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Z.F. v. Ripon Unified School District

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 5, 2017

Z.F., a minor, by and through his parents M.A.F. and J.F. and M.A.F. and J.F. individually; L.H., and J.H., minors by and through their parents J.A. and J.R.H. and J.A. and J.R.H. individually; A.N, a minor by and through his parents, G.N. and M.R. and G.N. and M.R. individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
RIPON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, RIPON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF TRUSTEES, SAN JOAQUIN COUNTRY OFFICE OF EDUCATION, VALLEY MOUNTAIN REGIONAL CENTER, MODESTO CITY SCHOOLS, MODESTO CITY SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION, RICHARD JACOBS, Executive Director of VMRC, in his official and individual capacity, TARA SISEMORE-HESTER, Coordinator for Autism Services for VMRC, in her official and individual capacity, VIRGINIA JOHNSON, Director of Modesto City Schools SELPA, in her official and individual capacity, SUE SWARTZLANDER, Program Director for Modesto City Schools, in her official and individual capacity, and DOES 1-200, Defendants. VALLEY MOUNTAIN REGIONAL CENTER, RICHARD JACOBS, and TARA SISEMORE-HESTER, Counterclaimants,
v.
M.A.F. and SPECIAL NEEDS ADVOCATES FOR UNDERSTANDING, Counterdefendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Troy L. Nunley, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on two separate motions for summary judgment. Defendant Valley Mountain Regional Center (“VMRC”) filed a motion for summary judgment against Plaintiffs Z.F., M.A.F., J.F., L.H., J.H., J.A., J.R.H., A.N, G.N., and M.R. (jointly “Plaintiffs”). (ECF No. 242.) Likewise, Defendants Ripon Unified School District (“RUSD”), Ripon Unified School District Board of Trustees, and San Joaquin County Office of Education filed a separate motion for summary judgment against Plaintiffs Z.F., M.A.F., J.F., A.N., G.N., and M.R. (ECF No. 250.) Plaintiffs oppose both motions. (ECF Nos. 266 & 264.) Moving Defendants filed replies. (ECF Nos. 275 & 274.) Having carefully considered the arguments raised by the parties and for the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS both Motions for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 242 & 250).

         I. Factual Background

         The claims at issue in the instant action arise from alleged discrimination in the special education context. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) was created to provide full educational opportunities to disabled children and to ensure the protection of the rights of disabled children and their parents. Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., 550 U.S. 516, 523 (2007). The ultimate goal of the IDEA is to provide free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), tailored to the individual needs of the child by means of an Individual Education Program (“IEP”). Id. at 524. In the districts at issue in this action, the district and its representatives, the child and its parents, and the regional center participated in the IEP meetings. While the schools were required to fund FAPE, VMRC could voluntarily aid in funding services through Early Intensive Behavioral Treatment (“EIBT”). (ECF No. 242 at 9.) The EIBT helped fund an intensive treatment called Applied Behavioral Analysis (“ABA”). (ECF No. 242 at 9.) VMRC used a document called EIBT Programs, Procedures, and Guidelines (“PP&G”) to help it effectively implement funding under the EIBT for ABA services. (ECF No. 242 at 17.) The instant action deals with the application of the EIBT to Plaintiffs.

         A. Role of VMRC

         VMRC is a private nonprofit organization established under the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 4500 et seq. The Lanterman Act is designed to facilitate access to various support services for California's developmentally disabled residents. (Pltfs.' Resp. to Defs.' Separate Statement of Undisputed Facts, ECF No. 267 ¶ 1.) The Lanterman Act requires VMRC to fund services for autistic persons under the age of three. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 6.) VMRC is not required to fund services for persons over the age of three, but does voluntarily co-fund certain educational placements for children over three. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 13.)

         A. Plaintiff Z.F.

         Z.F. claims he was denied intensive ABA services prior to May 2009. (Pltfs.' Resp. to Defs.' separate statement of undisputed facts, ECF No. 265 ¶ 1.) Z.F. was diagnosed with autism on or about July 14, 2005. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 46.) On November 5, 2005, Z.F.'s parents, M.A.F. and J.F., attended the first IEP meeting in Ripon. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 47.) During the meeting, RUSD made two offers of FAPE for Z.F. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 49.) RUSD offered a placement at the McFall autism preschool ABA program with a parent training component and a school program of 30 hours of intensive training per week or an intensive ABA EIBT home program for 35-40 hours per week. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 49.) M.A.F and J.F. forewent the second option and enrolled Z.F. in McFall Special Day Class. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 51.)

         In May 2006, M.A.F. and J.F. met with RUSD for another IEP meeting and RUSD offered Z.F. 35-40 hours per week of intensive ABA services at RUSD's sole expense. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 55.) RUSD provided Z.F. with the agreed upon in-home ABA services for the 2006-2007 school year. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 57.) On January 30, 2008, M.A.F. and J.F. filed a Request for Due Process and Mediation with the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”). (ECF No. 267 ¶ 58.) In their request, M.A.F. and J.F. argued that RUSD failed to provide Z.F. with an appropriate education program. (ECF No. 114 ¶ 73.) On June 6, 2008, M.A.F. and J.F. entered into a settlement agreement with Ripon Unified School District, San Joaquin County Office of Education, and San Joaquin Special Education Local Plan Area (“SELPA”). (ECF No. 267 ¶ 59.)

         B. Plaintiffs J.H and L.H.

         Twin boys J.H. and L.H. relocated to the Modesto area from Santa Cruz. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 63.) On September 10, 2007, IEP meetings were held for both children and the children were each offered a 30-day interim placement in a Special Day Class at Garrison Elementary for 30 hours a week. (ECF No. 267 ¶¶ 63-64.) Their parents, J.A. and J.R.H., consented to the placement. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 64.) At subsequent IEP meetings, Modesto School District continued to offer placement at Garrison Special Day Class for both children. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 66.) J.A. and J.R.H. also filed a request for Due Process and Mediation with the OAH on behalf of their children alleging that the 4-way/EIBT agreement had denied them FAPE. (ECF No. 114 ¶ 67.) J.H. and L.H. received intensive ABA placement following the OAH ruling. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 71.) The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) awarded J.H. and L.H. compensatory services paid for by Modesto School District. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 72.) Since the completion of the compensatory services, J.H. and L.H.'s placements were changed through the IEP process with their parents' consent. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 76.)

         C. Plaintiff A.N.

         A.N.'s mother, M.R. attended an IEP meeting for A.N. on August 9, 2007. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 82.) At the meeting, M.R. stated she was pleased with A.N.'s progress and approved continued placement at McFall. (ECF No. 267 ¶¶ 83-84.) At a September 27, 2007, IEP meeting, the IEP team agreed to A.N.'s continued placement at McFall. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 89.) M.R. filed a Request for Due process with the OAH on March 24, 2009, challenging the placement decision made at the September IEP meeting. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 91.) In the request, M.R. argued that RUSD failed to provide A.N. with an appropriate education program. (ECF No. 114 ¶ 73.) M.R. voluntarily settled the claims against Modesto School District on April 30, 2009. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 92.) M.R. has consented to all educational placements following the OAH settlement. (ECF No. 267 ¶ 93.)

         II. Standard of Law

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party demonstrates no genuine issue as to any material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file together with affidavits, if any, ” which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.” Id. at 324 (internal quotations omitted). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered against a party who does not 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.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986); First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the denials of its pleadings, but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 251-52.

         In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” First Nat'l Bank, 391 U.S. at 288-89. Thus, the “purpose of summary judgment is to ‘pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there ...


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