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Michael Medici v. the Pocono Mountain School District and Dwight R. Pfennig

June 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Plaintiff Michael Medici filed this action against Pocono Mountain School District (PMSD) and Dwight Pfenig, seeking the production of educational records of his son, T.M., that were ordered by a state administrative appellate panel.

The defendants move for summary judgment. (Doc. 26.) They assert that a settlement agreement precludes the present action. The Court agrees, and will grant summary judgment in the defendants' favor. The plaintiff seeks leave to amend his complaint. Because amendment would be futile, leave will be denied.

I. Background

At the times relevant to this action, T.M. was a student qualifying for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). T.M. resided in the Pocono Mountain School District and attended the Monroe Career and Technical Institute (MCTI). Under the IDEA, parents have the right to examine their child's "education records."

34 C.F.R. § 300.501(a). T.M.'s father, Michael Medici, requested his son's education records. When the District and MCTI declined to produce all those documents Medici believed himself entitled to, he pursued a due process hearing to compel their production. The hearing officer decided that, inter alia, testing protocols, correspondence among school employees or between school employees and parents, and raw notes of observations and evaluations did not constitute "education records" within the meaning of the IDEA. Medici appealed the hearing officer's decision to the Pennsylvania Special Education Due Process Appeals Review Panel. The appeals panel concluded that the hearing officer had applied an incorrect legal definition of "education record" and entered the following order:

[T]he sections of the hearing officer's decision and order that identify categories of documents that will never qualify as "education records" are reversed. The hearing officer is directed to review any questioned or contested document to determine if it meets [the correct] definition of an "education record."

See In re The Educational Assignment of T.M., a Student in the Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist., Spec. Educ. Op. No. 1844A, at 5 (Pa. State Educational Agency, 2007).

The District filed a Petition for Review of the panel's decision in state court, arguing that the panel lacked authority to remand to the hearing officer for further proceedings. Medici removed the action to this federal district court on November 19, 2007. The action was assigned civil case number 07-2122.

Ultimately, this Court held that the panel erred because the IDEA does not permit the panel to remand the matter to a hearing officer. However, because the panel did not enter a final, appealable order, this Court was unable to decide the merits of the education record dispute. Instead, the Court directed the appeals panel to issue a final, appealable order to the District to produce all documents concerning T.M. that meet the definition of "education records" set forth in the Panel's decision.

This Court's order was issued on March 23, 2009, and the federal district court case was marked closed. On May 13, 2009, while the remand order was pending before the appeals panel, Medici and the District entered into a settlement agreement which both parties signed. Pursuant to the agreement, the District established a compensatory education fund of $22,500 to be used for educational services for T.M. In exchange, Medici agreed to waive and release claims.

On August 31, 2009, pursuant to this Court's order, the appeals panel issued its decision requiring the District to provide Medici with access to "[h]andwritten, typewritten or email correspondence between or among teachers, staff and parents that are related to the Student," "[r]aw notes by observers and evaluators if they are shared with others" and "handwritten annotations on draft Evaluation Reports, Re-evaluation reports, IEPs and IEP meeting notes." Additionally, the panel held that because test protocols may be protected by copyright, they did not need to be disclosed.

Medici filed the complaint in the present case on November 30, 2009, alleging that the District never produced the records ordered by the appeals panel, and seeking review of the panel's decision as to records held to be inaccessible. The prayer for relief sought production of both those records approved by the appeals panel as well as those the panel held were protected from disclosure.

The District argues that the settlement agreement precludes this action and seeks summary judgment in its favor. ...

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