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D.L. v. Poway Unified School District

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 22, 2019

D.L. By and Through his Guardians Ad Litem MELISSA LAZARO and OSCAR LAZARO, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel, United States District Judge.

         On November 5, 2019, Plaintiff D.L. (a minor), by and through his guardians at litem, Melissa and Oscar Lazaro, filed motions seeking to supplement the administrative record and seal that supplement. ECF Nos. 26, 28. Specifically, Plaintiff asks that three distinct documents be added to the record and then sealed: (1) the classroom observation notes of Defendant's proposed placement by Kelli Sandman-Hurley dated June 10, 2019, (ECF No. 27-2); (2) Plaintiff's progress reports and work samples from his current school, Newbridge, (ECF No. 27); (3) a transcript of Plaintiff's Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) Program Meeting on September 8, 2017. (ECF No. 27-1.)

         Having reviewed Plaintiffs requests, the exhibits, and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part, Plaintiffs requests.

         I. Applicable Standards

         a. Motions to Supplement the Record

         Congress created the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) to meet the unique needs of disabled children by making available a free and appropriate public education. Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 181 (1982). The IDEA contains various procedural safeguards to assure that schools meet these unique needs. Ojai Unified Sch. Dist. v. Jackson, 4 F.3d 1467, 1469 (9th Cir. 1993). For example, parents may file a complaint with the school district regarding the services provided under their child's IEP and may pursue an administrative hearing if the complaint is unresolved. Id. Parents may contest the results of that hearing through a civil action in state or federal court. Rowley, 458 U.S. at 176.

         In an action brought under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A), the Court “shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party.” The Ninth Circuit has defined permissible, “additional evidence” to include “gaps in the administrative transcript owing to mechanical failure, unavailability of a witness, an improper exclusion of evidence by the administrative agency, and evidence concerning relevant events occurring subsequent to the administrative hearing.” Ojai Unified Sch. Dist. v. Jackson, 4 F.3d 1467, 1473 (9th Cir. 1993). In particular, the Ninth Circuit has opined that evidence acquired after a hearing “may shed light” on the reasonableness of a school district's prior decisions. Adam v. Oregon, 195 F.3d 1141, 1149 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Nonetheless, a “court need not consider evidence that simply repeats or embellishes evidence taken at the administrative hearing, nor should it admit evidence that changes ‘the character of the hearing from one of review to a trial de novo.'” E.M. ex rel. E.M. v. Pajaro Valley Unified Sch. Dist. Office of Admin. Hearings, 652 F.3d 999, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ojai, 4 F.3d at 1473). In sum, “evidence that is non- cumulative, relevant, and otherwise admissible constitutes ‘additional evidence' that the district court ‘shall' consider pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(ii).” Id.

         b. Motions to Seal

         There is a presumptive right of public access to court records. See Nixon v. Warner Comm., Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). That right is “based on the need for federal courts, although independent-indeed, particularly because they are independent-to have a measure of accountability and for the public to have confidence in the administration of justice.” Ctr. for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Grp., LLC, 809 F.3d 1092, 1096 (9th Cir. 2016) (quotations omitted).

         Parties seeking to seal documents in a dispositive motion must thus meet the high threshold requiring “compelling reasons” with specific factual findings to support a sealing. Kamakana v. City and Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178-80 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1136 (9th Cir. 2003)). The “compelling reasons” test requires showing more than just “good cause.” Id. This standard applies even if the motion or its attachments were previously filed under seal or protective order. Id. at 1179.

         The Ninth Circuit has “carved out an exception” to the compelling reasons standard for documents produced in discovery and documents not attached to a dispositive motion. Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1135 (citing Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v. General Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1213 (9th Cir. 2002)). To seal such documents, the moving party need only provide “good cause” to show, San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court-N. Dist. (San Jose), 187 F.3d 1096, 1102 (9th Cir. 1999), that “specific prejudice or harm will result.” Phillips, 307 F.3d at 1210-11 (citation omitted). “If a court finds particularized harm will result from disclosure of information to the public, then it balances the public and private interests to decide whether a protective order is necessary.” Id. (citing Glenmede Trust Co. v. Thompson, 56 F.3d 476, 483 (3d Cir. 1995)).

         Importantly, however, the Ninth Circuit has interpreted the terms “dispositive” and “non-dispositive” loosely when determining which standard to apply. Ctr. for Auto Safety, 809 F.3d at 1098 (“To only apply the compelling reasons test to the narrow category of dispositive motions goes against the long held interest in ensuring the public's understanding of the judicial process and of significant public events.”) (quotations omitted). Hence, where the sealed material “is more than tangentially related to the underlying cause of action, ” the “compelling reasons” standard applies. Id. at 1099.

         II. ...

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