MILLBURN TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION v. M.P. et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 1/26/16. (DD, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
MILLBURN TOWNSHIP BOARD OF
Civil Action No.: 15-5284 (JLL) (JAD)
M.P. et al.,
LINARES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff Millburn Township Board of
Education (the "District")' s motion for a stay pending appeal of the April 14, 2015 decision of the
Honorable Richard McGill, A.L.J., in the underlying matter captioned as M.P. and J.P. o/b/o S.P.
v. Millburn Township Board of Education, OAL Docket No. EDS 05984-13, Agency Ref. No.
2013-19303 (the "OAL decision").
(ECF No. 15.) The Court has considered the parties'
submissions and decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the District's motion.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND 1
Defendants, M.P. and J.P., are the parents ofS.P. S.P. is a student in the District. S.P. was
This background is derived mainly from the Administrative Record, which is essentially limited to the OAL decision
and related documents, but does not include the underlying exhibits considered by the ALJ. (ECF No. 7 ("Admin.
R.") The background is provided in summary fashion for two reasons: first, the parties are intimately familiar with
the details; and second, even though the District disagrees with the ultimate OAL decision and rationale, the parties
do not dispute the underlying history of events, and so the Court hereby incorporates the statement of facts presented
in the OAL decision for purposes ohhis motion. (See Admin. R.)
initially classified in grade 3 as Eligible for Special Education and Related Services as meeting the
criteria of Other Health Impaired, and remained so through seventh grade. A 2010 reevaluation,
conducted while S.P. was a seventh grade student at Millburn Middle School, noted that S.P. had
been diagnosed with auditory processing concerns, components of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD), a mood disorder, traits of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and was
experiencing concurrent social and hormonal changes. As a result of the re-evaluation, on July
28, 2010, S.P.'s classification changed to Emotionally Disturbed because the primary issue
impacting S.P. was a mood disorder with anxiety and noncompliance at home. S.P. became
increasingly school avoidant.
By December 2010, Defendants requested that out-of-district placements be explored. The
Child Study Team recommended that S.P. be placed at Cornerstone, a therapeutic day school
licensed as an Outpatient Mental Health Facility, and he was transitioned to Cornerstone effective
March 2011. It was decided that S.P. would continue in 8th grade during the summer months of
2011, and begin 9th grade in September 2011.
Defendants contend that between September 2011 and May 2012, S.P. began spiraling out
of control, and on May 9, 2012, Defendants requested a review of the educational components of
the Cornerstone program. The parties began exploring placement at the Community School, but
S.P. returned to Cornerstone for the 2012-13 school year. Three days into the school year (during
the last weeks of August 2012), a violent incident occurred which caused J.P. to call the police and
have S.P. admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
S.P. did not return to Cornerstone after his
hospitalization; instead, he began attending Stepping Forward Counseling Center in September
2012, a transitional program which provided counseling as well as educational services.
In or about September 2012, Holly Blumenstyk conducted an independent evaluation of
S.P. and diagnosed S.P. with a math disorder, reading disorder, ADHD, and recommended a
specialized school with a strong learning disabilities component that follows a regular high school
curriculum and offers extracurricular activities and positive behavioral supports.
On December 6, 2012, Defendants attended an individualized education program ("IEP")
meeting where the Child Study Team agreed to an out-of-district placement, and S.P.'s
classification was changed from Emotionally Disturbed to Specific Learning Disability. On
December 17, 2012, unbeknownst to the District, Defendants submitted an application the Eagle
Hill School in Massachusetts ("Eagle Hill"). On January 4, 2013, the District held a follow-up
IEP meeting, during which the Community School was identified as a school for S.P. Placement
at the Community School was discussed further on January 10, 2013. The parents rejected the
offer of the Community School because they did not feel it was an appropriate placement for S.P.
Instead, the parents unilaterally placed S.P. at Eagle Hill effective March 2013, where he was
enrolled for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year and the 2014-15 school year.
