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Lawrence County School District v. McDaniel

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

March 30, 2018

MARION MCDANIEL, Individually and as Parent of CM DEFENDANT


         Plaintiff Lawrence County School District's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 22] is denied as to the IDEA appeal and granted as to the non-IDEA counterclaims, except as to the issue of attorney's fees. The Arkansas Department of Education's administrative order is affirmed. See Compl. Ex. A, Doc. No. 1. Defendant Marion McDaniel's motion for leave to file a reply to the response to notice of additional authority [Doc. 36] is denied as moot. Lawrence County School District's motion to supplement its motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 42] is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         CM is a fifth-grade student in the Lawrence County School District (“LCSD”). Compl. ¶ 4. He has attended elementary school in LCSD since 2014. Id.

         CM was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”). Id. at 5; Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. B ¶ 2, Doc. No. 16. CM's father, Marion McDaniel, initially noticed CM's symptoms when CM was three years old, which included difficulties with speech and bladder control. Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. B 2; Compl. Ex. A (“Hr'g Officer's Decision”) at 18. As CM aged, he displayed other behaviors consistent with ASD. Hr'g Officer's Decision at 18.

         CM has a number of social and behavioral issues stemming from his ASD. When he was in kindergarten, CM would spin in circles, avoid human contact, and have tantrums. Id. He would also pull out his hair as a response to his anxiety. Prelim. Inj. Hr'g Tr. at 36. Today, CM struggles with social interactions and using appropriate social skills. He finds transitions in his routines, finishing tasks, understanding boundaries, and maintaining eye contact to be challenging. Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. B ¶¶ 2-3. He is also impulsive and has difficulty paying attention. Id. at ¶ 2. CM gets into trouble in class, blurts out answers, and argues with his teacher. Id. He is unable to understand abstract concepts and to express his thoughts on paper. Prelim. Inj. Hr'g Tr. at 50. CM also has certain fine motor deficits and ASD-related tics, such as picking at his fingers and toes and making noise when fidgeting. Id. at 36. He often has difficulties interacting with his peers on the playground and is frequently teased and called names. Id. at 38-39.

         CM, however, appears to be doing well academically. LCSD reports that CM is performing at grade level and generally earns high grades in his classes. Hr'g Officer's Decision at 14. Indeed, CM has been recognized as an honors student and was recommended for LCSD's gifted and talented program. Id. The principal at CM's school noted that CM's standardized test scores were high in English and reading, and CM scored proficiently in science and math. Prelim. Inj. Hr'g Tr. at 115, 117-18. CM's only current academic deficiency is in writing. Id. at 115, 117.

         McDaniel believes that CM needs special education services, notwithstanding CM's academic success in school, because CM's ASD impairs his ability to learn important social skills and interact with his peers and teachers. See Id. at 65-68; Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. B ¶ 6. McDaniel has attempted to obtain special education services for CM three times since 2014, including services in speech therapy. Hr'g Officer's Decision at 27-28. After each of McDaniel's requests, it was determined that CM's educational needs were adequately met by his 504 accommodation plan and that he did not meet the eligibility criteria for special education services. Id. Moreover, it was found that CM's behavior and conduct in school was acceptable, and his ASD was not hindering his learning. Id.

         McDaniel filed a due process complaint against LCSD under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. section 1400, et. seq., on May 10, 2016, alleging that CM was denied a “free appropriate public education” (“FAPE”). Id. at 2. A due process hearing before the Arkansas Department of Education (“ADE”) was conducted and post-hearing briefs were ordered on whether CM was eligible for evaluation for an individualized education plan (“IEP”). Hr'g Officer's Decision at 1. Testimony was given by CM's special education teacher, a school psychologist who evaluated CM, the principal of CM's school, a speech and language pathologist who evaluated CM, McDaniel, and CM's mental health therapist.

         The ADE hearing officer determined that LCSD failed to provide CM a FAPE when it failed to adequately evaluate CM for special education services. Id. at 29-30. LCSD was ordered to secure and utilize the service of a behavioral analyst in conducting a functional behavioral assessment and IEP if necessary; to conduct an evaluation on CM's pragmatic language deficits, adaptive behavior deficits, and functional impairments; to secure and utilize the services of a healthcare aid for CM, if necessary; and to allow CM's mental health professionals to observe CM at school. Id. at 30.

         LCSD filed this lawsuit appealing the hearing officer's decision. See Compl. ¶ 20. McDaniel counterclaimed for damages and reasonable attorney's fees. Following a hearing, a preliminary injunction was entered ordering LCSD to implement the hearing officer's decision pending the resolution of the appeal. Doc. No. 37. LCSD now moves for summary judgment.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). Once the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials in his pleadings. Holden v. Hirner, 663 F.3d 336, 340 (8th Cir. 2011). Instead, the non-moving party must produce admissible evidence demonstrating a genuine factual dispute that must be resolved at trial. Id. Importantly, when considering a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences must be drawn in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Holland v. Sam's Club, 487 F.3d 641, 643 (8th Cir. 2007). Additionally, the evidence is not weighed, and no credibility determinations are made. Jenkins v. Winter, 540 F.3d 742, 750 (8th Cir. 2008).

         III. ...

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