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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Federal Court Vacates SRO home schooling decision

H.C. v. Colton-Pierrepont: This is a case of particular interest to home schoolers in New York State. The case was originally a parent challenge to the district’s recommended reduction in frequency of related services. The parent prevailed at hearing. On appeal, the district prevailed, but more importantly, the SRO advised that districts were not permitted to provide special education services to home schooled kids. This issue had not been raised, briefed or argued by either of the parties. Federal District Court Judge Hurd vacated the SRO decision. Although he decided the case on other grounds, he criticized the SRO for “depriv[ing] both parties of due process because he failed to inform them that he intended to rule on the rights of home-schooled students to receive special education services – an issue that neither party raised nor briefed.” Judge Hurd noted that “[t]he SRO also exceeded the scope of his authority because “[t]he decision of the State Review Officer shall be based solely upon the record before the State Review Officer . . . .” N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 8, § 279.12(a) (2008). Neither party mentioned or submitted evidence concerning the ability of home-schooled students to receive special education services.“

On August 25, 2008, the district filed a notice of appeal to the 2nd Circuit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Does a non-custodial parent have due process rights?

Fuentes v. Bd. of Education of City of New York

Jesus Fuentes is a non-custodial parent. In 2000, he requested an impartial hearing, which request was denied by the NYC impartial hearing office. In 2008, he is still fighting for the right to a hearing and the battle is long from over. The Second Circuit recently addressed but did not decide the issue, instead certifying the issue of the father’s standing to the New York Court of Appeals. The Court framed the issue as follows:

Whether, under New York law, the biological and non-custodial parent of a child retains the right to participate in decisions pertaining to the education of the child where (1) the custodial parent is granted exclusive custody of the child and (2) the divorce decree and custody order are
silent as to the right to control such decisions.

SDNY reverses SRO on reimbursement claim

T.P. ex rel. S.P. v. Mamaroneck Union Free School Dist. (S.D.N.Y. May 10, 2007)

NOTE: This case was reversed by the 2nd Circuit on February 03, 2009 at 554 F.3d 247.

This case with a decision date of May 10, 2007, but just now publicly reported, is of major importance in New York State where the State Review Office has found against parents in the great majority of cases from 2006 to the present. In this case, the parent lost at hearing and at SRO(05-076). This is a must read for parent attorneys and autism advocates. In sum, the Court found that:

  1. the district had improperly predetermined the child’s placement

  2. the child was entitled to extended day services

  3. the IEP which failed to include any transitional provisions for at-home ABA services, was not reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive an educational benefit and deprived him of a FAPE.

The District had knowledge of the Child's difficulty with transitions, and the IEP containing no at-home ABA therapy failed to address the Child's individual needs. Examining the evidence of record and giving due weight to the proceedings below, the Court cannot conclude that the child was likely to make progress under a plan that would bluntly change his routine, and in which no at home ABA therapy was provided, despite his being accustomed for the prior years provided with 30-35 hours per week of at home ABA services, and under which program he made meaningful advances.

Are attorney fees available on settlement agreements after all?

Jankey v. Poop Deck: This is a 9th Circuit ADA case in which attorney fees were an issue. The parties had entered into a settlement agreement. The District Court denied attorney fees; the Court of Appeals reversed in a case that could have significant impact in the special education arena. Of relevance,

In a case pursued under the ADA, a court, “in its discre-
tion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attor-
ney’s fee.” 42 U.S.C. § 12205. “[F]or a litigant to be a
‘prevailing party’ for the purpose of awarding attorneys’ fees,
he must meet two criteria: he must achieve a material alter-
ation of the legal relationship of the parties, and that alteration
must be judicially sanctioned.” P.N. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No.
1, 474 F.3d 1165, 1172 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation
marks omitted). In other words, the alteration must have a “ju-
dicial imprimatur.” Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W.
Va. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 605 (2001).

Here, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s case pursu-
ant to a settlement agreement between the parties under which
the court retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement.
Defendants argue that those actions by the district court do
not constitute a sufficient judicial imprimatur. That argument
is foreclosed by Skaff v. Meridien North America Beverly
Hills, LLC, 506 F.3d 832 (9th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). There,
we held that a “settlement agreement and the district court’s
order dismissing the case[, which] provided that the district
court would retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement,” sat-
isfied the requirements of Buckhannon to render the plaintiff
a prevailing party under the ADA. Id. at 844 & n.12. The set-
tlement agreement in this case both authorized judicial
enforcement of its terms and expressly referred resolution of
the issue of attorney fees to the district court.

The IDEA by its terms makes resolution agreements enforceable in federal court. This should be sufficient to give rise to the right to fees, assuming that the terms of the agreement otherwise make the parent a prevailing party. This theory will soon be tested. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 25, 2008

SRO pounds parent attorney for procedural infirmities

SRO 08-053: Parent alleged that the district(presumably NYC) failed to provide her child with a FAPE. She placed her child in a private school and requested a hearing. After 3 days of testimony, the IHO found for the district. The parent appealed. SRO Paul Kelly, always tough on parents and disabled children, did not even address the issues in this one. Rather, he tossed the appeal citing counsel’s:

  1. failure to provide “sufficient particulars as to the reasons why she challenges the impartial hearing officer's decision”;

  2. raising of issues in the memorandum of law rather than the petition;

  3. failure to include record cites in the petition; and perhaps the most stunning of all,

  4. the failure to include a table of contents in the memorandum of law.