On February 7, 2013, Defendants initially filed a petition for due process challenging the
District's proposed IEP dated January 4, 2013, recommending placement for S.P. at the
Community School in Teaneck, NJ. Effective March 2013, Defendants unilaterally placed S.P.
at Eagle Hill, and amended their petition on or about April 18, 2013, to reflect a demand for
reimbursement of costs incurred in connection with placement of S.P. at Eagle Hill. Defendants
further sought a declaration that S.P. 's past placements for grades 7 and 8 were inappropriate.
On April 14, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Richard McGill (the "ALJ") issued a decision
in favor of Defendants in a due process proceeding brought under the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act ("IDEA") against the District. (See ECF No. 1, Compl. Ex. A.) The ALJ ordered
the District to reimburse Defendants for costs incurred in connection with the March 2013
unilateral placement of S.P. at Eagle Hill, and awarded eight months of compensatory education
to Defendants. (Id.)
On or about July 7, 2015, the District filed a Complaint under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A),
seeking an Order reversing Judge McGill's decision and a finding that the District at all times met
its obligations to S.P. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) On August 28, 2015, Defendants filed an Answer and
asserted a Counterclaim seeking attorneys' fees (ECF No. 3), which the District Answered on
September 17, 2015. (ECF No. 4.)
On December 11, 2015, the District filed a letter requesting leave to file a motion for a stay
of the OAL decision. (ECF No. 6.) As part of the request, the District enclosed a letter dated
November 25, 2015 from the New Jersey Department of Education in which the Department of
Education directed the District to either provide a court-ordered stay or present proof of
reimbursement of $229,537.47 and the District's plan for compensatory education, on or before
January 8, 2016. (See ECF No. 6 encl.) Defendants filed a letter opposing the request, arguing
that the District had ample time to request a stay but failed to do so, and that the Department of
Education had sent letters to the District demanding the court-ordered stay or reimbursement as
early as October 14, 2015. (ECF No. 8.) In response, the District asserted that they have
consistently maintained that reimbursement is inappropriate absent a decision on the merits of the
appeal, and that the Department of Education's letter forced them to move for a court-ordered stay.
(ECF No. 9.)
On December 18, 2015, the case was reassigned to the undersigned. (ECF No. 11.) On
December 21, 2015, the Court entered a scheduling Order. (ECF No. 14.) OnDecember21, 2015,
the District filed the instant motion for a stay of the OAL decision pending a determination on the
merits of the appeal. (ECF No. 15 ("Mov. Br.").) On January4, 2016, Defendants filed opposition
to the motion for a stay. (ECF No. 18 ("Opp. Br.").) A hearing was set for January 6, 2016 at
l :30 PM (ECF No. 14), but was converted into a telephone conference. (ECF No. 20.) On January
6, 2016, the District filed a letter in which it advised that the Department of Education agreed to
extend the January 8, 2016 deadline to January 28, 2016. (ECF No. 19.) The matter is now ripe
A. Motion for Stay
A stay is "an exercise of judicial discretion" and "the propriety of its issues is dependent on
the circumstances of the particular case." Virginian R. Co. v. United States, 272 U.S. 658, 672
( 1926). The four factors to consider are: (1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing
that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured
absent a stay; (3) whether the issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties
interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies. Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S.
770, 777 (1987); Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 426 (2009). As the party requesting the stay, the
District bears the burden. Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 708 (1997).
B. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The IDEA is a "comprehensive scheme of federal legislation designed to meet the special
educational needs of children with disabilities" and it provides federal funds to assist states "in
providing educational services to children with disabilities," subject to the condition "that states
meet a number of substantive and procedural criteria." M.A. ex rel. E.S. v. State-Operated Sch.
Dist., 344 F.3d 335, 338 & n.4 (3d Cir.2003). Two important concepts within the IDEA are "free,
appropriate public education" (F APE) and "individualized education program" (IEP). The IDEA
provides for reimbursement and compensatory education, also sets a process for relief.
