Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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The court filed (1) an order amending its opinion and denying a petition for panel rehearing and a petition for rehearing en banc, and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court's summary judgment in favor of the school district. Plaintiff filed suit to require the district court to provide her son L.J. with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq. Although the district court found that L.J. was disabled under three categories defined by the IDEA, it concluded that an IEP for specialized services was not necessary because of L.J.'s satisfactory performance in general education classes. The court concluded that the district court clearly erred because L.J. was receiving special services, including mental health counseling and assistance from a one-on-one paraeducator. The court pointed out the important distinction that these are not services offered to general education students. The court explained that the problem with the district court's analysis is that many of the services the district court viewed as general education services were in fact special education services tailored to L.J.'s situation. Because L.J. is eligible for special education, the school district must formulate an IEP. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to provide that remedy. The court also concluded that the school district clearly violated important procedural safeguards set forth in the IDEA when it failed to disclose assessments, treatment plans, and progress notes, which deprived L.J.'s mother of her right to informed consent. The school district failed to conduct a health assessment, which rendered the school district and IEP team unable to evaluate and address L.J.'s medication and treatment related needs. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "L. J. v. Pittsburg Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, parents of a child with a disability, sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction requiring the Seattle School District (the district) to place their child in a general education class pending the outcome of the due process challenge. In May 2015, the Bellevue School District produced an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child that encompassed two stages: The first stage would begin immediately and the second would begin at the start of the 2015–16 school year. Plaintiffs allowed the child to finish the school year in accordance with the first stage of the IEP but did not agree to the second stage. Over the summer, the family moved to Seattle. Just before the start of the 2015–16 school year, the district proposed a class setting for the child that was similar to the second stage of the May 2015 IEP. Plaintiffs objected and sought a “stay-put” placement. The district court denied plaintiffs’ motion on the ground that they had not established a likelihood of success on the merits. The court agreed with the district that a partially implemented, multi-stage IEP, as a whole, is a student’s then-current educational placement. In this case, stage two of the May 2015 IEP was the child's stay-put placement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "N. E. v. Seattle School District" on Justia Law

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L.J.’s mother filed suit in federal district court to require the school district to provide L.J. with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to provide specialized services to assist with what she contends are serious disabilities. The district court reviewed the record and found that L.J. was disabled under three categories defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq. Nevertheless, the district court concluded that an IEP for specialized services was not necessary because of L.J.’s satisfactory performance in general education classes. The court concluded that L.J. clearly exhibited behavioral and academic difficulty during the snapshot period where he threatened and attempted to kill himself on three occasions in 2012; in the fall, he frequently acted out at school, and continued to have needs associated with his medication regimen; and the district court should not have discounted these facts. The court concluded that they demonstrate that L.J. required special education services. Because L.J. is eligible for special education, the school district must formulate an IEP. The court also concluded that the school district clearly violated important procedural safeguards set forth in the IDEA. In this case, the school district failed to disclose assessments, treatment plans, and progress notes, which deprived L.J.’s mother of her right to informed consent. The school district also failed to conduct a health assessment, which rendered the school district and IEP team unable to evaluate and address L.J.’s medication and treatment related needs. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "L. J. V. Pittsburg U.S.D." on Justia Law

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C.R. challenged his suspension, for sexually harassing two younger students, in district court under the First Amendment. C.R. argued that because the harassment occurred off-campus, in a public park, the school lacked the authority to discipline him. C.R. also challenged his suspension on due process grounds. The district court granted the school district's motion for summary judgment. The court upholds a school’s disciplinary determinations so long as the school’s interpretation of its rules and policies is reasonable, and there is evidence to support the charge. In this case, the school administration’s investigation uncovered at least some evidence that C.R. participated in sexually suggestive joking directed at the younger students. The court concluded that the school district's characterization of this behavior as sexual harassment in its Student Handbook is reasonable. Thus, the court deferred to the school district’s determination that C.R. participated in sexual harassment. The court concluded that the school district had the authority to discipline C.R. for his off-campus, sexually harassing speech where the speech occurred exclusively between students, in close temporal and physical proximity to the school, on property that is not obviously demarcated from the campus itself. The court concluded that a school may act to ensure students are able to leave the school safely without implicating the rights of students to speak freely in the broader community. The court also concluded that the school district's decision to suspend C.R. for two days for sexual harassment was permissible under Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist. because sexually harassing speech, by definition, interferes with the victims' ability to feel safe and secure at school. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the school district on C.R.'s First Amendment claims. Finally, the district court correctly concluded that the school district afforded C.R. all the process that he was due and that C.R. failed to raise any viable substantive due process claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in its entirety. View "C.R. v. Eugene Sch. Dist. 4J" on Justia Law

