MS M v. FALMOUTH SCHOOL DEPARTMENT
ORDER ON MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT denying 45 Motion to Amend Complaint By JUDGE D. BROCK HORNBY. (jib)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
Ms. M., individually and as parent
and legal guardian of O.M., a
FALMOUTH SCHOOL DEPARTMENT, )
CIVIL NO. 2:15-CV-16-DBH
ORDER ON MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT
In this case, the First Circuit concluded that Falmouth School
Department’s third-grade individualized education program (IEP) for a student
with Down Syndrome did not require the Specialized Program Individualizing
Reading Excellence system (SPIRE). M. v. Falmouth Sch. Dep’t, 847 F.3d 19 (1st
Cir. 2017). On that point, it disagreed with the Hearing Officer, the Magistrate
Judge, and the District Judge. As a result, the First Circuit reversed this court’s
decision that Falmouth’s failure to provide SPIRE violated the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1414. The student now seeks to
amend her complaint to assert that her IEP—as the First Circuit has interpreted
it—was inappropriately designed due to its failure to include a structured
reading program. Falmouth argues that any such argument is foreclosed by law
of the case, or is waived, or is barred by the statute of limitations.
The plaintiff makes an interesting argument. Before the Hearing Officer
she originally argued that her IEP was either inappropriately designed for failure
to include a structured reading program or that Falmouth failed to implement it.
The Hearing Officer recognized the alternative arguments, but
concluded that the IEP, although it did not explicitly refer to SPIRE, included
SPIRE by virtue of the IEP team’s announced determination to provide it, and
that any subsequent failure to do so was a harmless procedural violation, R.
The Magistrate Judge agreed.
Recommended Findings of Fact &
Conclusions of Law 32–40 (ECF No. 27). The First Circuit observed that on
appeal to this district judge, “Notably, Falmouth did not file an objection to any
part of the magistrate judge’s report, including its conclusion that SPIRE formed
a part of O.M.’s IEP.” Falmouth Sch. Dep’t, 847 F.3d at 25. I proceeded to treat
SPIRE as part of the IEP, but concluded that the subsequent failure to provide
it could not be treated as a harmless procedural violation. On appeal, the First
Circuit rejected the student’s argument that Falmouth had waived its ability to
challenge the inclusion of SPIRE in the IEP by failing to object to that portion of
the magistrate judge’s report. The First Circuit reasoned that, because Falmouth
won on the harmless procedural error issue, it “had no immediate reason to
appeal” the ruling that SPIRE was part of the IEP. Falmouth Sch. Dep’t, 847
F.3d at 26.
In the end, according to the First Circuit, Falmouth did “fairly raise” the
issue in responding to the plaintiff’s objections, and this court was aware of that
challenge. Id. The First Circuit stated:
after careful review we reach a contrary conclusion [to that
of the hearing officer, magistrate judge and district judge]
and find that O.M.’s IEP did not mandate that Falmouth use
SPIRE, meaning the School Department neither breached the
IEP’s terms nor denied O.M. a FAPE [free appropriate public
education] by foregoing such instruction.
Id. at 22. In its concluding paragraph the court added:
Since we hold that O.M.’s IEP did not specify that she was to
receive SPIRE instruction during her third-grade year, and
because Ms. M. does not contend that Falmouth violated her
daughter’s IEP in any other way, it necessarily follows that
Falmouth did not breach the IEP’s terms and thus did not
violate O.M.’s right to a FAPE. Accordingly, we REVERSE the
district court’s determination that Falmouth violated O. M.’s
IEP and VACATE the accompanying damages award.
Id. at 29. The First Circuit denied a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc.
Order, M. v. Falmouth Sch. Dep’t, No. 16-1877 (1st Cir. 2017).
Now the student seeks to use similar reasoning about lack of waiver so as
to justify her motion to amend. Specifically, she points out that she did challenge
before the hearing officer the content of the IEP if it lacked a SPIRE component,
R. 2656, but that once the hearing officer ruled in her favor as to what the IEP
included, she had no reason to, and could not, appeal that determination to the
Magistrate Judge and to this court. Pl.’s Mot. to Amend 2–3 (ECF No. 45). All
she could appeal was the Hearing Officer’s and the Magistrate Judge’s ruling
that the subsequent failure to implement SPIRE was harmless procedural error.
Now that the First Circuit has held conclusively that SPIRE was never part of the
IEP and therefore that it was unnecessary to decide the harmless procedural
error issue, the student maintains that she should be permitted to argue in this
court (as she did before the Hearing Officer) that failure to include a structured
reading program in the IEP in the first place was error, and that law of the case
and waiver do not preclude her from doing so.1
There is some technical appeal to the plaintiff’s argument. But I cannot
in good conscience grant the motion in light of the First Circuit’s decision. First,
the First Circuit did not remand for further proceedings consistent with its
opinion, as if often does.
Instead, it simply reversed this court’s decision.
Second, its language was very broad, ruling repeatedly that Falmouth did not
violate the student’s right to a FAPE. As a District Judge, it is incumbent upon
me to obey the letter and the spirit of the ruling. I conclude that the First Circuit
treated the dispute as ended, and that is law of the case. I therefore deny the
motion to amend and direct the entry of judgment for the defendant. If I am
incorrect, it is up to the plaintiff to seek a reversal of this ruling by appealing it
to the First Circuit.
I DENY Falmouth’s request for attorney fees and costs under 20 U.S.C.
The plaintiff’s argument on the motion to amend, while
unsuccessful, is not frivolous.
The motion to amend complaint is DENIED. Final judgment shall enter for
DATED THIS 25TH DAY OF MAY, 2017
/S/D. BROCK HORNBY
D. BROCK HORNBY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
If the issue was properly raised originally and not waived, the statute of limitations would not
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