United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
MARSHALL JR.UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Greene's nine-year-old daughter, J, has disabilities.
Greene filed a due process complaint against J's school,
East Poinsett County School District, alleging violations of
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The parties
settled on 15 June 2016; and the complaint was dismissed with
prejudice. On 16 September 2016, Greene filed another due
process complaint. She said that, in the three months
following the June settlement, the District had again
violated the IDEA. The hearing officer ruled in favor of the
District. Greene now seeks reversal of that decision. She
also raises non-IDE A claims. The District seeks summary
Greene's Fact-Based Arguments.
Court is not persuaded that any genuine disputes of material
fact exist. Na 38 at 6-7. First, whether the District
developed an adequate Individualized Education Program for J
isn't a factual dispute. It's the mixed question of
law and fact that this case is all about. Fort Zumwalt
School District v. clynes, 119 F.3d 607, 611 (8th Cir.
1997). Next, there's no record support for Greene's
claim that the District never adopted the IEP that it
presented at the second due process hearing. That IEP is
located at SD-1 through SD-17 of the administrative record.
No. 17. The District's IEP team-and Greene - signed that
document. Plus, in her second due process complaint, Greene
described that document as "[t]he IEP developed by the
District” No. 17 at ADE-6. Last, it's unclear
whether the June settlement agreement was an admission by the
District that it had violated the IDEA. No. 38 at 7. Assuming
it was, the District's pre-settlement misconduct is
irrelevant except as background: as the Court has ruled, this
case is limited to what the District did in the three months
after the settlement. No. 16 at 2; No. 18-3 at 2. There are
no genuine disputes of material fact present.
Legal Issues on the IDEA Claims.
District is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
Greene's IDEA claims. In reviewing the administrative
record in an IDEA case, this Court gives "due
weight" to the state proceedings but must also
"make an independent decision based upon a preponderance
of the evidence[.]" Neosho R-V School District v.
Clark, 315 F.3d 1022, 1028 (8th Cir. 2003) (emphasis
omitted). Greene makes many points throughout her papers, but
the core of her argument is that the due process hearing
officer made two errors: assigning Greene the burden of
proof; and concluding that day treatment at Transformations
Autism Treatment Center in Memphis was the least restrictive
environment for J's education. No. 46-2 at 2.
Court sees no legal error on burden of proof. "The
burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an
IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief."
Schaffer ex rel. Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 62
(2005); see also Sneitzer v. Iowa Department of
Education, 796 F.3d 942, 948 (8th Cir. 2015). The
hearing officer correctly put the burden on Greene.
proposed day treatment at Transformations, all material
things considered, there's no basis to reverse the
hearing officer. Greene presses hard that Transformations was
not the least restrictive environment for J's behavioral
therapy because J wouldn't have been educated alongside
non-disabled children at that facility. 20 U.S.C. §
1412(a)(5)(A). The Court disagrees. Treating J at
Transformations- where she would be around several other
disabled children - was less restrictive than the status quo,
home treatment. To the extent a home-based plan would have
included some time for J at school, it was not unreasonable
to take the interim step of behavioral therapy at
Transformations before transitioning J back to school. The
"least restrictive environment" requirement
isn't absolute; the IDEA gives schools discretion to
educate disabled children separate from their non-disabled
peers. Ibid; Pachl v. Seagren, 453 F.3d 1064,
1067-68 (8th Cir. 2006). This was a temporary plan-four weeks
at most -to address some of J's behavioral problems and
to best prepare her for a mainstream educational environment.
The Court therefore declines to reverse the hearing
officer's reasonable decision in favor of the District.
amended complaint also raised several non-IDEA claims: §
1983 due process and equal protection violations;
discrimination and retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act;
and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Nol8at 9-20. For various reasons, each of these
any claims arising before 15 June 2016 -the settlement date -
drop out. The Court has already ruled on the temporal scope
of Greene's case: it's limited to what happened after
the parties settled the first due process complaint. No. I6
at 2; No. 18-3 at 2.
Greene didn't exhaust her administrative remedies on her
§ 1983, ADA, and Rehab Act retaliation claims. The law
required her to do so. J.M. ex rel. McCauley v. Francis
Howell School District, 850 F.3d 944, 947 (8th Cir.
2017). These claims are variations on a theme: J was denied a
free appropriate education, Greene says, as a result of
several bad acts by the District. See, e.g. No 18
at ¶¶ 46, 56 & 67. In
substance, therefore, these claims "seek relief that is
also available under the IDEA" and had to be raised in
the administrative proceedings. 850 F.3d at 947-48
(alteration omitted); see also No. 16 at 2. They
did raise her Rehab Act discrimination claim. No. 18-2 at
8-10. So there was exhaustion. The claim is precluded,
though, because it is "necessarily resolved'' by
this Court's decision on the IDEA claims. I.Z.M. v.
Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools, 863 F.3d
966, 972 (8th Cir. 2017). Plus, Greene hasn't shown
"bad faith or gross ...