United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
JEANNINE L. SOMBERG, et al., Plaintiffs,
UTICA COMMUNITY SCHOOLS, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER AWARDING COMPENSATORY EDUCATION,
DENYING PRETRIAL MOTIONS AS MOOT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION TO SUPPLEMENT THE RECORD AND CLOSING ARGUMENT,
GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' UNOPPOSED MOTION TO ENTER EXHIBITS,
AND SCHEDULING STATUS CONFERENCE.
H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
court previously granted Plaintiffs' motions for judgment
seeking compensatory education but reserved its determination
of the “quality and quantity” of such education
pending the conclusion of a bench trial on that question.
parties presented their proofs, and closing arguments were
held on November 11, 2016. Several motions relating to the
evidentiary hearing remain outstanding. Plaintiffs filed a
Motion to Compel, (Dkt. #43), and a Motion in Limine, (Dkt.
#49). Defendant filed a Motion to Compel Alternative Dispute
Resolution, (Dkt. #37), a Motion for Continuance of Trial
Date, (Dkt. #38), a Motion in Limine, (Dkt. #59), and a
Motion Concerning Joint Proposed Findings of Fact and
Conclusions of Law and Dates for Evidentiary Hearing, (Dkt.
#67). Following closing arguments, Defendant also filed a
Motion to Supplement Record and Closing Argument, (Dkt. #83),
then Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Enter Exhibits, (Dkt. #87),
which Defendant indicated it does not oppose, (Dkt. #88). The
court concludes that, to the extent that they were not
already addressed at the evidentiary hearing, no additional
hearing on the motions is necessary. See E.D. Mich.
LR 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons stated below, the court will
award compensatory education, grant the Motion to Enter
Exhibits, and deny the other motions described above as moot.
court's previous order decisively resolved the question
of liability in favor of Plaintiffs. It held that Utica
Community Schools had failed to provide Dylan Somberg, then a
mentally disabled teenager, with the requisite “free
appropriate public education” (“FAPE”) that
he was owed under Section 1412(a)(1)(A) of the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20
U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. The court concluded that
it would not defer to the “forward looking”
remedies afforded by the Administrative Law Judge, because
they were “designed to curtail further damage, but
[failed] to address the need to compensate Dylan for
education he was not provided in the past.” (Dkt. #30,
Pg. ID 2231-32.) Specifically, it stated that Utica Community
Schools “shall pay for compensatory education . . . in
a manner and amount to be determined by further proceedings
before this court.” (Dkt. #30, Pg. ID 2235.)
trial to resolve this question began on September 28, 2016
and the presentation of evidence concluded on October 3,
2016. The court then advised the parties of its general
inclination as to a likely outcome but allowed the parties to
reserve closing arguments and defer further hearings in the
hopes that they may reach a settlement. (Dkt. #82, Pg. ID
3482-85.) No settlement was reached and the parties presented
closing arguments on November 16, 2016.
then, Defendant filed a motion arguing for dismissal in light
of a recent Michigan Department of Education complaint
decision arguably supporting a theory, which Defendant
advanced at trial, that Plaintiffs' removal of Dylan
Somberg from Utica Community Schools rendered his claims
moot. (Dkt. #83.) Plaintiffs also filed a motion requesting
the entry of exhibits which the court had agreed to
“provisionally receive” while Defense counsel
reviewed them and determined whether it would be appropriate
to lodge an objection. (Dkt. #87.) Defendant filed a letter
indicating that it does not object, (Dkt. #88), and
Plaintiffs filed a reply asking for clarification that the
court grant admission of all three proposed exhibits in light
of vague language in Defendant's letter, (Dkt. #89).
IDEA action, the district court: “(i) shall receive the
records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear
additional evidence at the request of a party; and (iii)
basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence,
shall grant such relief as the court determines is
appropriate.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(c).
award of compensatory education is an equitable remedy
granted by the court as it finds appropriate. Bd. of
Educ. of Fayette Cty., Ky. v. L.M., 478 F.3d 307, 316
(6th Cir. 2007). An appropriate award of compensatory
education is “relief designed to ensure that the
student is appropriately educated within the meaning of the
IDEA.” Id. (quoting Parents of Student W.
v. Puyallup Sch. Dist., No. 3, 31 F.3d 1489, 1497 (9th
Cir. 1994)). In general, compensatory awards “should
aim to place disabled children in the same position they
would have occupied but for the school district's
violations of IDEA.” Id. at 317 (quoting
Reid ex rel. Reid v. Dist. of Columbia, 401 F.3d
516, 518 (D.C. Cir. 2005)).
argues that Plaintiffs rendered their case moot when they
removed Dylan Somberg from Utica Community Schools and then
ultimately completed his high school education, as it
prevented the school from supplying any prospective remedy
(i.e., to modify the program designed for Dylan to
provide a FAPE). During closing argument counsel cited a
Sixth Circuit decision for the proposition that a case may
become moot even after judgment on the merits, divesting the
court of subject matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. #86, Pg. ID
3616.) The cited case, Fialka-Feldman v. Oakland Univ.
Bd. of Trustees, involved a “continuing-education
student with mild cognitive disabilities” who had been
denied university housing on the basis that he was not a
student in a degree-granting program. 639 F.3d 711, 713 (6th
Cir. 2011). The student sued, winning an injunction requiring
the school to provide housing. Id. Once the student
had completed his university program and signaled no
intention to return, the case became moot despite
plaintiff's remaining request for money damages and
attorneys' fees. Id. at 714.
true that a case may become moot even after an adjudication
on the merits, but such is not the case here. The Supreme
Court has held that “[a] case becomes moot only when it
is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief
whatever to the prevailing party.” Knox v. Serv.
Employees Int'l Union, Local 1000, 132 S.Ct. 2277,
2287 (2012). (quotations omitted) “As long as the
parties have a concrete interest, however small, in ...