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L.D. v. Sumner County Schools

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 5, 2018

L.D., the Student, and C.K. and A.K., the Student's Parents/Guardians, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUMNER COUNTY SCHOOLS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an action for judicial review under the Individuals With Disabilities Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., brought by the parents of L.D., an eight year old boy with autism, against the Sumner County Schools (“SCS”). Now before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 16) filed by SCS.

         I. Factual Allegations

         The allegations in the Complaint are as follows:

         L.D. is a student in need of specialized instruction and is eligible to receive special education services under the IDEA. On March 30, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a due process complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education that challenged SCS's proposal to move L.D. into a therapeutic behavioral comprehensive development classroom (“TBCDC”) at R. T. Fisher School. At the time, L.D. was in a Comprehensive Development Classroom (“CDC”) at Watt Hardison Elementary School. As a result of the filing of the complaint, SCS was required to maintain L.D.'s “stay-put” placement at his present school throughout the duration of the due process hearing.

         On June 23, 2017, SCS filed its own due process complaint seeking to eliminate the “stay-put” requirement. It also sought permission to place L.D. at the TBCDC school (which by then had been relocated to Guild Elementary School) for forty-five days.

         On July 31, 2017, a due process hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). After the hearing, but prior to the hearing officer's decision, L.D. was accepted as a student at Illuminate Academy, a private, non-SCS school. Accordingly, on August 11, 2017, his parents withdrew L.D. from the SCS district. That same day, Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the ALJ to dismiss the pending due process complaint.

         On August 18, 2017, the ALJ denied the Plaintiffs' Motion to Dismiss and issued a Final Order permitting SCS to alter L.D.'s placement to the TBCDC at Guild Elementary School for forty-five days. In doing so, the ALJ found that SCS had “proven by more than a preponderance of the evidence that maintaining L.D.'s current ‘stay-put' placement is substantially likely to result in serious injury to L.D. or others.” (Doc. No. 17-1 at 10). The ALJ then concluded:

[I]t is ORDERED that SCS is relieved of its obligation to maintain L.D.'s current ‘stay-put placement' at Watt Hardison Elementary School during the pendency of the companion due process hearing, . . . and that L.D.'s SCS placement be changed to the therapeutic behavioral CDC program at Guild Elementary School for forty-five school days. Under the circumstances, it is also ORDERED that L.D. shall not be required to enroll in school with SCS if he has secured a suitable private placement. The remaining issues will be resolved at the full hearing, which is currently set to begin November 3, 2017.

(Id. at 9-10).

         By way of background for the ALJ's Final Order, Plaintiffs admit that, at some point while at Watt Hardison, “L.D. exhibited aggressive behaviors which resulted in injury to himself, his classmates, and teachers.” (Doc. No. 1, Complaint ¶ 15). Nevertheless, they insist that L.D.'s placement in the CDC at Watt Hardison Elementary was appropriate. While there, he was under a behavior intervention plan that allowed him to have an individualized area in the classroom where he could receive one-on-one intervention, and “L.D. was able to be successful when he was given appropriate direct instruction.” (Id. ¶17). Even though “[t]he classroom staff did not consistently implement L.D.'s behavior plan, ” his teacher reported on February 10, 2017, that she was “incredibly proud of [L.D.'s] progress.” (Id. ¶ 22).

         Shortly after the progress report was issued, SCS claimed that “L.D.'s aggressive behavior began to increase in intensity.” (Id. ¶ 23). L.D.'s case management team met, and it was determined that he would be sent to the TBCDC school. His parents were notified of this decision on March 29, 2017, and their due process complaint followed.

         In this lawsuit, filed less than two months after the Final Order, Plaintiffs contend the ALJ erred in several ways. Specifically, they contend the “ALJ committed reversible errors of both law and fact, including, without limitation, determining” that (a) “L.D.'s withdrawal from SCS did not moot the due process complaint since the Complaint sought an injunction against a student not enrolled in the SCS school district”; (b) “SCS did all it reasonably could within the current ‘stay-put' placement to reduce the risk of injury to L.D. and others”; and © “SCS demonstrated that the TBCDC program at Guild was an appropriate placement for L.D.” (Doc. No. 1 Complaint at 5).

         II. ...


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