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Petrina W. v. City of Chicago Public School Dist. 299

December 10, 2009

PETRINA W., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT 299, LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; CHICAGO OFFICE OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION, AND ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case is an appeal of a Due Process Hearing Officer's Decision and Order on the denial of Plaintiff's free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Before this Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff, who seeks judgment in her favor on the issue of the ripeness of her compensatory education claim. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. This matter is REMANDED with directions.

FACTS

Plaintiff Petrina W. is a 19-year-old who has attended public school in Chicago since she was nine years old. Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago maintains a system of free schools commonly known as the Chicago Public Schools District #299 ("School District"). Defendant Illinois State Board of Education ("Board") is the administrative body that heard Petrina's Due Process Hearing and bears the responsibility for providing a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") to Illinois students with learning disabilities. (Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("Pl. SOF") ¶ 6.)

Petrina was diagnosed with a learning disability in March 2000, when she was ten years old. (Pl. SOF ¶ 4, 11.) The School District thereafter developed an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for her. (Pl. SOF ¶ 11.)

On August 2, 2007, Petrina filed a due process request pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et. seq., seeking placement at a private therapeutic school and requesting compensatory education beyond her 22nd birthday to compensate for her lack of an appropriate education. (Pl. SOF ¶ 30.) An Impartial Due Process Hearing was held on December 3-7, 2007, with additional hearing days in January 2008. (Pl. Ex. A, Order at 2.)

The Hearing Officer issued her Decision and Order on February 4, 2008. (Pl. SOF ¶ 1.) Based on the School District's failure to fully evaluate Petrina and the resulting inadequacy of her programming and related services, the Officer found that the School District denied Petrina a FAPE during the time stated in her complaint, from August 2, 2005 through November 6, 2007. (Pl. Ex. A, Order at 32.) The Officer thus ordered the School District to maintain Petrina's present placement at a private school for students with learning disabilities or equivalent until the day before her 22nd birthday, April 14, 2011. Id. The Officer declined to provide relief after that day because she found that "[a] claim for compensatory education that would occur past the age of entitlement is not ripe until the student reaches the age of entitlement. . . . any claim the student may have for compensatory education is not ripe until she turns 22." Id.

This case is a timely appeal of the Hearing Officer's Decision and Order. (Pl. SOF ¶ 1.) The School District has not appealed any aspect of the hearing Officer's Order. (Pl. SOF ¶ 2.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The IDEA authorizes aggrieved parties to file suit in federal court, essentially allowing parties to appeal decisions made by hearing officers. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). The IDEA provides that "the court (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." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(i)-(iii).

In light of these proscriptions, typical summary judgment standards do not apply in cases brought under the IDEA. Alex R., ex rel. Beth R. v. Forrestville Valley Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. # 221, 375 F.3d 603, 611 (7th Cir. 2004) ("[T]he term "summary judgment" in the context of an IDEA case has a different meaning than it has in a typical Rule 56 motion."). Summary judgment motions under these circumstances "might more accurately be titled 'motion for judgment under the IDEA.'" Id. at 611.

On issues of fact, the district court must give "due weight" to the hearing officer's decision. Id. at 612. What constitutes "due weight" depends on whether the district court receives new evidence. Id. If the district court receives no new evidence, summary judgment acts as a "procedural vehicle for asking the judge to decide the case on the basis of the administrative record." Evanston Cmty. Consol. Sch. Dist. No. 65 v. Michael M., 356 F.3d 798, 802 (7th Cir.2004). The district court in this situation can reverse the hearing officer's decision "only if it is 'strongly convinced that the order is erroneous,' " a level of review similar to that of the clear error or substantial evidence standard. Alex R., 375 F.3d at 612 (quoting Sch. Dist. v. Z.S., 295 F.3d 671, 675 (7th Cir. 2002)).

Where, as here, no additional evidence is introduced in a civil suit seeking review of a hearing officer's decision, a motion for summary judgment operates as a motion for judgment based on the evidence comprising the record. Heather S. v. Wisconsin, 125 F.3d 1045, 1052 (7th Cir.1997).

On issues of law, the hearing officer receives no deference; the district court reviews such decisions de novo. Dale M. ex rel. Alice M. v. Board of Educ., 237 F.3d 813, ...


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