Brookline School Committee, The v. Bureau Of Special Education Appeals Of Massachusetts, The et al
COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW OF FINAL DECISION OF STATE ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCY against All Defendants (Fee Status: Local Government), filed by Brookline School Committee, The. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit, # 2 Civil Cover Sheet)(Murphy, Joslin)
February 7, 2012
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
BROOKLINE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
BSEA # 12-3430
Ray Wallace, Attorney for Parents
Joslin Murphy, Attorney for School
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
Division of Administrative Law Appeals
Bureau of Special Education Appeals
In Re: Earl 1
RULING ON SCHOOL’S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS THIS APPEAL
This ruling is rendered pursuant to M.G.L. Chapters 30A and 71B; 20 U.S.C.
§1400 et seq.; 29 U.S.C. §794; and the regulations promulgated under these statutes.
On November 21, 2011 Parents filed a detailed hearing request with the BSEA
seeking: 1) reimbursement for Earl’s placement at Eagle Hill for the 2009-2010 school
year; 2) reimbursement for Earl’s placement at Eagle Hill for the 2010-2011 school year;
and 3) reimbursement and prospective relief for Earl’s placement at Eagle Hill for the
2011-2012 school year.
On December 1, 2011 Brookline Public Schools (Brookline) filed a Partial
Motion to Dismiss Parents’ Appeal pertaining to the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school
years, with a statement of facts, exhibits and written legal argument as to why Parents’
claims should be dismissed for these years. A pre-hearing conference call was scheduled
for December 12, 2011. Parents filed their Opposition To Brookline’s Partial Motion to
Dismiss also on December 12, 2011. During the December 12, 2011 pre-hearing
conference call, a telephonic motion session to hear oral arguments on Brookline’s Partial
Motion to Dismiss and Parents’ Opposition thereto was scheduled for December 21, 2011
and took place on that date. At the conclusion of the motion session, the Hearing Officer
allowed the parties until January 4, 2012 to file any case law to further support their
respective positions regarding the statute of limitations. Both parties did so on January 4,
2012. On January 5, 2012, Brookline filed a Motion To Strike Parents’ January 4, 2012
additional argument regarding the statute of limitations issue. The Hearing Officer
waited seven days for Parents to file any written opposition to Brookline’s Motion to
Strike. No opposition was filed. The record closed on January 12, 2012.
Earl is a pseudonym chosen by the Hearing Officer to protect the privacy of the student in publicly
SUMMARY OF FACTS 2
Earl attended public schools within Brookline through the tenth grade in June
2009. Earl received updated educational and psychological evaluations over the 2009
summer. On September 1, 2009, Earl’s team met and decided that Earl required a more
structured and therapeutic educational placement than Brookline High School could
provide. On September 2, 2009 Brookline proposed an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
calling for Earl be placed in an unspecified out of district day school placement. On
September 11, 2009 Parents requested an emergency team meeting and notified
Brookline that they were placing Earl at Eagle Hill School as a residential student. On
September 17, 2009 Brookline forwarded a revised 2009-2010 IEP to Parents, along with
a narrative description of the proposal. The revised IEP proposed an unspecified out of
district day placement for Earl. This proposal stated that placement at Eagle Hill could
not be authorized because: 1) Eagle Hill was not an approved special education school by
the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE); and 2)
the team had agreed to a day placement and Parents were now seeking a residential
placement. Brookline’s position was that Earl should receive special education service at
a MDESE approved day school and that the family continue with the application process
at Willow Hill School, Beacon High School, and Corwin Russell School, all MDESE
approved private day school placements.. However, due to the timelines and Parents’
unilateral placement of Earl at Eagle Hill, Brookline offered to fund the day school
tuition at Eagle Hill in order to resolve the dispute between the parties. Brookline’s
attorney renewed Brookline’s offer several times to Parents’ attorney during the fall of
2009, and Parents’ attorney responded in late November 2009. However, no agreement
was reached, nor did the team ever reconvene regarding Earl’s 2009-2010 IEP.
