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Jean Coleman, et al v. Pottstown School District

February 21, 2012

JEAN COLEMAN, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
POTTSTOWN SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Jean and David Coleman, as guardians ("Guardians"), Rodney Jones, as a student ("R.J.") (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), have filed an Amended Complaint against Pottstown School District ("Defendant") alleging that Defendant has violated their rights pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1419 ("IDEA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("§ 504"), and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 ("ADA").

Based on violations of these statutes, Plaintiffs state that student R.J. is entitled to compensatory education for the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, and 2008-2009 school years. Am. Compl. ¶ 50. Additionally, Guardians request tuition reimbursement for expenses incurred for seeking private services for the 2008-2009 school year.

The issue presently before the Court is whether Plaintiffs should be allowed to supplement the administrative record with additional discovery produced after the conclusion of the Due Process Hearing. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Plaintiffs' motion to supplement the administrative record.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Born on April 23, 1991, R.J. grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. In his youth, R.J. was subject to violence and abuse, witnessed his brother being killed and, at age eight, suffered a traumatic head injury after being hit in the head with a lead pipe. After continual poor academic performance in the Baltimore public schools, R.J. underwent evaluations and testing which led to his diagnosis of suffering from a Traumatic Brain Injury. After R.J.'s learning disability diagnosis, R.J. was placed in a private school for students with reading learning disabilities. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-19.

On July 5, 2006, Guardians obtained, from Maryland Family Court, "sole legal and physical custody" of R.J. and he moved to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, to live with them and their son, Michael Coleman. In 2006, R.J. entered the Pottstown School District, which accepted him as a student after Plaintiffs provided "substantial documentation and other information regarding R.J.'s status and needs." Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.*fn1

In the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years, R.J. performed poorly academically and had disciplinary problems. Despite R.J.'s troubles, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant repeatedly refused to perform a Functional Behavioral Assessment on R.J. Due to Guardians' dissatisfaction with R.J.'s Individualized Educational Plan ("IEP"), Guardians requested that R.J. attend Lindamood-Bell Learning Center ("LMB") for direct reading and math instruction. After further discussions regarding placement of R.J. in LMB, Defendant denied Plaintiffs' request to place R.J. at LMB. Id. at ¶¶ 24-26. Despite Defendant's refusal, Guardians placed R.J. at LMB at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year. Defendant responded to R.J.'s placement at LMB by un-enrolling R.J. from the district. Id. at ¶ 27.

In January 2009, Plaintiffs met with Defendant to discuss reimbursement. It was agreed that R.J. would be re-enrolled in Pottstown School District and an independent evaluator would perform an evaluation to determine whether R.J. needed further special education. After R.J. was re-enrolled, Plaintiffs found an independent evaluator who performed an evaluation. Defendant, however, refused to pay for the evaluation at which point Plaintiffs commenced a Due Process Hearing. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs filed a Due Process Complaint against Defendant on or about May 13, 2009. A Special Education Hearing Officer, Deborah DeLauro, dismissed Plaintiffs' Due Process Complaint on June 18, 2009, for lack of standing. Thereafter, on September 15, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a federal complaint in this Court appealing the Hearing Officer's decision. That complaint was filed under Civil Action No. 09-4179. On November 3, 2009, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing. On February 8, 2010, this Court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of standing and remanded the case to the Hearing Officer to hold a hearing in the matter consistent with the Court's order.

Pursuant to the Court's order, a hearing was held over five days in front of Hearing Officer Kelly A. Skidmore. On September 24, 2010, the Hearing Officer issued an order finding that the District, at no time, denied student R.J. a FAPE and denied Plaintiffs' requested relief. Thereafter, on April 29, 2011, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant requesting that this Court reverse the decision of the Hearing Officer. ECF No. 15.

In response to Plaintiffs' amended complaint, Defendant originally filed a motion to dismiss; however, the motion was denied on June 29, 2011. ECF No. 25. Thereafter, Defendant filed an answer with six affirmative defenses and a counterclaim. ECF No. 26.

On June 29, 2011, upon learning that additional discovery was produced after the conclusion of the Due Process Hearing, the Court ordered the parties to file a joint report outlining their positions as to: (1) the nature of the additional discovery and whether it includes educational documents; and (2) whether the Court should remand the case to the Hearing Officer, receive the additional evidence at an evidentiary hearing, or resolve the case without any such hearings. ECF No. 25.

A conference was held on August 19, 2011 to assess the parties' status and how they wished to proceed. The parties submitted a joint report on July 29, 2011. Joint Report, ECF No. 27. According to the parties' joint report, the evidence produced consisted of two separate responses to Plaintiffs' request for production of documents. The first, produced on or about May 25, 2011, consisted of sixty-five pages of materials. See Joint Report 3. The second, produced on or about June 16, 2011, consists of two-hundred and seven pages of materials. Id. at 3-4.

The Court found that although the content of the new documents were briefly detailed in the parties' joint status report, it was impossible to apply the factors developed in Antoine M. v. Chester Upland Sch. Dist. to the facts of the case without additional information. 420 F. Supp. 2d 396, 402 (E.D. Pa. 2006) (Robreno, J.) (suggesting inquiry into (1) why the evidence was not submitted below; (2) whether the evidence was deliberately withheld for strategic reasons; (3) whether the introduction of additional evidence is prejudicial to the other party; and (4) the potential impact of the new evidence on the administration of justice). Thus the Court ordered Plaintiffs to file an Amended Motion to Supplement the Record with an Expert Report discussing each document it would like to add to the administrative record following the guidance of Antoine M. ECF No. 29.

Plaintiffs submitted their Amended Motion to Supplement the Record on September 2, 2011. Pl.'s Am. Mot. to Supplement the R., ECF No. 30. Defendant submitted a response on September 16, 2011. Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Am. Mot. to Supplement the R., ECF No. 33. The Court has considered the motions and supportive filings, and the matter is now ripe for disposition.

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs argue that the Court should consider the additional records because they are relevant and were previously unavailable to Plaintiffs. According to Plaintiffs, the evidence shows that R.J. had significant deficiencies and emotional difficulties that tend to show that Defendant erroneously failed to conduct a functional behavioral assessment, train school personnel, and provide sufficient psychological therapy and counseling services. Consequently, Plaintiffs believe the Court should consider the records regardless of whether they constitute "educational ...


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