APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY. (D.C. Civ. No. 93-CV-03976).
Before: Becker, Nygaard, and Weis, Circuit Judges.
In this appeal, we determine that a district court may entertain a motion for a preliminary injunction before administrative remedies have been exhausted if a School Board's interim placement decision under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1484a, will cause irreparable harm to a child. Because the district court erred in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction, before making a complete inquiry as to the existence of exceptions to the exhaustion doctrine, we will remand for further proceedings.
Stephen Komninos is a severely retarded eight-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy as well as associated communicative and behavioral disorders. Pursuant to an individual education plan and funding by the defendant Upper Saddle River Board of Education, Stephen was placed as a day student at the Norman Bleshman Regional Day School in Paramus, New Jersey.
In April 1993, Stephen's parents, plaintiffs in this suit, requested that he be placed in a residential facility as a means of improving his condition and skills. After the Board refused to comply with the wishes of the parents, they sought administrative relief pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e), formerly known as the Education of the Handicapped Act.
Unwilling to await the completion of the administrative proceedings, the parents moved Stephen in May 1993 to Heartspring, a residential school located in Wichita, Kansas.
The Board initially refused to fund Stephen's care at Heartspring, but then agreed to pay for the summer session ending on August 7, 1993, without prejudice, pending the completion of the administrative proceedings.
In July 1993, plaintiffs moved for emergency relief before the ALJ assigned to the case. They asked for an administrative order directing the Board to pay Stephen's expenses at Heartspring for the new school year beginning August 23, 1993 during the pendency of the administrative proceedings. Noting that material facts were in dispute and that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate "irreparability of harm or irretrievable interruption of [the] educational program," the ALJ denied the motion. He characterized the order as "final pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)."
The parents filed a second motion in September, 1993 asserting that Stephen would be forced to change schools because their funds would be exhausted before the completion of the administrative proceedings. The ALJ found that plaintiffs' claim was essentially "dollar driven," and therefore, not irreparable. The ALJ concluded that Stephen's danger to himself was no "more predictably acute everywhere except at Heartspring," and on September 21, 1993, denied the renewed motion, again certifying that the order was final.
In the interim, on September 3, 1993, plaintiffs submitted a verified complaint to the district court "by way of appeal" from the ruling of the ALJ and asked for a preliminary injunction.*fn1 The parents requested that the Board be directed to place Stephen and fund his schooling at Heartspring or another similar residential facility while the administrative hearings were proceeding.
The complaint asserted that, absent the socialization and specialized care offered at Heartspring or a similar institution, Stephen would be "physically, permanently and irreparably educationally harmed." Plaintiffs alleged that because the Board had refused to provide interim ...