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Chambers v. School Dist. of Philadelphia Board of Education

November 20, 2009

RONALD E. CHAMBERS AND LESLIE A. CHAMBERS, AS GUARDIANS OF FERREN CHAMBERS, AN INCAPACITATED PERSON; AND IN THEIR OWN RIGHT
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA BOARD OF EDUCATION
RONALD E. CHAMBERS AND LESLIE A. CHAMBERS, AS GUARDIANS OF FERREN CHAMBERS, AND IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. No. 05-cv-02535). District Judge: Honorable Gene E. K. Pratter.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued September 22, 2009

Before: BARRY, FISHER and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Robert and Leslie Chambers are the parents of Ferren Chambers. Ferren suffers from cognitive and developmental disorders and, although now in her twenties, functions on the level of a young child. In 2005, the Chambers sued the School District of Philadelphia Board of Education (the "School District"). Alleging that the School District's failure to provide Ferren with an appropriate education obstructed her intellectual growth, the Chambers asserted various statutory and constitutional violations, both in their own right and on Ferren's behalf. The District Court granted summary judgment for the School District on all of the Chambers' claims. The Chambers now challenge that ruling in most, but not all, respects. Because we conclude that the District Court erroneously found that the Chambers waived two of the statutory claims asserted on Ferren's behalf, we will vacate that portion of its ruling and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We will affirm the balance of the District Court's ruling.

I.

A.

Ferren*fn1 was born on October 15, 1985. In April 1987, Ferren underwent testing by a pediatric neurologist, who concluded that Ferren's cognitive development was stunted because of a birth defect. A second neurologist later determined that Ferren suffered from Dandy-Walker syndrome.*fn2

In September 1990, before beginning school, Ferren was evaluated by a school psychologist and diagnosed with mental retardation. Thereafter, she was placed in a "life skills" program at the Farrell School. After Ferren exhibited signs of regression, Mr. Chambers removed her from the program and challenged her classification as mentally retarded. A due process hearing was conducted before a state appeals panel, which ruled that Ferren should be reclassified as autistic and placed in an appropriate program. The School District thereafter placed Ferren in a program for autistic students at the Greenfield Elementary School.

Ferren underwent several evaluations over the next few years by various medical professionals. In 1992, a school psychologist concluded that Ferren was severely autistic and recommended that she be placed in a program for retarded children with one-on-one supervision. A 1993 evaluation determined that Ferren's language and motor skills were significantly underdeveloped. By 1994, Ferren was enrolled in a program for autistic students at the Loesche Elementary School, where she had one-on-one assistance. A medical professional evaluated Ferren in that setting and recommended that she be placed in a private school. Despite requests from Ferren's parents for such a placement, the School District did not initially follow that recommendation.

In 1995, the Chambers sent the School District a request for a due process hearing. The School District misplaced that request. After a several-week-long delay due to the misplacement of the request, a state appeals panel ordered the School District to implement the recommendation by placing Ferren in a private school. In September 1995, the School District placed Ferren at the Wordsworth Academy, a private facility.

Although the Chambers were initially pleased with Ferren's new placement, they requested another due process hearing in November 1996 because Ferren was receiving neither speech therapy nor physical and occupational therapy. In 1997 and 1998, the parties entered into two settlement agreements, requiring the School District to provide those services. The School District did not do so. In 1999, the Chambers filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Special Education, which thereafter issued a report detailing the School District's failure to provide those services. After that report was issued, the School District agreed to pay for Ferren's speech therapy as well as physical and occupational therapy.

In 2001, the School District asked a special education consultant to assess Ferren's progress at the Wordsworth Academy. The Chambers objected to the School District's request, and a due process hearing ensued. After a state hearing officer ordered the assessment to proceed, the consultant determined that Wordsworth was an inappropriate setting for Ferren and that she should be placed in a school for severely retarded persons.

In April 2002, the Chambers filed another complaint with the Bureau of Special Education, again charging that the School District had failed to provide Ferren with speech therapy as well as physical and occupational therapy. Later that month, a due process hearing was held at the School District's request.

In November 2003, the Chambers requested another due process hearing. The School District failed to forward that request to the Pennsylvania Office for Dispute Resolution. In December 2003, the Chambers directly contacted the Office for Dispute Resolution to ask about the status of their hearing request. Following the Chambers' inquiry, a due process hearing was held in March 2004.

