202 F.3d 642 (3rd Cir. 2000), 99-1124, Michael C. & Stephen C. v. Radnor Township School Dist.

Docket Nº:99-1124
Citation:202 F.3d 642
Party Name:MICHAEL C., A MINOR BY HIS PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND, STEPHEN C.; STEPHEN C., INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON HIS OWN BEHALF v. THE RADNOR TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT; PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION Michael C.; Stephen C., Appellants
Case Date:January 14, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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202 F.3d 642 (3rd Cir. 2000)

MICHAEL C., A MINOR BY HIS PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND, STEPHEN C.; STEPHEN C., INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON HIS OWN BEHALF

v.

THE RADNOR TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT; PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

Michael C.; Stephen C., Appellants

No. 99-1124

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

January 14, 2000

Argued: November 2, 1999

On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 98-cv-04690) District Judge: Honorable Charles R. Weiner

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Dennis C. McAndrews, Esq. (Argued) Suite 130 150 Strafford Avenue Wayne, PA 19087, Counsel for Appellants Michael C. and Stephen C.

Rosemary E. Mullaly, Esq. (Argued) Sweet, Stevens, Tucker & Katz, LLP 116 East Court Street P.O. Box 150 Doylestown, PA 18901, Counsel for Appellee Radnor Township School District

Calvin R. Koons, Esq. (Argued) D. Michael Fisher, Esq. John G. Knorr, III, Esq. Office of Attorney General Appellate Litigation Section 15th Floor, Strawberry Square Harrisburg, PA 17120, Counsel for Appellee Pennsylvania Department of Education

Before: NYGAARD, MCKEE and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal has its genesis in social legislation enacted by Congress designed to encourage states to provide meaningful education to individuals with disabilities. The specific question before us is whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. S 1400 et seq., requires a Pennsylvania school district to provide a student with disabilities who relocates from another state with an interim educational program identical to the program the student received in his or her prior state of residence. Michael C., a student with disabilities, attended a private school in Washington, D.C. under an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") formulated by Washington educational authorities. Michael and his father moved from Washington to Radnor Township, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1997, and requested special educational treatment from the Radnor Township School District ("Radnor"). Radnor responded with specific educational proposals but Michael's father rejected them, and unilaterally placed Michael in a private school. Michael remained in this school for 41 days, after which his family again moved, this time to New Jersey.

Michael's father later initiated administrative proceedings seeking reimbursement for tuition costs incurred while Michael attended the private school in Pennsylvania. After unsuccessfully pursuing his administrative remedies, Michael's father filed this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Radnor and the Pennsylvania Department of Education ("PDE"), seeking tuition reimbursement and claiming violations of the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. S 1415(j), the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. S 794, and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. S 1983. He also claimed that Michael's and his family's right to travel interstate under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution had been violated. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Radnor and PDE as to all claims. The court also granted PDE's separate motion for dismissal of the S 1983 claim as to it based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. This timely appeal followed.1 We will affirm.

I.

The facts of this case are undisputed. Michael, 17 years old at the time events relevant to this case occurred, is learning disabled and suffers from severe hemophilia. Prior to August 1997, Michael and his

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father lived in Washington D.C. Pursuant to the IDEA, Washington public educational authorities had developed an IEP2 for Michael.3 This IEP recommended placement at a "public/private separate school." (A.185a). Accordingly, Michael attended a small private school for learning disabled students called the LAB School. The LAB School served only students with disabilities, and therefore its students were segregated from their non-disabled peers. Michael attended the LAB School for three years.

