United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
JOANNA S., individually, and as Parent and Guardian of P.J. S., a Minor Child, Plaintiff,
SOUTH KINGSTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, and/or, SOUTH KINGSTOWN SCHOOL COMMITTEE, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief Judge.
January 11, 2017, Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan
issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”)
(ECF No. 20) recommending that the Court DENY Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) and GRANT IN PART
Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
13), affirming the administrative hearing officer's
decision and denying Defendant's request for
attorney's fees. After careful consideration of the
R&R and Plaintiff's Objection thereto (ECF No. 23),
the Court hereby ACCEPTS the R&R for the reasons that
Judge Sullivan provided a comprehensive exposition of the
facts and procedural history of this matter in the R&R.
The Court therefore presents only those facts pertinent to
frame Plaintiff's Objection to the R&R.
to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f), and R.I. Gen.
Laws § 16-39-1, Plaintiff Joanna S.
(“Parent”) initiated a due process proceeding
with the Rhode Island Department of Education
(“RIDE”) in August 2014. (Compl. ¶ 25, ECF
No. 1.) The Parent's Complaint alleged that Defendant
deprived her minor son, P.J., of his right to a free
appropriate public education (“FAPE”) under the
IDEA and that she placed him in a private school in New York
as a result. (Id. ¶ 9.) After a hearing, RIDE
issued an administrative decision in Defendant's favor,
and the Parent filed a timely appeal with the Court.
(Administrative Decision, ECF No. 1-2; Compl.)
Standard of Review
First Circuit has “characterized the appropriate level
of review by District Courts as ‘involved oversight,
' a standard which ‘falls somewhere between the
highly deferential clear-error standard and the
non-deferential de novo standard.” S. Kingstown
Sch. Comm. v. Joanna S., 773 F.3d 344, 349 (1st Cir.
2014) (quoting Sebastian M. v. King Philip Reg'l Sch.
Dist., 685 F.3d 79, 84 (1st Cir. 2012)). Cross-motions
for summary judgment are “‘simply a vehicle'
for providing review of the underlying administrative
ruling.” Id. (quoting Sebastian M.,
685 F.3d at 85). Thus, the typical summary judgment standard
requiring the Court to “consider the facts in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party” is disregarded,
and “‘[t]he party challenging the outcome of the
. . . administrative decision bears the burden of
proof.'” Bristol Warren Reg'l Sch. Comm. v.
R.I. Dep't of Educ., 253 F.Supp.2d 236, 240 (D.R.I.
2003) (quoting Heather S. v. State of Wis., 125 F.3d
1045, 1052 (7th Cir. 1997) (brackets in original)). Applying
this standard of review, Magistrate Judge Sullivan undertook
a thorough, well-reasoned analysis of each claim.
R&R found that the administrative hearing officer
properly concluded that P.J. received an IDEA-compliant FAPE
during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years. (R&R
90.) In addition, the R&R found that P.J.'s 2014-2015
private-school placement was not an IDEA-appropriate
placement (id.) and, accordingly, that the Parent
was not entitled to tuition reimbursement (see id.
at 79). The R&R also concluded that the Parent's
unexhausted claim for payment of P.J.'s special-education
services at the private-school placement pursuant to R.I.
Gen. Laws § 16-24-1(c) should be dismissed without
prejudice. (Id. at 83-86, 91.) Finally, the R&R
determined that neither party was entitled to an award of
attorney's fees at this time. (Id. at 90-91.)
Parent objects to the R&R on three bases. First, she
contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that P.J.
received an IDEA-compliant FAPE during the 2014-2015 school
year because of substantive and procedural deficiencies in
his individualized education plan (“IEP”).
(Pls.' Obj. 2-10, ECF No. 23-1.) Second, the Parent
argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that she
was not entitled to tuition reimbursement because P.J.'s
private-school placement was, according to the Parent, IDEA
appropriate. (Id. at 10-11.) Finally, the Parent
argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending that
her claim under R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-24-1(c) be dismissed
for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. (Id.
at 11-13.) This Court reviews the R&R de novo, addressing
each of these arguments in turn. See Fed.R.Civ.P.
multitude of reasons, the Parent argues that P.J.'s IEP
for the 2014-2015 school year, which found that the Academic
Success Academy (“ASA”) would be an appropriate
placement, failed to provide him an IDEA-compliant FAPE.
Specifically, (1) the IEP misclassified P.J.'s
eligibility for special-education services based on his
anxiety, an emotional disorder, rather than his autism
(Pls.' Obj. 2-5); (2) the IEP's proposed public high
school placement for P.J. at the ASA was not appropriate
(id. at 8-10); and (3) Defendant failed to meet
certain procedural requirements in developing P.J.'s IEP
(id. at 6-7).
Judge Sullivan provided a comprehensive discussion of the
IDEA statutory scheme in the R&R (R&R 48-53), and
this Court agrees with her conclusion that P.J.'s
2014-2015 IEP afforded him an IDEA-compliant FAPE.
(See R&R 70-75, 90.) To comply with the
IDEA's FAPE requirement, an IEP must be
“‘reasonably calculated' to deliver
‘educational benefits.'” C.G. ex rel.
A.S. v. Five Town Cmty. Sch. Dist., 513 F.3d 279, 284
(1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Hendrick Hudson Bd. of Educ. v.
Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 207 (1982)). The Parent failed to
meet her burden of showing that P.J.'s IEP for the
2014-2015 school year was not “reasonably
calculated” to deliver “educational
benefits.” See Id. (quoting Rowley,
458 U.S. at 207).
the Parent's claim that Defendant misclassified
P.J.'s “primary diagnosis” in determining his
eligibility for special-education services (Pls.' Obj.
2-5), the R&R notes that “[n]o qualified expert or
educator testified that the District's eligibility
determination was wrong . . . .” (R&R 71.)
Nonetheless, even if the Parent's assertion was true that
“the weight of the expert testimony and credible
evidence of [P.J.'s] performance” supported a
classification for services based on P.J.'s autism
(Pls.' Obj. 5), the Parent failed to show how this
alleged error impacted her son's ...