Independent School Dist. No. 432 v. J.H., by R.H.

Decision Date22 June 1998
Docket NumberCivil No. 97-1322(RHK/JMM).
Citation8 F.Supp.2d 1166
PartiesINDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 432, Mahnomen Schools, Mahnomen, Minnesota, Plaintiffs, v. J.H., By and Through her parent, R.H., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Susan E. Torgerson, Timothy R. Palmatier, Knutson, Flynn, Deans & Olson, St.Paul, MN, for Plaintiffs.

Luther A. Granquist, MN Disability Law Center, Minneapolis, MN, Margaret O'Sullivan Kane, Kane Law Office, St. Paul, MN, for Defendants.


KYLE, District Judge.

In separate filings on May 13, 1998, Magistrate Judge John M. Mason issued his Findings of Fact and Report and Recommendation (R & R) in the above matter recommending that (1) Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Record be denied, (2) Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment on the Record be granted, and (3) that the May 5, 1997 decision of the Hearing Review Officer be vacated. In addition, Judge Mason recommended the dismissal with prejudice of the Application for Costs and Attorneys' Fees of the Student and Parent (which Application is denominated as a Counterclaim).

Timely Objections to the R & R and the Findings of Fact were filed by the Defendants through their counsel Luther A. Granquist. In addition, attorney Margaret O'Sullivan Kane has filed Objections to the R & R and Findings of Fact "in support of [Defendants'] request for attorneys' fees and simultaneously seek the submission of an additional document that formed the basis of the parties' settlement discussion reflecting the clarification and retention of specific issues for due process hearing." Plaintiffs have moved this Court to strike these Objections as well as the attachments therein on the ground that attorney Kane has not represented the Parent as a Defendant in the Plaintiffs' appeal of the IDEA due process proceedings and her involvement in this Court has been limited to filing a petition for attorneys' fees. Although the undersigned has serious reservations with respect to Ms. Kane's status as counsel in this proceeding, it seems the safer course of action is to allow her Objections to stand and to consider the attachments thereto.

The Court has considered each of the fourteen (14) identified Objections to the R & R and has conducted the required de novo review of the R & R and Findings of Fact. The same has been done with respect to Ms. Kane's Objections. Judge Mason's Findings and R & R are thorough and well-reasoned; in addition, he has applied the appropriate legal standards to the facts of this proceeding.

Accordingly, and upon all the files, records, and proceedings herein, IT IS ORDERED:

(1) Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Objections to Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 37) is DENIED;

(2) Defendants' Objections to Report and Recommendation and Findings of Fact of Magistrate Judge John M. Mason (Doc. No. 32) are OVERRULED;

(3) Defendants' Objections to Report and Recommendation and Findings of Fact of Magistrate Judge John M. Mason (Doc. No. 34) are OVERRULED;

(4) The Findings of Fact (Doc. No. 30) and Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 31) are ADOPTED;

(5) Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Record (Doc. No. 20) is DENIED;

(6) Student and Parent's "Application for Costs and Attorneys' Fees" (Doc. No. 1), now denominated as a Counterclaim, is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE;

(7) Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment on the Record (Doc. Nos. 15, 23 and 24) is GRANTED. The decision of the Hearing Review Officer dated May 5, 1997 is VACATED; and

(8) No costs or attorneys' fees are awarded to any party.



MASON, United States Magistrate Judge.

This action raises issues under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415 et seq.,1 Minn. Stat. § 120.17, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794, 794a. The procedural history of this case is important to the disposition of the cross-motions for Judgment on the Record presently before the Court, but it is also extraordinarily complex. For that reason, separate Findings of Fact are filed simultaneously with this Report and Recommendation. The material facts are summarized below.

On September 27, 1996, the attorney for Parent sent a letter to the School District. The letter requested an evaluation of Student and the preparation of an Individualized Educational Plan ("IEP").2 The letter also purported to be a "request for a due process hearing." Certified Inventory No. (hereinafter "Cl ___") 35. Independent School District No. 432 agreed to provide the evaluation, and to formulate an IEP, but contended that the conditions for a due process hearing under Minn.Stat. § 120.17, subd. 3b(e) had not been met.

An assessment was made of the Student, and an IEP was prepared, as requested by the Parent. Consultations were had between the Parent and the School District. In November, 1996, the Parent and School District reached a settlement agreement, and notified the Hearing Officer. On December 10, 1996, the Parent agreed to the IEP for the Student. Cl 24. Nonetheless, the Hearing Officer proceeded to a hearing on January 9, 1997, over the objections of the School District.