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Student and Guardian seek reimbursement from the district for the cost of Student's private education, claiming that the district failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400–1491o (IDEA), and thus failed to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for Student. The district court affirmed the ALJ's denial of reimbursement. In regard to the June 2009 individualized education program (IEP), the court agreed with the lower courts that any procedural failure on the part of the district was caused by Guardian, and that, in any event, the Jordon Intermediate School placement was a FAPE. In regard to the June 2011 IEP, the court concluded that the IDEA does not require the school district to conduct all assessments possible. In this case, the district court did not violate the IDEA by failing to assess Student for anxiety and failing to determine the baseline for Student's speech and language goals. Finally, the Buena Park placement offer was a FAPE in the LRE for Student. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Baquerizo v. Garden Grove USD" on Justia Law

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Paso Robles was responsible for providing Luke, a child with autism, with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400–1487. At the time of Luke’s initial evaluation, Paso Robles was aware that Luke displayed signs of autistic behavior, and therefore, autism was a suspected disability for which it was required to assess him. Paso Robles chose not to formally assess Luke for autism because a member of its staff opined, after an informal, unscientific observation of the child, that Luke merely had an expressive language delay, not a disorder on the autism spectrum. The court held that, in so doing, Paso Robles violated the procedural requirements of the IDEA and, as a result, was unable to design an educational plan that addressed Luke’s unique needs. Accordingly, the court held that Paso Robles denied Luke a free appropriate public education, and remanded for the determination of an appropriate remedy. View "Timothy O. v. Paso Robles USD" on Justia Law

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Appellants are a sub-class of moderately to severely disabled children who have moved to intervene in a class action brought on behalf of all disabled students in the LAUSD against the LAUSD (the Chanda Smith Litigation). Appellants seek to intervene to challenge the legality of a new policy, adopted by LAUSD in 2012 as part of a renegotiation of the Chanda Smith parties’ settlement. The district court denied the motion to intervene. The court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in denying appellants’ motion as untimely under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a), and further erred when it found intervention unnecessary to protect appellants’ interest in ensuring the receipt of public education consistent with their disabilities and federal law. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Smith v. LAUSD" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and her son prevailed at both hearings concerning their due process complaint against the District. At issue on appeal is the district court's award of attorney fees, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1415, to petitioner's attorney, Tania Whiteleather. The district court awarded $7,780 in fees, substantially less than the $66,420 requested. The court concluded that the outcome of the administrative hearing was not more favorable to petitioner than the District's settlement offer and petitioner was not substantially justified in rejecting the settlement offer. The court concluded that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to apply the $400 rate without seeking additional rebuttal evidence from the District. Finally, the court concluded that petitioner's claim for paralegal fees was barred by collateral estoppel because the district court had already concluded that Dr. Susan Burnett was an education consultant in the expedited hearing appeal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Beauchamp v. Anaheim Union High Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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A.G. and her parents filed suit against defendants, alleging claims of discrimination under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12131–12134, as well as tort claims under Arizona state law. The district court granted summary judgment on these claims for defendants. Defendants cross-appealed, challenging the district court’s order vacating taxation of costs. The parties settled on other claims, including claims under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400–1491. First, the court clarified federal legislation addressing special education for disabled children. The court concluded that the district court improperly dismissed A.G.’s meaningful access and reasonable accommodation arguments. The court concluded that a triable factual dispute exists as to whether the services plaintiffs fault the school district for failing to provide were actually reasonable, necessary, and available accommodations for A.G. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the school district on plaintiffs’ section 504 and Title II claims and remanded for further consideration. In regard to the state law claims, the court concluded that plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim was correctly dismissed because there is no material issue of fact concerning the school district's conduct. Plaintiffs' negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim was also correctly dismissed where the district court found the facts alleged by plaintiffs did not rise to the predicate level typically required for such a claim in Arizona. The court reversed the district court’s summary judgment on claims for assault and battery where plaintiffs introduced evidence that creates an issue of fact as to whether the school district defendants physically escorted and restrained A.G. when she was not a danger to herself or others and despite knowing of her tactile sensitivity. Finally, the court reversed the district court's summary judgment on the false imprisonment claim where plaintiffs introduced evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether A.G. was a danger to herself or others when school district staff restrained her. The order denying costs to defendants is vacated. View "A.G. V. Paradise Valley Unified Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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California Education Code 56346(f) requires school districts to initiate a due process hearing if the school district determines that a portion of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to which a parent does not consent is necessary to provide a child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400–1450. The ALJ concluded that the district offered an appropriate placement but Mother's refusal to consent prevented the district from implementing and providing a FAPE. I.R. appealed, but the district court affirmed. The court concluded that the district court erred in concluding that the district could not initiate a due process hearing to address Mother's refusal to the IEP's recommended placement. In this case, the district waited a year and a half before initiating a hearing, which the court determined was too long a period of time. Therefore, to the extent that I.R. lost an educational opportunity and was deprived of educational benefits for an unreasonably prolonged period, the district can be held responsible for denying her a FAPE for that unreasonably prolonged period. The court reversed and remanded. View "I.R. v. L.A. U.S.D." on Justia Law