On May 6, 2010 Brookline reconvened Earl’s team to develop an IEP for the
2010-2011 school year. The team again proposed an out of district, therapeutic day
school placement at a number of MDESE approved private day schools. On July 30,
2010 Parents filed a request for hearing before the BSEA (BSEA# 11-0937) requesting
the BSEA to order Brookline to fund a residential placement for Earl at Eagle Hill for the
2010-2011 school year. On August 6, 2010 a resolution meeting was held. Following
consultation with counsel, the parties executed a Resolution Agreement. The executed
Resolution Agreement is set out below in its entirety:
The [parents] of Brookline, Massachusetts (“Parents”), and the Brookline Public
Schools (“Brookline”) hereby agree as follows:
1. On or about July 30, 2010, the Parents filed a Request for Expedited Hearing
at the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education Bureau of Special
The Summary of Facts is taken directly from Parents’ Hearing Request and/or Brookline’s Statement of
Facts and Exhibits (which was largely also taken from Parents’ Hearing Request). There has been no
dispute regarding these facts.
Education Appeals. Their Request for Hearing is attached hereto as Exhibit
2. By their Request for Hearing, the Parents seek to have Brookline “produce
and propose an IEP placing Earl in the Eagle Hill’s residential program for
the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.”
3. The parties agree that [Earl] requires an out of district educational placement
for the 2010-11 school year. The dispute centers on (a) whether [Earl]’s
placement should be at the Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Massachusetts
during the 2010-11 school year; and (b) whether [Earl] requires a residential
placement in order to receive a FAPE.
4. The Parents placed their son at the Eagle Hill School in September 2009. In
resolution of the dispute between the parties, and to avoid the expense and
inconvenience of a hearing, the parties agree as follows:
a. Brookline agrees to (a) write an IEP for a day placement at the Eagle
Hill School for 2010-11 school year; (b) to fund the day tuition
component of such placement, and (c) to reimburse the Parents, on a
mileage basis, for this actual costs of transporting [Earl] to and from
the Eagle Hill School on weekends and holidays during such school
b. The Parents agree to pay for all other costs and expenses related to
[Earl’s] placement at Eagle Hill School.
c. Upon the execution of this Agreement by both parties, the Parents
agree to withdraw their Request for Hearing in this matter. Emphasis
On August 26, 2010 Parents’ attorney wrote to the BSEA withdrawing Parents’
Hearing Request in BSEA #11-0937 noting: Parties have executed a Resolution
Agreement regarding the 2010-2011 school year. Emphasis added.
Before the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year the team met to draft Earl’s
2011-2012 IEP. On September 16, 2011 Brookline proffered an IEP proposing an out of
district day school placement at Eagle Hill for Earl. Brookline continues to reimburse
Parents for Earl’s day school tuition at Eagle Hill.
Specifically, through this hearing request, Parents seek reimbursement from
Brookline for both the day and residential costs of Earl’s Eagle Hill placement for the
2009-2010 school year; reimbursement from Brookline for the residential costs of Earl’s
Eagle Hill placement for the 2010-2011 school year; and reimbursement and prospective
funding from Brookline for the residential costs of Earl’s Eagle Hill placement for the
2011-2012 school year.
STATEMENT OF POSITONS
Brookline’s position is that it seeks dismissal of Parents’ claims pertaining to the
2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. As grounds for dismissal Brookline states that
Parents’ 2009-2010 claims are precluded by the relevant statute of limitations and
Parents’ 2010-2011 claims are barred by the terms of the resolution agreement reached
between the parties in August 2010.
Regarding the 2009-2010 school year, Brookline states that 20 U.S.C. §1415(f)
(3)(C) provides for a two year statute of limitations. Brookline contends that Parents’
dispute with Brookline began in early September 2009 when the team proposed an out of
district day school program for Earl but Parents instead unilaterally enrolled him at Eagle
Hill as a residential student. Brookline contends that Parents have been aware of
Brookline’s position since early September 2009 but failed to request a due process
hearing within the required two year statute of limitations. Parents did not file this
hearing request until November 21, 2011. Therefore, Brookline contends that Parents’
claims pertaining to the 2009-2010 school year are barred as a matter of law.