1. Free, Appropriate Public Education (F APE)
The IDEA requires those states that "provide special education funds [and that] are eligible
for federal funds to implement state-wide special education programs that guarantee a FAPE to
eligible disabled children." CG v. Pa. Dep 't ofEduc., 734 F.3d 229, 232 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing 20
U.S.C. § 1412(a)(l)(A)). According to the Supreme Court, a FAPE consists of "educational
instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported by
such services as are necessary to permit the child 'to benefit' from the instruction." Bd. of Educ.
of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester Cnty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 188-89 (1982)
(summarizing 20 U.S.C. § 1401(9)). There is a preference for "mainstreaming," meaning that a
child should be placed in the least restrictive environment that will provide him with a meaningful
educational benefit. L.E. v. Ramsey Bd. ofEduc., 435 F.3d 384, 390 (3d Cir. 2006).
2. Individualized Education Program (IEP)
The "centerpiece" of the IDEA is the "individualized education program" (IEP). See D.S. v.
Bayonne Bd. of Educ., 602 F.3d 553, 557 (3d Cir. 2010). There are numerous procedural and
substantive criteria that must be met for an IEP to be deemed satisfactory. See 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d).
"The ID EA does not set forth definitive guidelines for the formulation of an IEP, but at a minimum,
[t]he IEP must be 'reasonably calculated' to enable the child to receive 'meaningful educational
benefits' in light of the student's 'intellectual potential."' Ferren C. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 612
717 (3d Cir. 2010) (citations and some internal quotation marks omitted). "The right to
a FAPE ensures that students with special education needs receive the type of education that will
'prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.'" Id. (quoting 20 U.S.C.
§ 1400(d) (l)(A)). However, school districts are not required to "maximize the potential" of each
student. Munir v. Pottsville Area Sch. Dist., 723 F.3d 423, 426 (3d Cir.2013) (citations omitted).
School districts work with parents to design the IEP, which "must include an assessment of the
child's current educational performance, must articulate measurable educational goals, and must
specify the nature of the special services that the school will provide." Ridley Sch. Dist. v. MR.,
680 F.3d 260, 269 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also 34 C.F.R. § 300 et
seq. (relevant federal regulations); N.J.A.C. § 6A:14 et seq. (New Jersey's condification of the
IDEA requirements, which follow the federal requirements).
3. Reimbursement and Compensatory Education
The IDEA allows for reimbursement. See Sch. Comm. ofTown ofBurlington, Mass. v. Dep 't
ofEduc. ofMass., 471 U.S. 359, 370 (1985) ("[W]e are confident that by empowering the court to
grant 'appropriate' relief Congress meant to include retroactive reimbursement to parents as an
available remedy in a proper case."); see also 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii). To be eligible for
reimbursement, a district must have failed to provide a FAPE, and the placement must be proper.
Id. A private placement is "proper" if it (1) is "appropriate," i.e., it provides "significant learning"
and confers "meaningful benefit," and (2) is provided in the least restrictive educational
environment. Lauren W ex rel. Jean W v. DeFlaminis, 480 F.3d 259, 276 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted). Reimbursement for placement at a residential program is permitted, as long as it is
"appropriate." Munir v. Pottsville Area Sch. Dist., 723 F.3d 423, 430 (3d Cir. 2013). However, if
"residential placement is a response to medical, social or emotional problems that are segregable
from the learning process," the District is not obligated to bear the cost; but where "the social,
emotional, medical and educational problems ... [are] so intertwined that realistically it is not
possible for the court to perform the Solomon-like task of separating them," the District will bear
the cost. Kruelle v. New Castle Cty. Sch. Dist., 642 F.2d 687, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1981).
Relatedly, IDEA allows for compensatory education. "[A] school district that knows or
should know that a child has an inappropriate [IEP] or is not receiving more than a de minimis
educational benefit must correct the situation.... [I]f it fails to do so, a disabled child is entitled
to compensatory education for a period equal to the period of deprivation, but excluding the time
reasonably required for the school district to rectify the problem." MC. ex rel. J.C. v. Cent. Reg 'l
Sch. Dist., 81 F.3d 389, 397 (3d Cir. 1996).
