United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
a high school student with disabilities who is eligible for
special education services. J.H., by and through his parent
L.H., sued the Rose Tree Media School District under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”) and Pennsylvania law. Plaintiffs
challenge the decision of a special education hearing officer
that J.H.'s actions in a physical altercation with
another student did not constitute a manifestation of his
disabilities under the IDEA. Plaintiffs seek to supplement
the administrative record with a psychological evaluation
that they were barred by the hearing officer from introducing
at an administrative hearing regarding the incident. Because
the hearing officer's decision to exclude the evidence
was proper and Plaintiffs have not offered a sufficient
justification for supplementing the record with the
evaluation, the Court denies the motion to supplement the
a fifteen year old who, at the time of the incident, was a
ninth-grade student at Penncrest High School in the Rose Tree
Media School District (the “District”). (Compl.
¶¶ 4, 9.) J.H. has been diagnosed with Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as well as other
disabilities. (Id. ¶ 5.) Because of this, J.H.
is considered a “child with a disability” under
the IDEA, and has received special education services since
the seventh grade. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10.) Since
the incident, J.H. has also been diagnosed with Major
Depressive Disorder. (Id. ¶ 5.)
March 1, 2017, J.H. attempted to play a prank on another
student at lunch by pushing the student's face into his
food. (Id. ¶ 15.) The student became upset and
struck J.H.'s chest. (Id. ¶ 16.) In
response, J.H. punched the student in the face, causing
serious injuries including a concussion, a broken nose and
eye socket, and blurred vision in one eye. (Id.
¶17; Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. to Suppl. the
Admin. R. [Def.'s Resp.] at 1.)
District suspended J.H. for ten days. (Compl. ¶¶ 5,
20.) It then held a manifestation determination meeting on
March 7, 2017, as required by the IDEA, to determine whether
J.H.'s action was a manifestation of his disabilities.
(Id. ¶ 22.) The District determined that it was
not. (Id. ¶ 24.)
5, 2017, the District notified J.H.'s parent that it
would proceed with a formal expulsion hearing on May 25,
2017. (Id. ¶ 25.) On May 19, J.H.'s parent
requested an expedited due process hearing, pursuant to IDEA
regulations, appealing the District's decision that the
incident was not a manifestation of J.H.'s disabilities.
(Id. ¶ 26.) A hearing was scheduled for July
Friday, July 14, 2017, four days before the hearing,
Plaintiffs informed the District that they intended to
introduce a psychological evaluation of J.H. describing his
disabilities and symptoms, prepared by Dr. Jennifer Breslin
(the “Breslin Report” or “Report”).
(Pls.' Mot. for Leave to Suppl. the Admin. R. [Mot. to
Suppl.] at 4; Compl. ¶ 30.) Plaintiffs informed the
District that they had not yet received the Report. (Compl.
¶ 30(b).) Plaintiffs received the Report the day before
the hearing and produced it to counsel for the District at
approximately 11:20 p.m. that night; counsel did not see the
report until 6:20 a.m. on the morning of the hearing. (Mot.
to Suppl. at 8; Def.'s Resp. at 4.)
hearing, the District objected to the introduction of the
Report on the grounds that it was not disclosed in a timely
manner. The hearing officer determined that Plaintiffs'
last-minute disclosure unduly burdened the District and
excluded the Report. (Def.'s Resp. at 6.) The hearing
officer ultimately found that the District's
manifestation determination was correct and that J.H.'s
action was not a manifestation of his disabilities. (Mot. to
Suppl. at 4.) Plaintiffs sued, alleging that the District
failed to conduct an adequate manifestation determination in
violation of the IDEA and Pennsylvania law. They then filed
this motion, arguing that the hearing officer was wrong to
exclude the Breslin Report and that the Court should allow
them to supplement the administrative record with the Report.
Judicial Review under the IDEA
IDEA authorizes judicial review of administrative decisions
under the statute. See 20 U.S.C. §
1415(i)(2)(A). A court reviewing an administrative decision:
“(i) shall receive the records of the administrative
proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the
request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on the
preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the
court determines is appropriate.” § 1415(i)(2)(C).
the statute's mandatory language, courts have
consistently held that district courts have discretion to
decide whether to admit additional evidence. E.g.,
Susan N. v. Wilson Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 751 (3d Cir.
1995). In making the determination, courts must also keep in
mind the “general framework of deference to state
decision-makers that is dictated by the IDEA.”
Id. at 758. The court must ensure that there is
adequate justification for the admission of additional
evidence; parties cannot be allowed to use the judicial
review mechanism to “leapfrog the agency
proceedings.” Antoine M. v. Chester Upland Sch.
Dist., 420 F.Supp.2d 396, 403 (E.D. Pa. 2006). Allowing
a party to do so would render the administrative hearing
“a mere formality [and] would thwart the notion of
cooperative federalism enshrined by the IDEA.”
Id. at 402.