LEE v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MEMORANDUM OPINION re: 11 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and 13 Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 01/03/2017. (lcapm3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
District of Columbia,
Case No. 1:15-cv-01802 (APM)
In this matter brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”), the Hearing
Officer determined that Defendant District of Columbia denied Plaintiff Juanishia Lee’s son,
J.K., a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) for the 2014-2015 school year. Admin. R.,
Part I, ECF No. 9, Ex. 1, ECF No. 9-1 [hereinafter ECF No. 9-1], at 18–21.
Officer, however, declined to award J.K. any compensatory education because Plaintiff “did not
offer any evidence at the due process hearing of ‘the type and quantum of compensatory
education’ needed to place [J.K.] ‘in the same position he would have occupied but for the [ ]
violations of the IDEA.’” Id. at 24–25.
After briefing cross-motions for summary judgment, the parties now agree that this
matter should be remanded to the Hearing Officer to fashion an appropriate award of
compensatory education. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at 7 (seeking as a remedy a remand to award
compensatory education); Pl.’s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 11, Mem. in Supp., ECF No. 11-1,
at 1–2; Def.’s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 13, at 8–9 (not objecting to a remand). Despite
this fundamental agreement, the parties nevertheless differ on how the Hearing Officer should
All page citations are to the original pagination of the Administrative Record.
proceed on remand. Plaintiff emphasizes that the “burden to craft an appropriate compensatory
education award falls on the hearing officer,” Pl.’s Reply, ECF No. 14, at 4, while Defendant
insists that Plaintiff must come forward with “sufficient evidence to support an award of
compensatory education,” which she previously failed to do, Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 16.
The court finds the parties’ disagreement perplexing, when case law provides clear
markers for how to proceed on remand. The objective of an award of compensatory education is
“to put a student . . . in the position he would be in absent the FAPE denial.” B.D. v. District of
Columbia, 817 F.3d 792, 798 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Compensating for such past violations requires a
hearing officer to “rely on individualized assessments” after a “fact-specific” inquiry. Reid ex
rel. Reid v. District of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2005).
This focus on the student’s individualized needs means that a hearing officer cannot deny
a compensatory education award simply because she is left wanting for more evidence. “Once a
plaintiff has established that she is entitled to an award, simply refusing to grant one clashes with
Reid, which sought to eliminate ‘cookie-cutter’ awards in favor of a ‘qualitative focus on
individual needs’ of disabled students.” Stanton ex rel. K.T. v. District of Columbia, 680 F.
Supp. 2d 201, 207 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Reid, 401 F.3d at 524, 527). “Choosing instead to
award plaintiff nothing does not represent the ‘qualitative focus’ on [the student’s] ‘individual
needs’ that Reid requires.” Id. (applying Reid, 401 F.3d 516). In short, a hearing officer “cannot
simply ‘reject[ ] any award of compensatory education services[.]’” Id. (quoting Brown v.
District of Columbia, 568 F. Supp. 2d 44, 54 (D.D.C. 2008)).
A hearing officer who finds that she needs more information to make the required
individualized assessment has at least two options. She can provide the parties additional time to
supplement the record. See id.2 Or, as the Court of Appeals emphasized in B.D., she can order
additional assessments as needed. See 817 F.3d at 800 (stating that “the district court or Hearing
Officer should not hesitate to order” further assessments as needed). At bottom, the hearing
officer must ascertain what information she needs to make the individualized assessment
required under Reid and B.D., and she possesses “broad discretion” under the IDEA’s remedial
provisions to obtain such information and to craft appropriate relief. See Reid, 401 F. 3d at 523.
Accordingly, this matter is remanded to the Office of Dispute Resolution in the District
of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education for further proceedings consistent
with this Memorandum Opinion. A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
Dated: January 3, 2017
Amit P. Mehta
United States District
In this case, the Hearing Officer concluded that the relevant regulations precluded him from reopening the hearing
to take additional evidence. ECF No. 9-1, at 25. The Hearing Officer instead denied the compensatory award
“without prejudice to the parent’s right to institute a new proceeding to seek compensatory education.” Id. Plaintiff
has not challenged that determination. Nor is it clear on this record why Plaintiff did not take up the Hearing
Officer’s invitation to file a new proceeding instead of filing an action in federal court.
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