4. Process for Relief Under the IDEA
"When a party objects to the adequacy of the education provided, the construction of the
IEP, or some related matter, IDEA provides procedural recourse: [i]t requires that a State provide
' [a]n opportunity for any party to present a complaint ... with respect to any matter relating to the
identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of [a FAPE] to
such child."' Winkelman ex rel Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., 550 U.S. 516, 525 (2007)
(quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6)). In practice, this takes the form of an administrative proceeding
centered around an "impartial due process" hearing, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(l), after which "the IDEA
permits an aggrieved party to bring a civil action in any court." S.H. v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist.,
729 F.3d 248, 257 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A)).
The Court finds that the District has not met their burden of showing that a stay is warranted
under the circumstances presented. When balancing all of the factors, the Court is not convinced
that a stay is justified. The Court addresses each factor in tum.
A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits
With respect to likelihood of success on the merits, there are special circumstances to
consider, since "judicial review in IDEA cases differs substantially from judicial review of other
agency actions in which courts generally are confined to the administrative record and are held to
a highly deferential standard ofreview." Susan N. v. Wilson Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 751, 757 (3d Cir.
1995). When a federal district court reviews an administrative adjudication in an IDEA case, the
court: (i) shall receive the records of the below proceeding; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at
the request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on a preponderance of evidence, shall grant such
relief as the court deems appropriate. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C); see Oberti v. Board ofEducation,
995 F.2d 1204, 1219 (3d Cir. 1993) (quotation omitted). A district court gives "due weight" or a
"modified de novo" review to an ALJ's factual findings, see S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of
Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 270 (3d Cir. 2003), and applies a de novo standard of review for questions
oflaw. See P.N. v. Greco, 282 F. Supp. 2d 221, 235 (D.N.J. 2003) (citation omitted).
The District argues that it is likely to succeed-i. e., that it is likely to have the OAL decision
reversed or modified-for four reasons. First, the District contends that the IEP proposed in
December 2012 and January 2013, which offered placement of S.P. at the Community School,
were designed to confer a FAPE in the least restrictive environment. (Mov. Br. at 17-18.) Second,
the District argues that it should not be financially responsible for the placement at Eagle Hill
because that decision was made unilaterally by S.P.'s parents in order to meet S.P.'s mental health
needs, rather than his educational needs. (Id. at 18-19.) Third, the District argues that an award
for reimbursement must be reduced or denied in light of the alleged unreasonableness of
Defendants' actions, in particular their unilateral decision to enroll S.P. at Eagle Hill while not
taking the Community School option seriously. (Id. at 19-22.) Fourth, the District contends that
there is no basis for an award of eight months of compensatory education.
(Id. at 22-26.)
Additionally, the District argues that the ALJ's credibility determinations are not entitled to weight
and that the evidence relating to Eagle Hill must be balanced with the admission of the rebuttal
testimony of Julianna Kusz, relating to her visit to and observations of S.P. at Eagle Hill in late
January 2014. (Id. at 26-30.)
In opposition, Defendants present several arguments. (Opp. Br. at 12-29.) Defendants first
contend that in order to overturn the OAL decision, the Court must point to "non-testimonial
evidence that undermined the testimony of these witnesses" and "provide an explanation for its
decision to reject the ALJ's decision to credit" one witness over another. (Id. at 12-13 (citing L. G.
v. Fair Lawn Bd. ofEduc., 2011WL2559547 (D.N.J. June 27, 2011).) Additionally, Defendants
note that the New Jersey Special Education Code plainly states that the decision of the ALJ is final
and should be implemented without undue delay. See N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.7(1). Defendants contend
that the District should have moved for a stay when it filed its appeal and that their delay in seeking
one is inexcusable, since the delay is "causing further damage." (Id. at 13.)
