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Crispin R. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

September 10, 2010

CRISPIN R., JR., A MINOR, AND CRISPIN R., SR. AND ESTER R., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND NEXT FRIENDS OF CRISPIN R., PLAINTIFFS
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DISTRICT 299, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Crispin R., Jr. and his parents, Crispin R., Sr. and Ester R., filed suit against Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago, District 299 ("the Board") pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3), seeking attorneys fees and costs incurred by Plaintiffs as a result of a due process hearing brought pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago, District 299, has moved for summary judgment [12] on Plaintiffs' request for fees and costs. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion [12] is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

At the time of his due process hearing, Crispin R., Jr. ("Crispin") was a fifteen-year-old who attended J. I. De La Cruz Middle School, a Chicago Public School in District 299. The Board is the relevant local education agency as defined in 20 U.S.C. § 1402(15). Crispin has been eligible for special education services, and has impairments that include disability, autism, memory deficits, processing disabilities, disabilities related to oral expression, ADHD, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.*fn1 Chicago Public Schools ("CPS") conducted a triennial evaluation of Crispin during the 2007-08 school year. At that time, because CPS did not provide formal testing by a speech pathologist or an occupational therapist, a school psychologist administered cognitive and academic testing. In April 2008, an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") meeting was convened to consider the evaluation reports and prepare an IEP. Following the IEP meeting, Crispin's parents retained Michael O'Connor and Nelly Aguilar to represent them in securing special education services.

On November 21, 2008, Plaintiffs, through their two attorneys, submitted a written demand that the Board provide Crispin the following independent educational evaluations ("IEE"s): (1) psychiatric, (2) speech and language, (3) assistive technology, (4) psychological, and (5) occupational therapy. In response, the Board requested an impartial due process hearing pursuant to the IDEA to defend the appropriateness of the Board's evaluations. Plaintiffs responded, arguing that the evaluations the Board conducted were inadequate and requesting that the Board pay for the five IEEs set forth above.

Attorney Kristine Shrode represented the Board in the due process proceeding that forms the basis for the fees requested in this lawsuit. The Board contends that the parties engaged in settlement negotiations prior to the hearing in this matter, while Plaintiffs maintain that "the School District simply reversed it's [sic] position on the opening day of the hearing and agreed to pay for three of the five requested evaluations." Pl. Resp. to Def. SOF at 3. Regardless of the parties' characterizations of what transpired, on the morning of March 9, 2009, prior to the start of the due process hearing, the parties agreed that the Board would fund three independent educational evaluations for Crispin R.: psychiatric, speech/language, and assistive technology.

Accordingly, the only issues that proceeded to hearing were (1) whether the Board had conducted an appropriate psychological evaluation of Crispin, and (2) whether the Board was required to pay for an occupational therapy IEE for Crispin.

The due process hearing on the two remaining issues was conducted on March 9 and March 12, 2009. During the hearing, the hearing officer heard testimony from the school psychologist, two classroom teachers, and a private psychologist, Dr. Manghi, presented by Plaintiffs. On April 6, 2009, the hearing officer issued a decision. In the hearing officer's decision, he noted that the parties "settled their dispute over multiple aspects of the evaluation." He further explained that "the District has agreed to pay for: (1) psychiatric evaluations; (2) speech and language evaluations; and (3) assistive technology evaluations * * * * As such, the only remaining issues are whether the psychological evaluation conducted by the District is appropriate and whether the District was required to conduct an occupational therapy evaluation in order to properly evaluate [Crispin]." The hearing officer found that the Board appropriately conducted the psychological evaluation of Crispin and that the Board need not take any further action in that regard.*fn2 The hearing officer also found that "the District failed to appropriately evaluate [Crispin] by failing to conduct an occupational therapy evaluation" and ordered the Board to pay for an IEE in that area. In the decision, the hearing officer devoted three and a half pages to evidence elicited at the hearing related to the psychological evaluation and four paragraphs to the occupational therapy evaluation. The hearing officer made nine legal findings related to the appropriateness of the Board's psychological evaluation and one finding regarding the occupational therapy evaluation. The Board then paid for Crispin's occupational therapy IEE, which cost $1,725.00.*fn3

After the Decision was issued, on May 8, 2009, Plaintiffs' counsel submitted a claim for attorney fees and costs in the amount of $35,609.35. Upon receipt of the claim, Defendant objected, and Plaintiff proposed a certain adjustments, including a twenty-percent reduction, bringing the amount in dispute to $28,258.48. Defendant still objected, and this lawsuit ensued.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the Court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004).

To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is proper against "a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 ...


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