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PATRICIA P. v. BOARD OF EDUC. OF OAK PARK & RIVER

June 9, 1998

PATRICIA P., in her own behalf and as parent of JACOB P., Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF OAK PARK AND RIVER FOREST HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 200 and ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHADUR

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Patricia P. ("Patricia") and her son Jacob P. ("Jacob"), the latter a minor suing through his mother, bring this action against Board of Education of Oak Park and River Forest High School District No. 200 ("District") and the Illinois State Board of Education ("Board") pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA," 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1420). *fn1" They seek reimbursement for the cost of Jacob's private schooling.

 District has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56. Although both District and Patricia have complied with this District Court's General Rule ("GR") 12(M) and 12(N) in factual terms, *fn2" Patricia's Memorandum in Opposition was not at all responsive to the contentions advanced in District's Memorandum of Law. Instead Patricia's counsel tendered a scanty (2-1/2 page) Memorandum that (in addition to asserting that genuine factual issues abounded in the GR 12(M) and 12(N) submissions) complained of the need to conduct discovery, *fn3" but that was totally silent on the substantive arguments made by District. Because this Court really has no responsibility to make Patricia's case for her, and because District's unopposed legal arguments appear to have compelling force, the Rule 56 motion may fairly be viewed as fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, District's motion is granted and this action is dismissed with prejudice.

 Summary Judgment Standards

 Familiar Rule 56 principles impose on District the burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact ( Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). For that purpose this Court must "read[ ] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," although it "is not required to draw unreasonable inferences from the evidence" ( St. Louis N. Joint Venture v. P & L Enters., Inc., 116 F.3d 262, 265 n.2 (7th Cir. 1997)).

 As with every summary judgment motion, this Court accepts nonmovant Patricia's version of any disputed facts. What follows then is a version of the facts culled from the parties' submissions, with any differences resolved in Patricia's favor. *fn4" Other relevant facts, which fit somewhat better into the substantive legal discussion, will be set out later in this opinion.

 Facts

 Jacob is an 18-year-old disabled child who is eligible for special educational and related services under IDEA (Complaint P3). This action stems from events that began the summer before Jacob was scheduled to enter Oak Park and River Forest High School ("Oak Park") as a freshman during the 1994-95 school year (D. 12(M) P7).

 On June 8, 1994, after having completed a case study evaluation of Jacob, staff from the elementary school district held a multi-disciplinary conference with District to develop an individualized education program ("IEP") for Jacob's freshman year (id. P12). Both school districts recommended placement in a behavior disorder resource program, coupled with 30 minutes per week of social work services (P. 12(N) P 13).

 Believing that the proposed placement would be inappropriate in light of Jacob's special needs, Patricia instead enrolled him in Fenwick High School ("Fenwick"), a private parochial school that had no formal special education behavior disorder programs (D. 12(M) P15). Jacob spent the 1994-95 school year at Fenwick, during which time he received no special education services from District (P. 12(N) P16). Because of behavioral problems that he created in the second semester, Fenwick officials notified Patricia in May 1995 that Jacob would not be permitted to return for the following school year (D. 12(M) P17).

 On June 2, 1995 Patricia enrolled Jacob in District for the 1995-96 school year (P. 12(N) P20). Patricia simultaneously sent away for an application to the Elan School ("Elan"), a Board-approved residential special education school in Poland Spring, Maine (D. 12(M) P18). She completed the Elan enrollment process a few weeks later and on July 17, 1995 placed Jacob at Elan, where he remained for the duration of high school (P. 12(N) P26). Jacob has never attended classes at Oak Park (id. P23).

 In an effort to obtain reimbursement of the cost of her unilateral placement of Jacob at Elan, on July 25, 1995 Patricia requested a Level I due process hearing (see Section 1415(b)(2)) for a determination that Elan was an appropriate educational placement for Jacob (D. 12(M) P30). In October 1995 District filed a motion to dismiss Patricia's request (id. P31). And on December 12, 1995 Hearing Officer Bonnie Simon ("Simon") granted that motion on the ground that Patricia's unilateral transfer deprived District of a reasonable opportunity to conduct its own case study evaluation (id. PP32-33).

 Rather than appealing that adverse determination, Patricia requested a second Level I due process hearing on January 2, 1996 (D. 12(M) PP35-37). District promptly sought dismissal of that second request, arguing that the doctrine of claim preclusion barred review (D. 12(M) P 38). Though Hearing Officer Keith E. Stearns ("Stearns") rejected that position (D. 12(M) P39) and conducted a full hearing, he ultimately upheld District's actions on the merits and denied Patricia's request for reimbursement of the Elan tuition (id. P40).

 Pursuant to Section 1415(c) the parties then cross-appealed that second Level I decision to a Level II reviewing officer, with Patricia seeking to overturn the adverse verdict and District once again objecting to the Stearns hearing on claim preclusion grounds (id. P41). On March 28, 1997 Level II reviewing officer Lisa Salkovitz Kohn ("Kohn") affirmed Stearns' determination that District did not commit any IDEA procedural violation and thus was not required to reimburse Patricia for the Elan tuition (id. P44). Dissatisfied with Kohn's determination, Patricia now seeks judicial review in this Court pursuant to Section 1415(e)(2).

 IDEA Standard of Review

 Section 1415(e)(2) prescribes the scope of and procedure for judicial review of administrative agency decisions under IDEA:

 
In any action brought under this paragraph the court shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings, shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party, and, basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.

 Board of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206, 73 L. Ed. 2d 690, 102 S. Ct. 3034 (1982) teaches that the statutory provision should not be read as "an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review." Instead courts must accord "due weight" to the results of state administrative proceedings. To that end Rowley, id. at 206-07 (footnotes omitted) has set out the dual aspect of judicial inquiry when a parent or guardian challenges the appropriateness of a disabled child's educational placement:

 
Therefore, a court's inquiry in suits brought under § 1415(e)(2) is twofold. First, has the State complied with the procedures set forth in the Act? And second, is the individualized educational program developed through the Act's procedures reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits? If these requirements are met, the State has complied with the obligations imposed by Congress and the courts can require no more.

 Heather S. v. State of Wis., 125 F.3d 1045, 1053 (7th Cir. 1997) recently clarified a reviewing court's limited role in light of the ...


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