Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Independent School District No. 720 v. C.L.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 7, 2018

Independent School District No. 720, Plaintiff,
v.
C.L., by and through his parents and legal guardians, B.L. and E.L., Defendant.

          Peter A. Martin, Knutson, Flynn & Deans, PA, 1155 Centre Pointe Drive, Suite 10, Mendota Heights, Minnesota 55120, for Plaintiff.

          Amy J. Goetz and Andrea L. Jepsen, School Law Center, LLC, 452 Selby Avenue, Second Floor E, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102, for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction Staying Enforcement of Administrative Decision [Doc. No. 5] (“Preliminary Injunction Motion”) by Plaintiff Independent School District No. 720 (“the District”). The District asks the Court to stay the decision of Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jim Mortenson, which dismissed with prejudice the District's due process complaint under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (“IDEA”), and compelled it to provide Defendant C.L. (“Student”) with an independent educational evaluation at public expense. For the reasons stated below, the District's motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant C.L.-whose interests are represented here by his parents and legal guardians B.L. and E.L. (“Parents”)-is a 15-year-old child with a disability. (Compl. [Doc. No. 1], Ex. 2 [Doc. No. 1-1] (Summary Disposition Order[1], at 2).) Since June 2016, C.L. has been placed in a Setting IV special education program contracted by the District. (Id. at 3.) In the spring of 2017, the District proposed to conduct a reevaluation of C.L.'s educational needs, as two and a half years had passed since his last evaluation. (Id. at 4.) C.L.'s mother consented to the reevaluation on April 22, 2017. (Id.)

         Less than a week later, C.L. became agitated at school and repeatedly banged his head against a wall at school. (Id.) After learning of this incident and C.L.'s subsequent trip to the hospital, C.L.'s mother requested an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) at public expense. (Id. at 5.) The parties disagreed as to whether the District had a right to complete the reevaluation before an obligation could arise to pay for an IEE. (Id. at 6, 9.) ALJ Eric L. Lipman issued a decision finding that the District could not be compelled to pay for an IEE until it had completed the previously-proposed reevaluation. (Id. at 9-11.)

         The reevaluation was completed on October 24, 2017. (Compl., Ex. 1 [Doc. No. 1-1] (Order of Dismissal, at 2).) Several months passed, and in February 2018 Parents again requested an IEE at public expense, claiming that the reevaluation was inadequate to meet C.L.'s needs. (Id.) Parents allege that they made this request orally at a February 2 meeting of C.L.'s independent education plan team. (Mem. Opposing Mot. for TRO and Prelim. Inj. [Doc. No. 16] (“Defs.' Mem.”), at 11.) The District claims that Parents did not renew the request for an IEE until February 20. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for TRO and Prelim. Inj. Staying Enforcement of Administrative Decision [Doc. No. 7] (“Pl.'s Mem.”), at 7.) On February 28, the District emailed Parents' counsel, stating, “The School District believes there is no merit whatsoever to the IEE request. Unless the request is promptly withdrawn, we intend to initiate due process proceedings.” (Decl. of Peter A. Martin [Doc. No. 8] (“Martin Decl.”), Ex. 2 [Doc. No. 8-1] (2/28/18 Email, at 3).) On March 16 or March 19, 2018, [2] the District filed a due process hearing complaint to contest the appropriateness of an IEE at public expense, under 34 C.F.R. § 300.502(b)(2)(i). (Compl., Ex. 1 (Order of Dismissal, at 3); Pl.'s Mem., at 8.)

         On March 20, Parents submitted a filing entitled “Complaint and Request for Hearing III, ” which the ALJ considered to be a response to the District's due process hearing complaint. (Martin Decl., Sealed Ex. 6 (Parents' Complaint and Request for Hearing, at 1, 3); Compl., Ex. 1 (Order of Dismissal, at 3).) This was a four-page letter that Parents' counsel also emailed to the District's counsel, stating in the email, “Attached is our Complaint and Request for Hearing III, also requesting consolidation of cases with the District's Hearing II, and constituting as well our response to that complaint.” (Aff. of Amy J. Goetz [Doc. No. 18] (“Goetz Aff.”), Sealed Ex. D [Doc. No. 22] (3/20/18 Email).) Parents' “Complaint and Request for Hearing III” raised two issues for hearing: (1) “Whether the Districts have provided [C.L.] with adequate identification of his disabilities and educational needs, ” and (2) “Whether the Districts have provided [C.L.] with a free appropriate public education.” (Martin Decl., Sealed Ex. 6 (Parents' Complaint and Request for Hearing, at 1, 3).) The ALJ denied Parents' request to consolidate the two hearing requests “because the issues in the two complaints were distinct and different timelines applied.” (Compl., Ex. 1 (Order of Dismissal, at 4).)