In April 2004, after the March 2004 hearing, a hearing officer issued a report. The hearing officer concluded that the School District owed Ferren a total of 3,180 hours of compensatory education for the 2001-2002, 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years. The hearing officer ordered approximately $209,000 to be placed in a trust for Ferren's benefit. The hearing officer also ordered Ferren to be placed in an educational program with students at or above her level. Neither party appealed the hearing officer's decision. Following the hearing, Ferren began attending the Davidson School. The School District has agreed to bear the cost of Ferren's education there until the close of the 2009-2010 school year.

B.

In May 2005, the Chambers, as Ferren's guardians and in their own right,*fn3 filed a complaint against the School District in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Count One of the Chambers' complaint,*fn4 asserted on both the Chambers' and Ferren's behalf, alleged that the School District failed to provide Ferren with a free and appropriate education ("FAPE") and thereby violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.; § 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 ("ADA"); § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("RA"); and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count Two, also asserted on both the Chambers' and Ferren's behalf, alleged that the School District's failure to provide Ferren with a FAPE resulted in a deprivation of their due process rights and sought relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count Three asserted a claim solely on Ferren's behalf under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on alleged equal protection violations.

In January 2007, following discovery, the School District moved for summary judgment. The District Court held a hearing on the motion in March 2007. In a Memorandum and Order entered on November 30, 2007, the District Court granted the School District's motion in its entirety and dismissed all of the Chambers' claims. Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila. Bd. of Educ., No. 05-2535, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88003 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 29, 2007).

The District Court, relying on Collinsgru v. Palmyra Board of Education, 161 F.3d 225 (3d Cir. 1998), concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Chambers had no standing to pursue Count One's IDEA claim. To the extent the Chambers sought compensatory damages under the IDEA on Ferren's behalf, the District Court determined that such damages are not available under that statute and that their IDEA claim therefore failed as a matter of law. The District Court also understood the Chambers' alleged ADA and RA violations to be the predicates of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. Relying on A.W. v. The Jersey City Public Schools, 486 F.3d 791 (3d Cir. 2007) (en banc), the District Court held that those claims failed as a matter of law because, in the Court's view, § 1983 provides no remedy for violations of the IDEA or the RA. In a footnote, the District Court reasoned that it could treat the Chambers' RA claim the same as their ADA claim because, according to the District Court, such claims are analogous. The District Court further determined that the Chambers had waived their ADA and RA claims asserted on Ferren's behalf.

The District Court construed Count Two's due process claim to allege both substantive and procedural due process violations. To the extent Count Two alleged substantive due process violations on their own behalf, the District Court, relying on McCurdy v. Dodd, 352 F.3d 820 (3d Cir. 2003), found that the Chambers' failure to present evidence that the School District intentionally interfered with the parent-child relationship, was fatal to such a claim. To the extent Count Two alleged procedural due process violations on the Chambers' behalf, the District Court reasoned that the Chambers had failed both to identify a protected property interest and, even assuming the existence of such an interest, to demonstrate any deprivation of that interest. With respect to Count Three's equal protection claim on Ferren's behalf, the District Court determined that the Chambers had presented no evidence to sustain such a claim.

This timely appeal followed.

II.

The District Court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We exercise plenary review over the District Court's grant or denial of summary judgment. Alexander v. Nat'l Fire Ins. of Hartford, 454 F.3d 214, 219 n.4 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). To that end, we are "required to apply the same test the district court should have utilized initially." Oritani Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md., 989 F.2d 635, 637 (3d Cir. 1993) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether such relief is warranted, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52.

III.

A. IDEA Claims

In Count One of their complaint, the Chambers allege that the School District failed to provide Ferren with a FAPE, as required by the IDEA.*fn5 They seek damages for that violation on both their own and Ferren's behalf.*fn6

Under the IDEA*fn7 , a state is eligible for federal funding if it makes a FAPE available to disabled children. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1). The state administers a FAPE by developing an "individualized education program" ("IEP") for every disabled child. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d); see also Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 181-82 (1982). Although the IDEA does not set forth definite guidelines for the formulation of an IEP, Rowley, 458 U.S. at 189, at a minimum, "[t]he IEP must be reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive meaningful educational benefits in light of the ...


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