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K.C. Ex Rel. Her Parents v. Nazareth Area School District

August 26, 2011

K.C. EX REL. HER PARENTS
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NAZARETH AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

B. Procedural Background

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. The IDEA

B. Challenging the Provision of a FAPE

C. Disposition on the Administrative Record

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record

1. Denial of FAPE

a. The Hearing Officer Did Not Abuse Her Discretion in Relying on the Austill Report

b. The Hearing Officer Did Not Erroneously Equate Equine Therapy as Equivalent to PT Services

c. No Denial of Necessary SOT Services22 d. No Denial of Necessary Executive Functioning

e. K.C.'s Transition Plan was Appropriately Individualized

i. Applicable Law

ii. No Denial of Proper Travel Training

iii. K.C. Does Not Still Lack the Skills Necessary to Meet her Transition Goals

2. Delays Are Not the District's Fault

a. Delay of PT and OT is Due to the District..45

3. Zealous Advocacy

4. Attorneys' Fees

B. Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record

1. Extraneous Arguments

a. The Hearing Officer Did not Commit an Error of Law

b. Any Claim for Compensatory Education for the 2006-2007 School Year is Time Barred

c. The District is Not Legally Obligated to Act as Student's LEA Beyond Age 21

d. The District's Proposed IEP of November 2009 Constituted a FAPE

2. Defendant is Entitled to Judgment as to Counts I, II, III, and IV

V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, K.C. and her Parents (collectively "Plaintiffs"), initiated this action against Nazareth Area School District ("Defendant" or "District"). Plaintiffs seek the reversal of Pennsylvania Special Education Hearing Officer Anne L. Carroll's ("Hearing Officer Carroll") decision insofar as she denied Plaintiffs' request for full days of compensatory education from the 2007-2008 school year through the time of the filing of Plaintiffs' due process complaint. On August 25, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court appealing Hearing Officer Carroll's decision. Plaintiffs maintain that Defendant did not provide K.C. appropriate services thus resulting in the denial of K.C.'s right to a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. Plaintiffs request compensatory education and prevailing party fees under the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.*fn1

Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the administrative record or, in the alternative, summary judgment. The Court will first discuss the relevant factual and procedural background. Next, the Court will address the relevant law and applicable standard of review. Finally, the Court will analyze Plaintiffs' and Defendant's motions for judgment on the administrative record or, in the alternative, summary judgment.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the Defendant's cross-motion, deny Plaintiffs' motion, and affirm Hearing Officer Carroll's decision.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

K.C. is a twenty-year-old resident of the District, and she has attended the Pathway School, an approved private school, at the District's expense, since 2006. (H.O. Decision FF at ¶¶ 1, 3.) K.C. has well-documented medical problems which have adversely affected her educational progress since her early school years. K.C.'s difficulties were attributed to brain damage arising from an in-utero stroke; however, in 2006, K.C. was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Prader-Willi Syndrome. (Id. at ¶ 5.) This genetic disorder is believed to be the underlying cause for most, if not all, of the disabilities that adversely affect K.C.'s academic and functional skills.

B. Procedural Background

InJuly 2009, Plaintiffs initiated a due process hearing against the District alleging that the District violated the IDEA by denying K.C. a FAPE. Plaintiffs claim that, through the fault of the District, K.C. was denied various services that resulted in K.C.'s denial of a FAPE. In particular, the services Plaintiffs state were denied include ninety-two hours of physical therapy ("PT"), eighty-four hours of sensory occupational therapy ("SOT"), and one hundred seventeen hours of executive functioning services. Hearing Officer Carroll found that such services were not denied and K.C. was not denied a FAPE. On August 25, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a complaint attacking various aspects of Hearing Officer Carroll's decision. The following is a list of the portions of Hearing Officer Carroll's decision which Plaintiffs dispute in their complaint:

1. The Hearing Officer reached an erroneous conclusion of fact in finding that any delay in providing services to K.C. was attributable to K.C.'s Parents. (Compl. at ¶ 81(i).)

2. The Hearing Officer abused her discretion in failing to consider Parents' objection to the District's contractor--Austill. (Id. at ¶ 81(ii).)

3. The Hearing Officer committed an error of law by implementing an equitable requirement that Parents agree to evaluations and proposed IEPs in the interest of avoiding delays. (Id. at ¶ 81(iii).)

4. The Hearing Officer abused her discretion in attributing delays to K.C.'s Parents. (Id. at ¶ 81(iv).)

5. The Hearing Officer committed an error of law by obligating Parents, during the pendency of due process or otherwise, to "partial agreement" with a proposed IEP that includes inappropriate services. (Id. at ¶ 81(v).)

6. The Hearing Officer committed an error of law by failing to recognize the District's ongoing obligation to provide K.C. a FAPE which includes all related services. (Id. at ¶ 81(vi).)

7. The Hearing Officer reached an erroneous finding of fact in finding that K.C. had been offered services for her executive functioning needs prior to April 2009. (Id. at ¶ 81(vii).)

8. The Hearing Officer reached an erroneous conclusion of law when she found that the District's obligation to proffer programming and services reasonably designed to allow K.C. to reach her transition goals was met by nonspecific generic programs. (Id. at ¶ 81(viii).)

9. The Hearing Officer reached an erroneous finding of fact in finding that K.C. had been offered services that addressed her PT needs because she was provided equine ...


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