736 F.2d 773 (1st Cir. 1984), 83-1424, Town of Burlington v. Department of Educ. for Com. of Mass.

Docket Nº:83-1424 to 83-1426.
Citation:736 F.2d 773
Party Name:TOWN OF BURLINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FOR the COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, et al., Defendants, Appellants. TOWN OF BURLINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FOR the COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendant, Appellee, John Doe, etc., Defendant, Appellant. TOWN OF BURLINGTON, et al
Case Date:May 29, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 773

736 F.2d 773 (1st Cir. 1984)

TOWN OF BURLINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,

v.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FOR the COMMONWEALTH OF

MASSACHUSETTS, et al., Defendants, Appellants.

TOWN OF BURLINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,

v.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FOR the COMMONWEALTH OF

MASSACHUSETTS, Defendant, Appellee,

John Doe, etc., Defendant, Appellant.

TOWN OF BURLINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FOR the COMMONWEALTH OF

MASSACHUSETTS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Nos. 83-1424 to 83-1426.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 29, 1984

Argued Nov. 8, 1983.

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David W. Rosenberg, Boston, Mass., with whom Hill & Barlow, Boston, Mass., was on brief, for John Doe, etc.

Ellen L. Janos, Asst. Atty. Gen., Government Bureau, Boston, Mass., with whom Francis X. Bellotti, Atty. Gen., Boston, Mass., was on brief, for Dept. of Educ. for Com. of Mass.

David Berman, Medford, Mass., with whom Berman & Moren, Medford, Mass., was on brief, for Town of Burlington, et al.

Before CAMPBELL, Chief Judge, SWYGERT, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, and BOWNES, Circuit Judge.

BOWNES, Circuit Judge.

On appeal to this court a second time, all parties urge that the district court committed reversible errors in a case arising under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA or Act), 20 U.S.C. Secs. 1401-1461. The first appeal generally involved motions for preliminary injunctions concerning the interim educational placement and funding for a learning disabled child, there referred to as John Doe, Jr., 1 see Town of Burlington v. Department of Education, 655 F.2d 428 (1st Cir.1981) (hereinafter Burlington I). The current appeal presents a wide variety of novel issues under the Act. These include: the choice of law to be utilized in the state due process hearings; the impact of a school system's regulatory violations on the validity of a child's IEP; the weight to be accorded to the state administrative record and the hearing officer's findings upon appeal; the meaning of the term "additional evidence" as used in the Act; the appropriate burden of proof at trial for the years subsequent to the contested IEP; and the significance of a diagnostic determination by the trial judge. Reimbursement issues include the effect of a unilateral parental transfer of the child to a school not authorized by the individualized educational program (IEP) formulated by the school system; the impact of parental reliance on and implementation of a state administrative decision; and bad faith as a bar to reimbursement.

In view of the protracted procedural background of the case which has included two published opinions, see id. and Doe v. Anrig, 561 F.Supp. 121 (D.Mass.1983) (Aldrich, J., sitting by designation) (consolidated case including Burlington I on remand), we will first recount its procedural history. The factual background may be found in

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the above-cited opinions. We shall then review the alleged errors according to the chronological progression of the case beginning with those alleged to have occurred at the state administrative level.

Prior Proceedings

John had completed the third grade at a regular public school when his parents invoked the administrative appeals process in July 1979 to review an IEP and placement the Town of Burlington (Town) proposed to implement the following September. Mediation failed and in August the parents placed the child in a private school, the Carroll School. A state due process hearing was held by the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) over four days in the autumn of 1979. The BSEA hearing officer rendered a decision in January 1980 in favor of the private school placement, holding the Town's IEP to be inadequate and inappropriate for the child's special needs. The Town then commenced a two-count action in the district court against the State and the Does, seeking to reverse the BSEA order on the basis of both the federal Act, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(e)(2), and the corollary state Act, Mass.Gen.Laws Ann. ch. 71B, Secs. 1 et seq. The federal and state acts have different standards of review.

The district court denied the Town's request for a stay of the BSEA order that the Town fund the child's education at the Carroll School, and on the state count found in favor of the defendants on a motion for summary judgment.

On appeal to this court we, inter alia, vacated the grant of summary judgment and directed that the pendent state count be dismissed, holding that the "federal specification for review, when invoked, seems to us designed to occupy the field over an inconsistent state provision." Burlington I, 655 F.2d at 431. The federal claim was remanded for trial.

At the conclusion of a four-day trial, the district court, Zobel, J., reversed the State BSEA finding and held that the Town's IEP was adequate and appropriate. The case was then transferred and consolidated with two others to determine whether the Town's remedies included reimbursement for tuition and travel expenses. The district court, Aldrich, J., sitting by designation, determined that reimbursement was available to the Town as the prevailing party. 2 The case was transferred back to the original district court and an order issued requiring the parents to repay the Town the tuition, transportation costs, and other expenses related to the child's education at the Carroll School for the prior three years. This appeal ensued with the Department and the parents alleging both legal and factual errors in the district court. The Town cross-appeals on the limited issue of the method used to calculate the appropriate reimbursement and the amount thereby awarded. It must be emphasized that the State is not, as is usually the case, aligned with the Town on this appeal. The State's position parallels that of the Does. It urges that the district court erred in reversing the decision of the state educational agency as to the appropriate educational placement for the child.

Statutory Overview

Since our opinion focuses on 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415, which is reproduced in its entirety as an appendix, some basic observations are in order. This section of the Act requires state and local educational agencies to establish and maintain certain procedural safeguards for handicapped children and their parents or guardians. Sec. 1415(a).

Subsection (b)(1) sets forth the required procedures, which "shall include, but shall not be limited to--

(A) an opportunity for the parents or guardian of a handicapped child to examine all relevant records with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational

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placement of the child, and the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child, and to obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child;

(B) [procedures when parents and guardians are not known or when child is a ward of the state];

(C) written prior notice to the parents or guardian of the child whenever such agency or unit--

(i) proposes to initiate or change, or

(ii) refuses to initiate or change, the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child;

(D) [notice of all available procedures required to be in parents' or guardian's native language];

(E) an opportunity to present complaints with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child.

Subsection (b)(2) provides for a hearing:

Whenever a complaint has been received under paragraph (1) of this subsection, the parents or guardian shall have an opportunity for an impartial due process hearing which shall be conducted by the State educational agency or by the local educational agency or intermediate educational unit, as determined by State law or by the State educational agency....

Subsection (c) gives "any party aggrieved by the findings and decision rendered" in the hearing under (b)(2) the right of an "appeal to the State educational agency which shall conduct an impartial review of such hearing." Subsection (d) enumerates the rights accorded parties to hearings.

Subsection (e)(2) opens the courtroom doors to any party aggrieved by the decisions rendered under subsections (b) and (c) by providing that such party

shall have the right to bring a civil action with respect to the complaint presented pursuant to this section, which action may be brought in any State court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States without regard to the amount in controversy. In any action brought under this paragraph the court shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings, shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party, and, basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.

Subsection (e)(3) is addressed to the placement of the child during the pendency of the section 1415 proceedings. Subsection (e)(4) vests jurisdiction in the district courts of the United States.

For the reasons set forth in detail in the main part of our opinion, we find that Sec. 1415 gives the federal court the authority to enforce both federal and relevant state law. "Relevant" state law is law which is not inconsistent with the federally-mandated requirements--both substantive and procedural--of the Act. "Relevant" state law includes, inter alia...

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