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L.B. v. West Contra Costa Unified School District

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 17, 2017

L.B., et al., Plaintiffs,


          Donna M. Ryu, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs L.B. and M.B. are the parents of S.B., a former student. They appeal the May 15, 2016 administrative decision of the California Office of Administrative Hearings pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Plaintiffs and Defendants West Contra Costa Unified School District and West Contra Costa Unified School District Special Education Local Plan Area separately move to introduce additional evidence to supplement the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 53 (Defs.' Mot.), 54 (Pls.' Mot.).] The motions are suitable for resolution without a hearing pursuant to Civil Local 7-1(b). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted and Plaintiffs' motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs make the following allegations in their complaint. S.B., who was born in 1994, has multiple learning disabilities. She became eligible for special education and related services starting in eighth grade, and graduated from high school in June 2015. At all relevant times, S.B.'s school district of residence was West Contra Costa Unified School District (the “District”). [Docket No. 45 (First Am. Compl., “FAC”) ¶¶ 12, 13.]

         On July 25, 2013, S.B. filed a due process complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) alleging that the District had failed to provide her with a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. FAC ¶ 25. In August 2013, while the due process proceeding was pending, S.B. began attending Bayhill High School in Oakland, California. Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29. S.B. and her parents settled their due process complaint with the District on November 17, 2013. As part of the settlement, the District finalized S.B.'s placement at Bayhill High School with specialized services. The parties also agreed that the District would provide S.B. with “transportation to/from Bayhill in the form of reimbursement for one round-trip per day of attendance at the current IRS rate.” Id. at ¶ 31. Plaintiffs allege that the agreement provided that “[m]ileage reimbursement shall be provided within 30 days of the District's receipt of properly completed mileage reimbursement form(s), ” and that “[m]ileage reimbursement must be submitted by [S.B.] on a monthly basis.” Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that after the settlement agreement was finalized, the District never provided S.B. or M.B. with mileage reimbursement forms to complete. Id. at ¶¶ 32, 39. In April 2014, M.B. submitted a request for several months' worth of mileage reimbursement to the District on forms created by her attorney, but never received reimbursement for the mileage claimed on these forms. Id. at ¶¶ 39, 40. In June 2015, M.B. submitted mileage reimbursement forms for the period August 27, 2013 through June 5, 2015. Plaintiffs allege that the District never processed the forms. Id. at ¶ 43. S.B. graduated from Bayhill High School on June 7, 2015. Id. at ¶ 12.

         According to Plaintiffs, at S.B.'s March 5, 2014 individualized education program (“IEP”) meeting, her attorney requested that the District provide independent educational evaluations (“IEEs”) in the areas of psychoeducation, speech and language, and occupational therapy. Id. at ¶ 37. Plaintiffs allege that although the District advised that it would respond to the request “at a later time, ” they never received a letter from the District regarding their request for the IEEs. Id. at ¶¶ 37, 41. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that at the March 5, 2014 IEP meeting, S.B.'s attorney requested District-provided transportation for S.B. because it was burdensome for M.B. to make two round trips per day to transport S.B. to and from school. According to Plaintiffs, the District responded that “it would only provide reimbursement pursuant to the settlement agreement.” Id. at ¶ 38.

         Plaintiffs filed a due process complaint against the District on August 26, 2015, alleging that the District had failed to provide S.B. with a FAPE for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years by failing to reimburse S.B. and/or her parents for round trip mileage to and from Bayhill High School. Id. at ¶ 44. At a September 8, 2015 resolution session, the District informed S.B.'s attorney that it could not accept the mileage reimbursement request previously submitted by M.B. because the request was not submitted on District forms. S.B.'s attorney and her sister then completed the District's mileage reimbursement forms for the period August 27, 2013 to June 5, 2015. Id. at ¶ 45. Plaintiffs allege that their attorney “was told M.B.'s signature was not required [on the forms] because her signature was on the other forms.” Id. Plaintiffs further allege that on or around October 8, 2015, their attorney “was told by District Counsel that M.B. needed to come in and sign the mileage forms before they could be processed, ” even though “the attorney had inquired on September 8[, 2015].” Id. at ¶ 46. M.B. signed the forms on October 9, 2015 and was told she would receive the check within 30 days. Id.

         S.B. amended her due process complaint in October 2015, challenging the District's failure to 1) reimburse S.B. and/or her parents for round trip mileage to and from Bayhill High School through March 5, 2014; 2) provide transportation to and from school for S.B. after Plaintiffs' March 5, 2014 request; and 3) provide the three IEEs following Plaintiffs' counsel's March 5, 2014 request. Id. at ¶ 48. The matter was tried on March 22-24, 2016. Id. at ¶ 56. Plaintiffs allege that at a March 11, 2016 prehearing conference, counsel for the District informed Plaintiffs' counsel for the first time that the District had notified M.B. that it had granted the request for the IEEs in a letter dated March 27, 2014. Counsel further stated that the District had already mailed M.B. and L.B. a check for the mileage reimbursement. Id. at ¶ 53. Plaintiffs never received a check in the mail. Id. at ¶ 54. On March 23, 2016, the second day of trial, the District provided M.B. with a check for mileage reimbursement from August 27, 2013 to June 5, 2016. Id. at ¶ 62.

         The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision in May 2016. FAC Ex. 1 (OAH Decision). In relevant part, the ALJ found that 1) OAH lacked jurisdiction over the issue of whether the District denied S.B. a FAPE by failing to reimburse Plaintiffs for mileage for one round trip per day from August 28, 2013 through March 5, 2014, since the reimbursement was required by a settlement agreement and OAH lacks jurisdiction to enforce settlement agreements; 2) even if OAH had jurisdiction over the August 2013-March 2014 mileage reimbursement dispute, the issue was moot because S.B. received full reimbursement on March 23, 2016; and 3) S.B. did not establish that she was denied a FAPE based on the District's failure to provide IEEs, since S.B. had failed to pursue the IEEs after the District granted her request. Id.

         Plaintiffs bring three claims for relief. The first asserts that the District violated the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(c)(2)(B)(i)(I), by failing to respond to L.B. and M.B.'s due process complaint within 10 days, which “resulted in unnecessary and protracted litigation considering that the District paid the mileage reimbursement during the second day of [the] hearing.” Id. at ¶¶ 87-89. The second claim for relief challenges the ALJ's finding that Plaintiffs were entitled to reimbursement for two round-trips per day instead of the actual costs of transportation for transporting S.B. to and from Bayhill High School.[1] Id. at ¶ 91. The third claim for relief asserts that the ALJ erred in finding that the District did not deny S.B. a FAPE based on its failure to provide IEEs. Id. at ¶¶ 97-113.

         The parties now move separately to supplement the administrative record. The District asks to supplement the record with a declaration by its counsel, Shawn Olson Brown, to which three exhibits are attached. [Docket No. 51-1 (Olson Brown Decl., Jan. 27, 2017).] According to the District, the Olson Brown declaration contains evidence that contradicts certain allegations in the FAC.

         Plaintiffs move to supplement the record with an “expert declaration” by transportation provider Brenda Saunders, which they submitted with their reply. [Docket No. 57-1 (Saunders Decl., Oct. 5, 2017).]


         Congress enacted the IDEA “to assist state and local agencies financially in educating students with disabilities.” M.L. v. Fed. Way Sch. Dist., 394 F.3d 634, 642 (9th ...

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