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A.A. v. Walled Lake Consolidated Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 15, 2017

A.A., by and through his Parents and Next Friends, E.A. and M.A., Plaintiffs,
v.
Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiffs are a young child with Down syndrome and his parents. After having litigated a dispute over the proper placement of the child in the Defendant school district before an administrative law judge, Plaintiffs filed this action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. The child's parents want him mainstreamed in a general education classroom, while the District believes that he should be placed in a classroom with cognitively-impaired students. Plaintiffs also bring related claims under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In the pending motion, the Defendant District asks the Court to: 1) dismiss the case as moot, because the child's parents withdrew consent for him to receive special education services by the District; and 2) dismiss Plaintiffs' claims under Title II and Section 504 for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(1) of the IDEA.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court shall DENY the motion. The dispute between the Parents and the District (whether and to what extent the Student can be mainstreamed in a general education classroom) is not moot because the dispute is one that is capable of repetition, yet evading review. In addition, the District's assertion that Plaintiffs' claims under Title II and Section 504 should be dismissed for failure to exhaust, under § 1415(1), lacks merit based upon the language of the statute and recent Supreme Court precedent.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff A.A. (“the Student”), by and through his Parents and Next Friends, E.A. and M.A. (“the Parents”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed this action against Defendant Walled Lake Consolidated Schools (the “District”) on December 1, 2016. Plaintiffs' original Complaint included the following introduction:

Plaintiff A.A. (“the Student”), by and through his parents and next friends, E.A. and M.A. (“the Parents”) (the Student and the Parents, collectively “Plaintiffs”), brings this civil action against Defendant Walled Lake Consolidated Schools (“the District”), following receipt of an adverse administrative decision on a due process complaint filed by the District under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. Plaintiffs contend that the District denied the Student a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”), as mandated by the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5), and the federal regulations promulgated pursuant to the IDEA, 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.114, 300.116. Plaintiffs further contend that the conclusion of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) that Plaintiffs did not establish such violations of the IDEA was based upon erroneous factual findings and improper legal conclusions unsupported by the evidence or established law. Finally, Plaintiffs assert that the ALJ committed reversible error by placing the burden of proof on Plaintiffs when Defendant filed the due process complaint against the Student and the Parents.

(Compl., D.E. No. 1 at Pg ID 1-2). Thus, Plaintiffs' filed this suit under the IDEA and their original Complaint asked this Court to reverse an administrative decision in the District's favor.

         On December 22, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment (D.E. No. 5), wherein they assert that “Plaintiffs' Complaint is moot because - after the administrative decision in the District's favor - Plaintiffs revoked permission for the District to provide their son with IDEA services.” (D.E. No. 5 at Pg ID 38).

         On January 12, 2017, in response to the motion, Plaintiffs took the unusual step of both: 1) filing a response opposing the motion that sought to dismiss their original complaint (D.E. No. 6); and 2) filing an Amended Complaint (D.E. No. 7), apparently in order to assert additional claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint now contains the following introduction section, which describes the claims asserted by Plaintiffs:

1. Plaintiff A.A. (“the Student”), by and through his parents and next friends, E.A. and M.A. (“the Parents”) (the Student and the Parents, collectively “Plaintiffs”), brings this civil action against Defendant Walled Lake Consolidated Schools (“the District”), following receipt of an adverse administrative decision on a due process complaint filed by the District under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. Plaintiffs contend that the District denied the Student a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”), as mandated by the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5), and the federal regulations promulgated pursuant to the IDEA, 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.114, 300.116. Plaintiffs also assert that the District violated the Student's rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12182, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 et seq.
2. Plaintiffs contend that the conclusion of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) that Plaintiffs did not establish such violations of the IDEA was based upon erroneous factual findings and improper legal conclusions unsupported by the evidence or established law. Plaintiffs also assert that the ALJ committed reversible error under the IDEA by placing the burden of proof on Plaintiffs when Defendant filed the due process complaint against Plaintiffs and by changing the Student's stay-put placement during the pendency of the proceedings.

(D.E. No. 7 at Pg ID 250-51). Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint seeks the following relief in this action:

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court:
A. Issue a declaratory Judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, that the ALJ erroneously placed the burden of proof on Plaintiffs,
B. Issue a declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§2201 and 2202 that Defendant denied A.A. necessary supports and services, including behavioral supports;
C. Issue a declaratory Judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, that Defendant's May 2015 and May 2016 IEPs failed to provide A.A. with a FAPE in the least restrictive environment;
D. Issue a declaratory Judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, that Defendant's attempts to place A.A. in a segregated, self-contained classroom were unjustified and unlawful under Title II of the ADA and Section 504;
E. Issue a preliminary injunction[1] ordering Defendant to return A.A. to his pre-hearing stay-put placement in the general education classroom at his home school, Keith Elementary, during the pendency of these proceedings;
F. Issue a permanent injunction ordering Defendant to place A.A. in the least restrictive environment, which is the general education classroom at his home school, Keith Elementary;
G. Vacate the September 2, 2016 Decision and Order of the ALJ;
H. Order Defendant to pay Plaintiffs' reasonable attorneys' fees and costs for this action; and
I. Order any other and further relief, both legal and equitable, that this Court may deem just and proper.

         First Am. Compl. at Pg ID 279-80).

         It appears that, because those claims had not been asserted when the District filed its motion, the District's Reply Brief included challenges to the newly-asserted claims.

         Perhaps recognizing that this Court does not generally entertain arguments that are raised for the first time in a reply brief (because doing so does not afford the non-movant an opportunity to respond), the District then filed a “Supplemental Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment” on January 26, 2017 that appears to formally raise the arguments made in the reply brief. (D.E. No. 9).

         Having considered the pending motions and how they developed, this Court then issued an order wherein it ordered that Plaintiffs could file “a response brief of no more than 10 pages to Defendant's Supplemental Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment no later than February 15, 2016” and that Defendant could “file a reply brief of no more than 2 pages later than February 22, 2016.” (D.E. No. 10).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed its supplemental response on February 12, 2017 (D.E. No. 12) and the District filed its supplemental reply on February 20, 2017. (D.E. No. 13).

         The Court heard oral argument on June 8, 2017.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Overview Of The IDEA

         The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (“IDEA”) “offers federal funds to States in exchange for a commitment: to furnish a ‘free appropriate public education' - more commonly known as a FAPE - to all children with certain physical or intellectual disabilities.” Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S.Ct. 743, 748, 197 L.Ed.2d 46 (Feb. 22, 2017). An eligible child, such as the Student in this case, “acquires a ‘substantive right' to such an education once a State accepts the IDEA's financial assistance.” Id. at 749.

         “Under the IDEA, an ‘individualized education program, ' called an IEP for short, serves as the ‘primary vehicle' for providing each child with the promised FAPE.” Id. “Crafted by a child's ‘IEP Team' - a group of school officials, teachers, and parents - the IEP spells out a personalized plan to meet all of the child's ‘educational needs.'” Id. “Because parents and school representatives sometimes ...


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