Special Education Case Law Update – January 28, 2013
Intravaia v. Rocky Point Union Free School et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12675 (E.D.N.Y. Jan., 30 2013) (exhaustion of administrative remedies)
Student Skylar Intravaia’s parents brought claims pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983, alleging that the defendant school district failed to provide Skylar with a free appropriate public education. At the time of the dispute, Skylar was a high-functioning eight-grader with Asperger’s syndrome. Her parents allege that the school district failed to provide group services to Skylar, eliminated various therapy and counseling sessions, removed staff and shuffled staff duties such that Skylar’s services were impacted, and punished Skylar (by sending Skylar back to class from counseling sessions for wrongly answering questions), among other items, contrary to Skylar’s Indizidualized Education Program (IEP)
Prior to filing this lawsuit, Skylar’s parents had contacted Rocky Point to raise these issues and additionally filed a complaint with New York State Education Department (NYSED). Afterwards, the parents were informed that Rocky Point was requesting an impartial hearing regarding the allegations. Pursuant to federal and state law for allegations being addressed in impartial hearings, NYSED suspended its investigation. The parents then asserted that Rocky Point’s initiation of the impartial hearing was designed to interfere with and block the NYSED investigation. The parents then filed this lawsuit.
Rocky Point and the other defendants to the lawsuit moved to dismiss on the grounds that parents had not exhausted their administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. The purpose of the administrative exhaustion rule is to channel disputes related to childrens’ education into an administrative process where the expertise of educators (rather than the court) can be applied to resolve disputes. The failure to resolve administrative remedies (i.e. the impartial hearing and similar proceedings) for claims for relief under the IDEA – regardless of the asserted statutory basis for the claims – deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. The parents did not dispute that they did not exhaust their administrative remedies, but argued that such failure was excused.
Administration exhaustion is not required in cases where exhaustion would be futile. The parents argued that Rocky Point denied them the ability to pursue administrative options by initiating an impartial hearing after the parents filed their complaint with NYSED. The Court found nothing to support the parents position on this issue, noting that the NYSED is not an administrative remedy that must be exhausted.
Additionally, the parents argued that administrative exhaustion should be excused because this lawsuit set forth with specificity each instance where Rocky Point failed to provide required services to Skylar specifically identified in her IEP. The Court noted an exception to the exhaustion requirement when a school has failed to implement services specified and clearly stated in an IEP. Here, however, the parents’ Complaint made allegations far greater than Rocky Point’s failure to implement specific IEP requirements, and the parents were not excused from exhausting their administrative remedies. The Court likewise rejected the parents’ arguments that systematic violations by Rocky Point, an exception to the exhaustion requirement, relieved the parents of administrative exhaustion because the parents failed to plead any facts supporting this contention. The parents’ lawsuit was dismissed.
Moyer was 22 years old at the time of an administrative hearing held in this matter. Previously, in the summer of 2002, Moyer began exhibiting signs of short-term memory loss and strange behavior, possibly related to a series of head traumas he experienced while growing up. He was subsequently diagnosed as having mood or bipolar disorder and received four weeks of home hospital services. Long Beach was advised of this hospitalization. After returning to school, Long Beach drafted a Section 504 Accommodation Plan to accommodate the symptoms of Moyer’s bipolar disorder. However, Moyer continued to struggle with school and his grades. In November 2003, Moyer’s parents enrolled him at Logan River Academy in Utah, and notified Moyer’s English teacher (in response to an email regarding a missed assignment) that Moyer had been placed in boarding school because he was not “getting the appropriate education he was entitled to in the Long Beach district.
In 2008, Moyer filed a due process complaint under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) alleging that he was denied a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for the 2003-04 school year through 2006 because: (1) his parents should have been and were not provided with notice of procedural safeguards; (2) he was denied a FAPE for the same time period because Long Beach should have assessed him and found him eligible for special education pursuant to the “child find” in the IDEA; (3) that he was denied a FAPE between 2006 and 2008 because he was not provided with notice of procedural safeguards during that time frame; and (4) he was denied a FAPE for the same time frame because Long Beach should have assessed him pursuant to the “child find” provision of the IDEA. An Administraive Law Judge (ALJ) found in favor of Long Beach on these issues and Moyer brought this suit in federal court.
With regard to Moyer’s claims for denial of a FAPE prior to 2006, the court found these claims barred by the two-year statute of limitations for IDEA claims. Under California law, claims under the IDEA “shall be filed within two years from the date the party initiating the request knew or had reason to know of the facts underlying the basis for the request.” The court agreed with the ALJ that the two- year statute of limitations on Moyer’s claims had passed, noting that at the latest the statute of limitations began to run in November 2003 when Moyer’s mother’s email conceded her recognition that Moyer was not receiving the appropriate educational services.
Moyer argued on this point, however, that the statute of limitations did not apply because Long Beach failed to give his parents any notice of procedural safeguards detailing their rights under the IDEA. California law states that the statute of limitations does not apply if the parent was prevented from requesting a due process hearing due to the withholding of information by the local educational agency. The court found, however, that during the relevant period Moyer was not referred for special education assessment by Long Beach or Moyer’s parents. Furthermore, Moyer’s parents never requested a notice of procedural safeguards and no circumstances occurred that would have required such notice be provided. The court additionally held that Moyer’s claim regarding Long Beach’s “child find” obligation could not be pursued as a predicate to showing a procedural failure thus excusing the application of the limitations period to his claims.
Regarding the claims for denial of a FAPE after 2006, the court found these claims failed as a matter of law. Under California law, special education services for children over the age of nineteen are provided only when the student was enrolled in, or eligible for, special education services at the time of the student’s nineteenth birthday. Moyer turned nineteen in September 2005 and it was undisputed that at that time he was not enrolled in, nor had been found eligible for, a special education program. Therefore, he was not eligible for special education services after that birthday. Though Moyer argued that the district should have assessed him prior to that birthday under its “child find” obligations, the court rejected this argument as time barred since Moyer failed to request a due process hearing until more than 3-years after that birthday. The Court found in favor of the District on all of Moyer’s claims.