On February 3, 1997, the Level I Hearing Officer found that the District had met the requirements of the IDEA, and that the Student did not need to attend an educational program outside the District. The Parent appealed. On May 5, 1997, the Level II Hearing Review Officer ordered the Mahnomen District to be responsible for enrolling the student in a High School in a neighboring school district, and for providing free transportation to that school. The services Student would receive in the neighboring school district "are completely duplicated at Mahnomen High." Cl 4.

The Mahnomen School District appealed to this Court pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e). The appeal raises issues concerning compliance with the procedural requirements of the IDEA, as well as the substantive question of whether the School District provided a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") to Student. Parent and Student commenced a separate action to recover costs and reasonable attorney's fees as the prevailing parties before the Hearing Review Officer. The two matters were consolidated.3 Each party has now moved for Judgment on the Record. [Docket Nos. 15, 20, 23 and 24].

It is agreed by the parties that this matter should be decided upon the existing administrative record. See Docket No. 12.4 This is the normal method in which appeals from administrative decisions should be considered under the IDEA. E.S. v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 196, 135 F.3d 566, 569 (8th Cir.1998) ("Although the IDEA permits a court reviewing the administrative process to admit additional evidence, `a party seeking to introduce additional evidence at the district court level must provide some solid justification for doing so.'") (citing Independent Sch. Dist No. 283 v. S.D., 88 F.3d 556, 560 (8th Cir.1996) (party failed to present "solid justification" for expanding the administrative record)).

At oral argument on the cross-motions for Judgment on the Record, Timothy R. Palmatier, Esq. and Susan E. Torgerson, Esq. appeared on behalf of the School District. Luther A. Granquist, Esq. appeared on behalf of Defendants. The matter is before the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation to District Judge Richard H. Kyle, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). [Docket No. 13].


The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has outlined the procedural process by which a parent and student may pursue their rights under the IDEA.

"Under the IDEA, parents are entitled to notice of proposed changes in their child's educational program and, where disagreements arise, to an `impartial due process hearing.' [20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(2).] Once the available avenues of administrative review have been exhausted, aggrieved parties to the dispute may file a civil action in state or federal court. Id. § 1415(e)(2)."

Light v. Parkway C-2 School District, 41 F.3d 1223, 1227 (8th Cir.1994), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1132, 115 S.Ct. 2557, 132 L.Ed.2d 811 (1995).

We begin by summarizing the substantive and procedural requirements of the law. When the procedural history of this case is then examined in light of the statutory requirements, it is apparent that the administrative process prescribed by law was not followed in this case. There was not a subject which was ripe for a due process hearing, nor was there an effective request for a due process hearing. As a consequence, the Hearing Officer and the Hearing Review Officer were without jurisdiction. There is thus no need to review the question of whether the HRO erred in requiring the Mahnomen School District to enroll Student in a High School outside the District, and to pay the transportation costs to that school.

It is recommended that the District's Motion for Judgment on the Record be granted, and that Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Record be denied. No costs or attorney's fees should be awarded to any party.

Applicable Law

The Complaint relies principally upon the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1415 et seq., and Minnesota law which implements that Act. Minn. Stat. § 120.17. The Complaint also relies upon Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794, 794a.5 The substantive requirements of the IDEA and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act have been interpreted to be "strikingly similar." Brougham v. Town of Yarmouth, 823 F.Supp. 9, 13 n. 4 (D.Maine 1993). This Court's analysis of whether the District provided Student with an FAPE is dispositive of all issues under the IDEA, as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Brougham, 823 F.Supp. at 13 n. 4.

A school district provides an FAPE and complies with the IDEA where it (1) appropriately classifies a student's educational handicap, (2) develops an IEP that provides educational benefit, (3) places the student in...

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2 cases
  • Sch. Dist. of Phila. v. Williams ex rel. C.H.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • November 20, 2015
    ...litigation. At the same time, the Hearing Officer's order does not seek to replace the IEP process. Cf. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 432 v. J.H., 8 F. Supp. 2d 1166 (D. Minn. 1998) (holding that an administrative decision was improper where the parent had not given the district an opportunity to f......
  • Wetherald v. Carmel Clay Sch. Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • June 1, 2020
    ...CCC and then waited a year and after her child had attended a private school to object to the IEP); Independent Sch. Dist. Num. 432 v. J.H., 8 F. Supp. 2d 1166, 1172-74 (D. Minn. 1998) (finding that because the school had revised the IEP and parents no longer objected to it, their dispute w......

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