on behalf of her minor daughter, R.L., a child classified as eligible for special educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and by Defendant Cinnaminson Township Board of Education. Plaintiff appeals the decision of the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) who declined to find that Defendant failed to provide R.L. with a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment, and declined to direct Defendant to reimburse Plaintiff for tuition when Plaintiff unilaterally placed her daughter in an out-of-district private school. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will enter judgment in favor of Defendant.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, K.G., is the mother and legal guardian of R.L., who was thirteen during the relevant time period, and who is classified as eligible for special education and related services. R.L. is diagnosed with Epilepsy and Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a syndrome which results in language-function deterioration. She also suffers from left-hemisphere epileptic seizures from a condition known as Perisylvian Syndrome caused by a brain fissure. R.L. requires a ketogenic diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. R.L. is also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, language disorder, and emotional lability.

         R.L. has received special education and related services since the age of six when she attended her local public school program in the Berlin Township, New Jersey school district. She was thereafter placed at specialized, out-of-district programs under the provisions of her IEP from first grade (2010-2011) through October of 2014, when her family moved to Cinnaminson, New Jersey. Plaintiff continued R.L. at the Quaker School at Horsham (“QSH”), R.L.'s out-of-district placement under the Berlin Township School District's IEP, and Defendant ultimately agreed to continue R.L.'s placement at QSH for the remainder of the 2014-2015 school year.

         Because, according to Plaintiff, Defendant still had not proposed any programming or placement for R.L. for the 2015 extended school year or the 2015-2016 school year, Plaintiff provided Defendant with formal, written notice of her intention to unilaterally continue R.L.'s placement at QSH. Plaintiff contends that even though Defendant scheduled an individualized educational plan (“IEP”) meeting on June 3, 2015, Defendant had already predetermined, without input from Plaintiff who is part of R.L.'s child study team, that R.L. would be placed at public school in the district. Plaintiff claims that Defendant's proposed program was inappropriate and not reasonably calculated to confer a significant and meaningful educational benefit upon R.L. Plaintiff made this determination based upon private recommendations from the team of professionals working with R.L. who found that R.L. required the specialized programming provided at QSH in order to be appropriately educated. Plaintiff therefore unilaterally continued R.L.'s placement at QSH for the 2015 extended school year as well as the 2015-2016 school year.[1]

         Plaintiff filed for a due process hearing on June 16, 2015. The matter was transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law on September 15, 2015. Hearing dates were scheduled and the matter was heard before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the Honorable Joseph A. Ascione, on May 23, June 13, July 22, August 3, and August 15, 2016. Just prior to the first hearing date, Defendant convened an IEP meeting on May 5, 2016 to propose R.L.'s educational program for the 2016-2017 school year. The ALJ issued a decision on March 30, 2017 considering both the June 2015 proposed IEP and the May 2016 proposed IEP. The ALJ found that Defendant provided a FAPE in the LRE to R.L. in the June 2015 IEP and the May 2016 IEP because those IEPs had the capacity to address R.L.'s educational needs. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff denied Defendant the ability to determine if services for the 2016 extended school year were appropriate.

         The ALJ accordingly denied Plaintiff's claim for private placement for R.L. at QSH, and denied Plaintiff's claims for reimbursement for tuition at QSH for the 2015 and 2016 extended school years and school year 2015-2016.

         Plaintiff has appealed the decision of the ALJ to this Court. Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred by improperly ignoring Plaintiff's expert testimony and reports; by improperly considering testimony about programming that Defendant did not actually propose for R.L.; by improperly holding that Plaintiff denied Defendant an opportunity to modify its proposed educational program for R.L.; and by improperly holding that a determination about appropriateness can never be made unless a student first tries the program.[2] Defendant argues that it fulfilled its obligations to R.L. under the IDEA, and the ALJ's decision must be affirmed. Both parties have moved for summary judgment in their favor.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Subject matter jurisdiction

         This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A)[3] and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         B. Standard of Review under the IDEA

         Federal funding of state special education programs is contingent on the states providing a “free appropriate public education” to all disabled children. S.H. v. State-Operated School Dist. of City of Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 264 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1412). The IDEA is the vehicle Congress has chosen to ensure that states follow this mandate. Id. (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.) The IDEA “protects the rights of disabled children by mandating that public educational institutions identify and effectively educate those children, or pay for their education elsewhere if they require specialized services that the public institution cannot provide.” D.K. v. Abington Sch. Dist., 696 F.3d 233, 244 (3d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).

         Once a school district has identified a child who is eligible for IDEA services, it must create and implement an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) based on the student's needs and areas of disability. Munir v. Pottsville Area Sch. Dist., 723 F.3d 423, 426 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). School districts are not required to “maximize the potential” of each disabled student, and instead the district must offer an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive meaningful educational benefits in light of the student's intellectual potential.” Id. (citations and quotation omitted). The IDEA also includes a “mainstreaming” component requiring the placement of a student with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”) that will provide the child with a meaningful educational benefit. D.S. v. Bayonne Bd. of Educ., 602 F.3d 553, 556-57 (3d Cir. 2010).

         The IDEA establishes a private cause of action against a school district that fails to abide by its legal obligations. The parent or guardian of a minor student who is denied the rights and procedures set forth in the IDEA is afforded the opportunity to file an administrative complaint. C.H. v. Cape Henlopen School Dist., 606 F.3d 59, 66 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing 20 U.S.C. §§ 1415(b)(6), (i)(2)). In New Jersey, this process entails filing a complaint and request for a due process hearing with the New Jersey Department of Education, N.J.A.C. 6A: 14- 2.7(c), and the due process hearing is conducted by an ALJ in New Jersey's Office of Administrative Law, N.J.A.C. 6A: 14- 2.7(g). Aggrieved parties may appeal the ALJ's final decision by filing a civil action in state or federal court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2).

         The Supreme Court has directed that a school district's liability for violations of the IDEA is a two-fold inquiry: (1) Has the school district complied with the procedures set forth in the IDEA?; and (2) Has the school district fulfilled its obligation to provide the student with a FAPE? C.H., 606 F.3d at 66 (citing Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206-07 (1982)).

         The district court applies a “modified version of de novo review.” Munir, 723 F.3d at 430 (quoting L.E. v. Ramsey Bd. of Educ., 435 F.3d 384, 389 (3d Cir. 2006)). The reviewing court gives “due weight” to the underlying administrative proceedings, with the factual findings from the administrative proceedings to be considered prima facie correct. S.H. v. State-Operated School Dist. of City of Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 270 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted) (further explaining that if a reviewing court fails to adhere to the ALJ's factual findings, it is obliged to explain why). “The court is not . . . to substitute its own notions of sound educational policy for those of local school authorities.” Id. (citations omitted). District courts must accept the hearing officer's credibility determinations “unless the non-testimonial extrinsic evidence in the record would justify a contrary conclusion.” Shore Reg'l High Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. P.S. ex rel. P.S., 381 F.3d 194, 199 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “In this context[, ] the word ‘justify' demands essentially the same standard of review given to a trial court's findings of fact by a federal appellate court.” Id. The burden of proof in a proceeding to receive reimbursement is placed on the party seeking relief. L.E., 435 F.3d at 391-92.

         C. Analysis

         1. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ made the following findings of fact:

1. K.G.'s daughter R.L., age thirteen, presents with a learning disability, occasioned by her diagnoses of epilepsy and Landau-Kleffner syndrome. Her classification of "other health impaired" ...

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.