Regarding the 2010-2011 school year, Brookline contends that Parents’ claims for
reimbursement of Earl’s residential costs are barred by the terms of the August 22, 2010
Resolution Agreement cited above. Brookline contends that both sides entered into and
executed the Resolution Agreement with the benefit of and assistance of counsel; and that
the Resolution Agreement resolved the parties’ dispute concerning Earl’s 2010-2011
educational placement and costs.
Parents’ position is that the applicable statue of limitations does not bar recovery
for the 2009-2010 school year and that any agreement entered into by Parents and
Brookline regarding the 2010-2011 school year did not bar further recovery for failure to
provide a free and appropriate public education.
Regarding the 2009-2010 school year, Parents contend that their claim for
reimbursement is not barred by the two year statute of limitations “due to Brookline’s
continuing wrong of refusing to offer a placement” and that “the entire wrong can be
addressed so long as any part is with/in the statute of limitations”. Parents further
contend that, in any event, Parents may recover for all costs incurred after November 21,
2009. Since the basis of Parents’ complaint is an ongoing dispute, the origin of the
dispute lying outside of the two year window of the statute of limitations does not bar
recovery for any costs incurred within two years of the hearing request.
Regarding the 2010-2011 school year, Parents contend that their reimbursement
claim is not barred by the terms of the Resolution Agreement because the Resolution
Agreement does not explicitly release Brookline from liability and cannot be read to
preclude litigation over the failure of Brookline to provide a free and appropriate public
education to Earl during the 2010-2011 school year.
Based upon the written motion, opposition, arguments and memoranda submitted,
the oral arguments offered at the motion session, and a review of the applicable law, I
rule as follows:
Brookline’s Motion to Dismiss the 2009-2010 school year is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART.
Brookline’s Motion to Dimiss the 2010-2011 school year is GRANTED.
My analysis follows.
Under 801 CMR 1.01(7)(g)(3) – Standard Adjudicatory Rules of Practices and
Procedure; Rule XVII(B)(4) – Hearing Rules for Special Education Appeals; F.R.C.P.
Rule 12(b)(6); and M.R.C.P. Rule 12(b)(6), the standards applicable to a motion to
dismiss are essentially identical: a motion to dismiss may be granted if the party
requesting the appeal or hearing fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. Therefore, a hearing officer, considering all of the allegations in a hearing
request to be true, may dismiss the case if he or she cannot grant relief under either
the federal or state special education statutes (20 U.S.C. §1400 et. seq. or
M.G.L.c.71B) or the relevant portions of Section 504 (29 U.S.C. 794).
20 U.S.C. §1415(f)(3)(C) Timeline for requesting hearing provides, in pertinent part:
A parent or agency shall request an impartial due process hearing
within 2 years of the date parent or agency knew or should have
known about the alleged action that forms the basis of the complaint.
Parents’ Hearing Request in the instant case was filed on November 21, 2011.
Based upon the above-cited Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) statute of
limitations, Parents can “reach back” for two years, i.e. to November 21, 2009. Therefore,
all parental claims against Brookline prior to November 21, 2009, specifically including
actions taken by Parents or Brookline from September 1, 2009 until November 21, 2009
are time-barred, as a matter of law pursuant to 20 U.S.C. §1415(f)(3)(C).
Parents argue that they should be able to go back beyond the two year statute of
limitations based upon “Brookline’s continuing wrong of refusing to offer a placement”
and that “the entire wrong can be addressed as long as any part of it is with/in the statute
of limitations.” However, the two year statute of limitations included in the 2004
Amendments to the IDEA (effective January 1, 2005) provides only two specific
exceptions to the two year statute of limitations, found at 20 U.S.C. §1415(f)(3)(D):
(D) Exceptions to the timeline. The timeline described in subparagraph
(C) shall not apply to a parent if the parent was prevented from
requesting the hearing due to –
(i) specific misrepresentations by the local educational agency that it
had resolved the problem forming the basis of the complaint; or
(ii) the local educational agency’s withholding of information from the
parent that was required under this part [20 USCS §§ 1415 et seq.] to
be provided to the parent.