When Michael and his father moved to Pennsylvania in 1997, the father contacted Radnor educational authorities to obtain appropriate placement for Michael. Radnor convened an "IEP meeting" to develop an interim program for Michael for the 1997-98 school year. At this time, Radnor had not yet completed its own evaluation of Michael's educational needs. By letter dated August 26, 1997, Radnor offered Michael two interim programming options pending completion of its own evaluation of Michael's needs. Both of these options placed Michael at Radnor High School ("Radnor High"), a large public high school with a total enrollment of approximately 800 students, where Radnor believed it could effectively implement the substance of Michael's Washington IEP. The first option, which Radnor characterizes as the "learning support" or "LS" option, involved enrolling Michael in mainstream English, science, social studies and elective classes, and in special education mathematics and written expression classes. This option also involved provision of support for homework and test preparation, and the development of study skills through a special education resource program. The second option, which Radnor characterizes as the "emotional support" or "ES" option,4 involved enrolling Michael in an "Emotional Support Program" for English, science, social studies, health and physical education classes, in "learning support" for mathematics, and in mainstream elective courses.

Michael's father rejected these options, and unilaterally decided to place Michael at the Hill Top School, a small private school for children with disabilities. In the fall of 1997, before Radnor had completed Michael's evaluation, Michael and his father again relocated, this time to New Jersey, for reasons related to the father's job. Michael had attended Hill Top for 41 days, during which time his father incurred tuition expenses in the amount of $4299.31. Because Michael left Pennsylvania before Radnor officials had completed their own evaluation of Michael's educational needs, Radnor never developed its own IEP for Michael.

In January 1998, after moving to New Jersey, Michael's father initiated a due process hearing in Pennsylvania as provided for by the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. S 1415(f).

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The purpose of this hearing was to determine whether the IDEA required Radnor to reimburse the father for the cost of Michael's Hill Top tuition. Both the local hearing officer and later the Pennsylvania Special Education Appeals Panel rejected the father's request. Both relied on a policy memorandum of the United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs ("OSEP") stating that when a disabled student moves from one state to another, the new state of residence is not required to adopt and implement the most recent IEP developed for the student by the previous state of residence.

The plaintiffs then instituted the present action against Radnor and PDE. PDE moved to dismiss their S 1983 claim against it based on the Eleventh Amendment. In addition, the parties agreed that all claims could be decided on the administrative record without further evidence, and crossmoved for summary judgment. On February 5, 1999, the district court granted PDE's motion to dismiss the S 1983 claim as to it, and also granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all claims and denied the plaintiffs' cross-motion, relying heavily on the OSEP policy memorandum.

II.

Although plaintiffs, Michael C. and his father, claimed numerous statutory violations and one constitutional violation in the district court, on appeal they seek relief on only two of these grounds. First, they contend that the IDEA's "pendency" or "stay-put" provision, 20 U.S.C. S 1415(j), required Radnor to implement Michael's Washington IEP. Second, plaintiffs argue that Radnor's refusal to implement Michael's Washington IEP violated his and his family's constitutional right to interstate travel. We exercise plenary review over the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. See W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484, 493 (3d Cir. 1995). The material facts being undisputed, we therefore address plaintiffs' arguments that they, and not the defendants, are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-52 (1986).

A. Whether the IDEA Required Radnor to Implement Michael's Washington IEP

In enacting the IDEA, Congress made known its strong preference for integrating students with disabilities into regular classrooms, and against segregating such students from their non-disabled peers unless absolutely necessary to provide them with an educational benefit. See 20 U.S.C. S 1412(a)(5)(A); Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988); Oberti v. Board of Educ. of Borough of Clementon Sch. Dist., 995 F.2d 1204, 1213-14 (3d Cir. 1993). Nevertheless, cases presenting the reverse situation occasionally arise, where the complaint is the school district's failure to segregate a child from his or her non-disabled peers by placing that child in a learning environment serving only disabled students. This is such a case.

The plaintiffs contend that the defendants' refusal to adopt Michael's Washington IEP and to implement that IEP by placing him in the segregated Hill Top school, as opposed to a more integrated learning program at Radnor High, violated the IDEA's "pendency" or "stay-put" provision. This provision, found at 20 U.S.C. S 1415(j)...

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