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A.A. v. Walled Lake Consolidated Schools

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

October 31, 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

          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge

         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”). Plaintiffs are a young child with Down syndrome and his parents. After having litigated a dispute over the proper placement of the Student in the Defendant school district before an administrative law judge, Plaintiffs filed this action against the District under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (“the IDEA”).[1]

         The following motions are currently pending before the Court: 1) Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Third-Party Complaint; 2) the Michigan Department of Education (“MDE”) and Terri Chapman's Motion to Strike Third-Party Complaint Or, in the Alternative, Dismiss it; 3) the District's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Third Party Complaint; and 4) the District's Motion to Realign the Student as a Third Party Plaintiff. The issues have been extensively briefed by the parties and the Court concludes that oral argument is not necessary. See Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court shall DENY the District's Motion to Realign A.A. As A Third Party Plaintiff. In addition, the Court shall STRIKE the District's purported Third-Party Complaint filed on June 22, 2017, and DENY the District's motion seeking leave to file its proposed Amended Third-Party Complaint because they do not actually assert a third-party claim against the MDE or Chapman. Rather, the District is merely asserting independent claims that arise out of the same set of facts.

         Given the above rulings, the Court shall also DENY AS MOOT the MDE/Chapman's Motion for Protective Order and the District's Motion to Compel Discovery from the MDE/Chapman.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs live within the District's geographical boundaries. The Student is a young child with a disability. He has Down syndrome and Speech Apraxia.

         In May of 2015, the District addressed the Student's placement and services for the 2015-2016 school year. The District's May 2015 IEP placed the Student in a classroom for cognitively impaired students at the District's Meadowbrook Elementary School (a “CI Classroom”). The Student's Parents disagreed with that IEP and wanted the Student to be placed in a general education classroom at the District's Keith Elementary School (ie., the Parents want him “mainstreamed”[2]).

         The District and the Parents then entered into a “trial placement agreement, ” under which the Student would be placed in a general education classroom at Keith. The Student then began the 2015-2016 school year in the general education classroom at Keith.

         Sometime later, however, the District determined that the Student should be moved to the CI Classroom, despite the Parents' objections.

         The Parent's Complaint About Trial Placement Agreement To The MDE

         While the Student was still attending Keith, his Parents filed a state administrative complaint with the MDE, alleging that the District circumvented the IEP placement process by proposing a trial placement agreement, and proposing an arbitration agreement, instead of convening an IEP team meeting. (See D.E. No. 6-3 at Pg ID 162). By the time that complaint had been filed, the Student had been attending Keith for more than half of the school year, and was still there.

         In a letter dated February 11, 2016, the MDE confirmed that it had received Plaintiffs' complaint against the District. That letter stated:

The OSE has determined that the district must return the student to the educational status, program placement, and services as they existed at Keith Elementary School during the “trial placement” until the conclusion of the investigation of this state complaint. In the judgment of the department, not doing so would constitute a violation of the student's due process protections.

(D.E. No. 6-2 at Pg ID 158-59).

         As to the complaint filed by the Parents, the MDE ultimately concluded that the District's use of a trial placement agreement, under the circumstances it was used, was not in compliance with the IDEA and the District was directed to discontinue the practice. (See D.E. No. 6-3). But that did not resolve the dispute over where the Student would be placed.

         The District's Due Process Complaint Concerning The Student's Placement And The ALJ's Rulings On It

         On April 1, 2016, after the Parents had filed their complaint about the trial placement agreement, the District filed for a due process hearing, to resolve the dispute over the Student's placement.

         Because the District believed that the MDE would not decide the matter impartially, the District requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (See D.E. No. 58 at 2 & 6).

         The District's due process complaint was forwarded to the Michigan Administrative Hearing System for hearing and was assigned to Administrative Law Judge Kandra Robbins. The only parties to that proceeding were Plaintiffs and the District.

         On April 18, 2016 - near the end of the school year - the District filed a motion with the ALJ asking her to issue an order that would require the Student to “stay put” in the CI Classroom at Meadowbrook Elementary (the school the Student had not yet attended). In an order issued on May 13, 2016, the ALJ concluded that the “Stay-Put placement for Student should be the May 13, 2015 IEP, ” that had placed him in the CI Classroom at Meadowbrook. (D.E. No. 6-4 at Pg ID 176). But the ALJ did not order that, stating:

However, in light of the fact that Student has never been in the Mod. CI classroom called for in the May 13, 2015 IEP and with only 23 school days remaining, Student's Stay-Put placement for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year shall remain as set by OSE until further order of this Tribunal.

(Id.).

         On September 2, 2016, the ALJ issued her “Decision And Order” wherein she noted that “the issue in this case is limited to the appropriate educational placement” for the Student. (D.E. No. 36-2 at Pg ID 1398). The ALJ agreed with the District that the “Student's placement should have been in the CI classroom” at Meadowbrook, as determined by the IEP Team in May 2015 (Id. at Pg ID 1403) and the May 2016 IEP and the July 2016 amendment. (Id. at Pg ID 1406).

         The ALJ also found that the “Student's stay-put placement during any further proceedings in this matter is the CI classroom as called for in the May 2016 IEP as amended in July 2016.” (Id. at Pg ID 1407). The ALJ's fifty-six page decision also included the following paragraphs, within the “Discussion” section:

Based on Student's significant behavioral and language needs, which clearly were not met during the 2015/2016 school year [while he was at Meadowbrook], I find that Student did not receive a FAPE in the general education classroom. Student's placement should have been in the CI classroom as determined by the IEP Team in May 2015. The District was not permitted to place Student in the CI classroom upon his return to school in February because of an order by the MDE. Therefore, although Student was not given FAPE, the District is not liable for this error.
Although I find that Student did not receive a free appropriate public education during the 2015/2016 school year, I do not find that Student is entitled to any compensatory education. District and parents agreed to a temporary placement on a trial basis for the first marking period. Student was absent from school beginning in December for the school break through January as a result of illness, and did not return to school until February at which time, MDE ordered that the Student remain in the trial placement. Therefore, the District was prohibited from implementing the educational placement called for in the May 2015 IEP. Additionally, Dr. Lundblad testified that Student would not benefit from any educational time beyond the regular school day. [Tr. Vol. VIII, pgs, 1179-1180].

(D.E. No. 36-2 at Pg ID 1403) (emphasis added).

         The District's Due Process Complaint, Challenging Actions Of The MDE

         In addition to filing a complaint pertaining to the Student's placement, the District also filed a due process hearing request, wherein the District alleged that the MDE violated the District's procedural and substantive rights in several ways as to its dispute with Plaintiffs, including “[i]mproper and prejudicial communications between MDE and the Parents, the Parents' advocate and the Parents attorney before and during MDE's investigation.” (See D.E. No. 36-2) (wherein the ALJ discusses the procedural errors alleged by the District.). The MDE was named as a party to that due process complaint.

         The same ALJ that was handling the dispute over the Student's placement, Kandra Robbins, was assigned to that matter.

         The ALJ granted the MDE's motion to dismiss that due process complaint, explaining that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction over those claims. The ALJ explained that a due process hearing is only “proper when the dispute is with respect to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a student or whether FAPE has been offered to a student. 20 USC 1415(b)(6).” (Id. at Pg ID 1416). Because the District's complaint about the MDE's alleged actions did not involve that, it was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

         B. Procedural ...


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