Neither of these two exceptions cited is applicable to the instant case. Further,
those federal court cases which have interpreted the IDEA two year statute of limitations
since its effective date of January 1, 2005 have all held: 1) that these two above-cited
exceptions are the exclusive exceptions to the two year statute of limitations; and 2) that
except for these two exceptions, the IDEA statute of limitations is not subject to any
equitable tolling or continuing violation theory. (See J.L. ex rel J.L. v. Ambridge Area
School Distrct, 662 F. Supp 2d 257 W. D. Pa (2008); Evan H. ex rel. Kosta H. v.
Unionville-Chadds Ford School Dist., 2008 WL 4791634 E. D. Pa. (2008); P.P. ex rel.
Michael P. v. West Chester Area School Dist. 585 F. 3d 727 (3rd Cir. 2009); Ball v.
Board of Educ. of Albuquerque Public Schools 2008 W. L. 4104070; D. C. and A. C.
Individually and a/n/f T. C., A Minor Student v. Klein Independent School District, C. A.
No H-09-1714 S. D. Tx. (2010).
As stated in STATEMENT OF POSITIONS above, Brookline persuasively
argues that Parents knew or should have known Brookline’s position since September
2009 because the 2009-2010 IEP proposing an out of district day placement for Earl was
proposed in September 2009. Since Parents did not request a due process hearing
regarding the 2009-2010 school year until November 21, 2011 all of Parents claims
pertaining to the 2009-2011 school year are barred by the above cited statute of
limitations as a matter of law.
Parents argue that in any event, they certainly can recover for all costs after
November 21, 2009, since from that date onward they are within the two year statute of
limitations time period. Unfortunately, neither 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(3)(C) or (D) nor any
of the cases cited by the parties address the specific issue before me, to wit: if Parents
knew or should have known about the alleged actions that form the basis of the complaint
beyond the two year statute of limitations time period, are they then foreclosed from
recovering for a time period that falls within the two year statute of limitations two year
period. Clearly, from November 21, 2009 onward Parents claims are within the two year
statute of limitations time frame. Acceptance of Brookline’s position would result in
Parents being foreclosed from litigating seven months of the 2009-2010 school year that
clearly fall within the two year statute of limitations timeline. Given the lack of statutory
or decisional guidance on this issue, I am unwilling to effectively shrink the IDEA’s
mandated two year statute of limitations timeline. Both Parents and Brookline had legal
rights and responsibilities during the period from November 21, 2009 until the end of the
2009-2010 school year.
Therefore, I rule that Brookline’s Motion to Dismiss claims pertaining to the
2009-2010 school year is GRANTED for the time period from September 1, 2009
through November 21, 2009. Brookline’s Motion to Dismiss with respect to claims
pertaining to the 2009-2010 school year is DENIED for the period November 22, 2009
until the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
The Resolution Agreement executed by the parties, reproduced in its entirety
above, is a simple, “bare bones” agreement. Brookline agreed to write an IEP for Earl for
a day placement at Eagle Hill for the 2010-2011 school year, including necessary
transportation, and to fund such placement. Parents agreed to pay for all other costs and
expenses (i.e. the residential component), and to withdraw their hearing request.
Brookline upheld its part of the agreement. Parents upheld their part of the agreement. I
take administrative notice that on August 26, 2010 Parents’ attorney wrote to the BSEA
withdrawing BSEA #11-0937, as follows:
On behalf of [Parents] I withdraw the Request for Hearing submitted on
July 30, 2010 and scheduled to be held on September 2, 2010. Parties have
executed a Resolution Agreement regarding the 2010-2011 school year.