         The ALJ held a prehearing conference and attempted to schedule a due process hearing within the 45-day window prescribed by 34 C.F.R. § 300.515. (Id. at 3.) The District's counsel had previously-scheduled matters conflicting with several of the ALJ's proposed hearing dates. (See Pl.'s Mem., at 8-9; Tr. [Doc. No. 30], at 4-5.) Aware that the District and its counsel had another due process hearing scheduled for April 17-19, 2018, and to accommodate District counsel's vacation schedule, the ALJ scheduled the due process hearing to take place on April 16 and April 20, 2018. (Compl., Ex. 1 (Order of Dismissal, at 3).)

         The District requested an extension of the 45-day timeline. (Id.; see 34 C.F.R. § 300.515(c).) The ALJ found that the District did not have good cause for an extension. The ALJ noted that the District was aware of the 45-day timeline when it filed the due process complaint, that the District's counsel had a duty to manage his workload so that he could represent his clients competently, and that the hearing “will not be held on the same dates as the School District's other due process hearing so as to permit both hearings to occur timely.” (Martin Decl, Ex. 4 [Doc. No. 8-1] (Second Prehearing Order, at 2-3).) The ALJ denied the requested extension. (Id.)

         The District attempted to find other counsel who could step in to litigate the due process hearing as scheduled, but was unsuccessful. (Compl, Ex. 3 [Doc. No. 1-1] (3/26/18 Letter to ALJ).) Stating that the schedule “essentially requires the School District and its legal counsel to prepare for, and litigate, two due process hearings simultaneously, something that realistically cannot be done without substantial prejudice to the School District, ” the District filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal. (Id.) The District cited Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 41.01(a), [3] which permits a plaintiff to voluntarily dismiss an action without prejudice “at any time before service by the adverse party of an answer or of a motion for summary judgment.” The District stated that it intended to refile the due process complaint at a later date. (Compl., Ex. 4 (3/26/18 Letter to ALJ).)

         After hearing the parties' arguments in a conference call, the ALJ held that the District did not have the right to voluntary dismissal of the due process complaint under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 41.01(a) because Parents had filed a responsive pleading. (Compl., Ex. 1 (Order of Dismissal, at 4-5).) Finding Rule 41.01(a) inapplicable, the ALJ construed the District's Notice of Voluntary Dismissal as a request for voluntary dismissal under Rule 41.01(b), which permits a “dismissal at the plaintiff's instance . . . upon order of the court and upon such terms and conditions as the court deems proper.” The ALJ made the following findings:

The Administrative Law Judge previously determined the unavailability of counsel does not constitute good cause for an extension of the 45-day timeline. That result is not altered by the School District's attempt to withdraw its complaint without prejudice when Parents are waiting for a response to their request for an IEE at public expense. The School District was aware of the 45-day timeline when it filed its due process hearing request. The School District could have filed its complaint sooner to avoid the scheduling issues and to avoid Parents' challenge to the timeliness of the complaint.
The School District voluntarily withdrew its due process hearing complaint and so, of its own accord, is attempting to cause unnecessary delay in either proceeding to hearing or in providing the IEE at public expense. Since the School District cannot be required to proceed to hearing, the School District must provide the Parents with an IEE at public expense, in accordance with 34 C.F.R. § 300.502(b).

(Compl., Ex. 1 (Order of Dismissal, at 5-6).) The ALJ granted the District's request to dismiss the complaint, but dismissed it with prejudice. (Id. at 6.)

         The District filed an appeal in this Court as permitted by 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). (Compl.) The District argues that the ALJ erred in denying its request for an extension of the 45-day timeline, in holding that the District's complaint was ineligible for voluntary dismissal under Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.01(a), and in dismissing the complaint with prejudice. (Id.) The District then filed its Preliminary Injunction Motion, asking the Court to stay enforcement of the ALJ's decision during the appeal.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.