Lillbask ex rel. Mauclaire v. Sergi, 3:97CV1202 (PCD).

Decision Date30 March 2002
Docket NumberNo. 3:97CV1202 (PCD).,3:97CV1202 (PCD).
Citation193 F.Supp.2d 503
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesInga Britt LILLBASK as legal guardian on behalf of Lindsey MAUCLAIRE, Plaintiff, v. Theodore S. SERGI, et al., Defendants.

Winona Wellman Zimberlin, Hartford, Arthur Allan Smith, Education Law Project, Inc, Mansfield Center, for Ingabritt Lillbask, Legal Guardian O/B/O Lindsey Mauclaire, plaintiffs.

Richard J. Buturla, Marsha Belman Moses, Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C., Milford, Nyle Kimrick Davey, Attorney General's Office, Health & Human Services, Hartford, Brian A. Lema, Michelle Claire Laubin, Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C., Milford, for Dept of Education, Theodore S. Sergi, Comm, Board of Education, Kenneth Freeston, Supt, Redding Schools, Redding Bd of Ed, defendants.

RULING ON SECOND MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

DORSEY, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff moves to submit additional evidence. State Defendants and Redding Defendants each separately move for summary judgment against Plaintiff. Plaintiff separately cross-moves for summary judgment against State Defendants and Redding Defendants. Plaintiff moves to compel discovery. Plaintiff moves for relief from the previous summary judgment ruling.

I. JURISDICTION

Subject matter jurisdiction is pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(A) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

II. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background

Lindsey Mauclaire, a handicapped child, receives special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. He is cared for by Plaintiff, his guardian, who has made many sacrifices to care for him. In 1996-97, he attended a pre-kindergarten program at Redding Elementary School ("RES"). On August 5, 1997, a Planning and Placement Team ("PPT") met to develop his Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") for the 1997-98 school year. The Redding Board of Education ("Board") decided to place Lindsey at St. Vincent's Special Needs Center ("St. Vincent's") in Trumbull, Connecticut. Pursuant to the IDEA, Plaintiff appealed this placement and other aspects of his IEP to the Connecticut Department of Education for a due process hearing. This case concerns four hearing decisions, dated May 5 1997 (Second Hearing, Case 97-046), August 5, 1997 (First Hearing, Case 97-028), September 5, 1997 (Third Hearing, Case 97-131), and August 7, 1998 (Fourth Hearing, Case 97-231). The Fourth Hearing Officer upheld the Board's decision to place Lindsey at St. Vincent's. Under the stay-put rule, Lindsey remains at RES under his original IEP.

B. Procedural History

Pursuant to the IDEA, Plaintiff sued the Board and Kenneth Freeston as Superintendent of Schools (collectively, "Redding Defendants") and the CDE and Theodore S. Sergi as Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner (collectively, "State Defendants") to challenge these four hearing decisions. Plaintiff claims injunctive relief and damages under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 794), related state statutes (CONN. GEN. STAT. § 10-76a et seq.), and the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal and Connecticut constitutions. Essentially, Plaintiff contends that Redding Defendants placed Lindsey at St. Vincent's in retaliation for exercising her statutory hearing rights.

On December 30, 1999, this court directed the parties to "file cross motions for partial summary judgment on the issue of the hearing appeals under the IDEA .... Until the hearing appeals are resolved, there will be no consideration of [P]laintiff's retaliation claims." On September 29, 2000, summary judgment was granted for and against some of Plaintiff's claims. See Lillbask ex rel. Mauclaire v. Sergi, 117 F.Supp.2d 182 (D.Conn.2000). On May 1, 2001, Plaintiffs first motion to compel discovery was denied. The parties now cross-move for summary judgment on the remaining claims.

III. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO SUBMIT ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE

Plaintiff moves to submit additional evidence to supplement the administrative record. The evidence relates to Lindsey's progress at RES subsequent to the decision to place him at St. Vincent's. The taking of additional evidence is a matter of left to the discretion of the trial court. See Town of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ., 736 F.2d 773, 791 (1st Cir.1984), aff'd on other grounds sub nom. Sch. Comm. v. Dep't of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 105 S.Ct. 1996, 85 L.Ed.2d 385 (1985). The issue is whether the administrative record is sufficient evidence to evaluate the hearing officer's decision. See Gill v. Columbia 93 Sch. Dist., 217 F.3d 1027, 1037-38 (8th Cir.2000).

Plaintiff had earlier sought to compel discovery as to Lindsey's current progress at RES. In ruling on that motion, this court held,

Whether Lindsey would, today, be better served at RES rather than at St. Vincent's is not an issue before this court .... The claim here is not whether Lindsey is currently progressing appropriately at RES, but, in part, whether he was accorded the procedural protections required by federal and state law either in the administrative hearings or by the time Plaintiff filed her complaint herein. To hold otherwise would transform this case into an ongoing review of Lindsey's educational status until he is twenty-one.1 In recognition of this earlier ruling, Plaintiff now argues that evidence of Lindsey's current progress at RES is relevant to the appropriateness of the 1997 decision to place him at St. Vincent's. Her argument is contrary to the intent of the IDEA. The IDEA provides that "the court (i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings[, and] (ii) shall hear evidence at the request of a party." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(B). The statute seeks to avoid a trial de novo by prohibiting witnesses from repeating or embellishing previously rendered testimony. See Town of Burlington, 736 F.2d at 790; see also Wills v. Ferrandino, 830 F.Supp. 116, 120 (D.Conn. 1993) (following Town of Burlington). The record now includes about 47 days of hearings and about 8000 pages of testimony exclusive of exhibits. In avoiding a trial de novo, see Walker County Sch. Dist. v. Bennett, 203 F.3d 1293, 1298-99 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1059, 121 S.Ct. 670, 148 L.Ed.2d 572 (2000), the IDEA seeks to promote speedy resolution of the litigation.

Evidence as to Lindsey's' progress several years after an administrative decision does not necessarily show that the same placement would have been appropriate several years earlier. Moreover, to make such evidence admissible would suggest it is discoverable. "A lenient standard for additional evidence would have the consequence of making the whole IDEA process more time consuming, as parties scrambled to use the federal court proceeding to patch up holes in their administrative case. Whether this lengthy process would serve students is doubtful at best." Springer v. Fairfax County Sch. Bd., 134 F.3d 659, 667 (4th Cir.1998). To permit ongoing and lengthy discovery of a student's current progress through his or her school records, teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and doctors, pending an administrative appeal, would increase the litigious nature of proceedings and undermine expediency, contrary to the command to give "due weight" to the findings of the hearing officer, see Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982), by diluting the evidence before the hearing officer, O'Toole ex rel. O'Toole v. Olathe Dist. Sch. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 223, 963 F.Supp. 1000, 1015 (D.Kan.1997) (court should not allow a party to undercut the statutory role of administrative expertise), aff'd, 144 F.3d 692 (1998). Evidence beyond the administrative record, if considered to be "supplemental," requires care "not to allow such evidence to change the character of the hearing from one of review to a trial de novo," Town of Burlington, 736 F.2d at 790, lest in doing so the PPT and the hearing officer lose their intended first consideration of the child's educational needs.

IV. MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMEN
A. Standard of Review
1. Legal standard for summary judgment

Rule 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits ... show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The mere existence of an alleged factual dispute is not, by itself, sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The adverse party must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact. See id. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the adverse party and draw all inferences in its favor. See Aldrich v. Randolph Cent. Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir.1992). However, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response ... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). A party may not "rely on mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Knight v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d 9, 12 (2d Cir.1986).

2. Standard of review of prior administrative hearings under the IDEA

The IDEA provides that "[a]ny party aggrieved by the findings and decision" made by a hearing officer "shall have the right to bring a civil action with respect to the complaint presented ... in a district court of the United States." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)...

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