Parents argue that the Resolution Agreement does not relieve Brookline of
liability, and that to create an enforceable settlement agreement the terms must be
comprehensive, specific and achieve a true quid pro quo. Parents cite this Hearing
Officer’s decision in In re: Wachusett Regional School District 14 MSER 382 (2008)
Wachusett did involve an extremely comprehensive, highly detailed settlement
agreement covering virtually every contingency. However, such comprehensiveness is
not a requirement for a binding agreement between the parties. In Masconomet Regional
School District 16 MSER 408 (2010)(Masconomet), this Hearing Officer upheld a
concise, simple Agreement Reached Through Mediation (which achieved a true quid pro
quo for each party) in which the parent was represented by an experienced advocate and
the school was represented only by its Director of Special Education. As noted in
Masconomet at 16 MSER at 409:
Both federal and Massachusetts special education law provide for
mediation. (See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e); 34 CFR §300.506; 603 CMR
28.08(4). Both 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2)(F)(ii) and (iii) and 34 CFR
§300.506(b)(6)(ii) and (7) provide that if parties reach resolution at
mediation that they shall execute a legally binding agreement that
sets forth their resolution; is signed by both the parent and a
representative of the agency who has the authority to bind such
agency; and that such written and signed mediation agreement is
legally enforceable in a state court of competent jurisdiction or in a
district court of the United States. Emphasis added. Similarly,
federal statute and regulation 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1)(B) and 34
CFR §300.510(c)(1) and (2) provide for resolution sessions and
agreements, with the same criteria: that the parties shall execute a
legally binding agreement; that is signed by both the Parent and a
representative of the agency who has the power to bind such
agency; and which agreement is enforceable in state or federal
Based upon the provisions for both mediation agreements and
resolution session agreements, I conclude that the thrust of both
federal and state special education statutes and regulations is to
promote settlements, whenever possible, without the necessity of
proceeding to a full due process hearing. Further, the above cited
statutory and regulatory provisions clearly establish that Parents
have the authority to enter into a binding, legally enforceable,
mediation or resolution/settlement agreement on behalf of t heir
child and be legally bound by its terms. If parents were not legally
bound by a mediation or resolution/settlement agreement that they
voluntary entered into and derived the full benefits of, query
whether any school district would ever into an any type of
agreement with parents. The intent of the statutory and regulatory
provisions with respect to mediation and resolution agreements
would be effectively subverted. Emphasis added.
The above analysis in Masconomet is equally compelling in the instant case.
While not as comprehensive as Wachusett, I find the instant Resolution Agreement to be
a specific, straightforward agreement which clearly did create a quid pro quo for both
parties. Parents gained from Brookline an IEP for Earl for a day placement at Eagle Hill
for the 2010-2011 school year with attendant full funding from Brookline for such day
placement at Eagle Hill. The consideration from Parents was their funding of all other
expenses at Eagle Hill for the 2010-2011 school year (residential component) and a
withdrawal of their hearing request for the 2010-2011 school year. Both sides gained
certainty and closure (in lieu of the uncertain outcome of a Hearing). Thus, the instant
Resolution Agreement clearly met the criteria for a quid pro quo as set out by this
Hearing Officer in Wachusett.
I conclude that the Resolution Agreement executed by the parties is a legally
binding and enforceable resolution agreement. Each side received the benefit for which it
bargained. As Parents acknowledged in their withdrawal of BSEA #11-0937, they had
“executed a Resolution Agreement regarding the 2010-2011 school year.” [Emphasis
Therefore, Brookline’s Motion to Dismiss Parents’ claims with respect to the
2010-2011 school year is GRANTED.
Brookline’s Motion to Dismiss Parents’ claims pertaining the 2009-2010 school
year is GRANTED for the period from September 1, 2009 through November 21,
2009, but is DENIED for the period from November 22, 2009 to the end of the
2009-2010 school year.
Brookline’s Motion to Dismiss Parents’ claims pertaining to the 2010-2011
school year is GRANTED.
A pre-hearing conference call will take place on February 15, 2012 at 4:00 P.M.
regarding further proceedings in this case.
By the Hearing Officer
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