In addressing the District's arguments, Defendants first assert that the IEP proposed in
January 2013 (i.e., placement at the Community School) was inappropriate and not individualized
to meet S.P .' s educational and emotional needs, and that the ALJ correctly weighed the evidence
(including testimony that S.P. required a residential component) in reaching this decision. (Id. at
14-19.) Defendants argue that the District does not provide any evidence, testimonial or nontestimonial, to refute that finding. Additionally, evidence that S.P. was not emotionally stable
during the hearing directly undermines the District's arguments, because the change in S.P.'s
classification (from emotionally disturbed to specific learning disability) did not change S.P.'s
need for social, emotional, and therapeutic support, and also because the Community School did
not accept students with significant behavioral or mental illness. (Id.) Second, Defendants argue
that the placement at Eagle Hill was appropriate and the parents' actions were reasonable under
(Id. at 20-25.)
The ALJ concluded that the parents are entitled to
reimbursement for the cost of Eagle Hill because the program proposed by the district was
inappropriate and that the parental placement was appropriate and made in good faith. Relatedly,
Defendants argue that the District had the burden of proof and production during the due process
hearing, but failed to address the appropriateness of Eagle Hill in their case-in-chief, and
"preposterous[ly]" tried to raise the issue for the first time in rebuttal.
(Id. at 13, 21-23.)
Defendants claim that the parents applied to Eagle Hill on December 17, 2012, only because the
IEP presented to the parents on December 6, 2012 did not identify a placement for S.P., and the
parents were fearful that S.P. would not have a place to go to school. (Id. at 25.) Third, Defendants
argue that the ALJ correctly found that the placement and program at Cornerstone was
inappropriate as of Spring 2012 and that S.P. was eligible for compensatory education. (Id. at 2529.) Defendants contend that the District has failed to present any documentary evidence showing
that Cornerstone was appropriate placement for S.P. such that compensatory education is
The Court agrees with Defendants because the limited record available to the Court at this
stage (which, as noted, is limited essentially to the OAL decision) provides sufficient support for
the ALJ's conclusions. The ALJ conducted hearings over the course of six days and heard
testimony from ten witnesses, and he also reviewed extensive documentary evidence in reaching
his conclusions. The ALJ made specific credibility findings based on the evidence presented in
reaching his conclusions on the fact-intensive issues in this case.
First, the ALJ determined that the District failed in providing a FAPE to S.P. in that the IEP
formulated in late 2012 I early 2013 did not completely and accurately describe S.P.'s disability.
(OAL decision at 39-43.) With respect to the December 2012 IEP, the ALJ specifically found that
it "understates S.P. 's disability in two respects."
First, as [the District] acknowledges, S.P. still suffers from ADHD.
Second, there is no evidence that S.P. is no longer emotionally
disturbed. It is noteworthy that none of [the District's] witnesses
testified that S.P. is not emotionally disturbed. In fact, they seemed to
be very careful to state only that "it was agreed" to change S.P.'s
classification [from emotionally disturbed] to specific learning
(OAL decision at 42.) The District has not convinced the Court that this conclusion is erroneous
at this stage. Additionally, the ALJ referenced the testimony of two witnesses in reaching this
conclusion: Dr. Charles Cartwright (a psychiatrist of S.P.'s since Fall 2012) and Toby Braunstein
(Director of Education at the Community School). The ALJ found Dr. Cartwright's testimony to
be entirely credible and gave credit to his testimony that that a residential placement would be
necessary for S.P. In contrast, the ALJ found Ms. Braunstein's testimony on the issue of whether
the Community School could implement S.P.'s IEP as unreliable because, in the ALJ's opinion,
"she did not demonstrate that she had full knowledge of S.P.'s emotional issues." (OAL decision
at 43.) The District has not pointed to any compelling evidence to undermine these credibility
Second, the ALJ concluded that placement of S.P. at Eagle Hill was appropriate. The ALJ
set forth the relevant legal standards, which the parties do not dispute, before discussing the
testimony of the various witnesses on the subject. (See OAL decision at 43-46.) On this point,
the ALJ found the testimony of Linda Auld (who determined that S.P. had made measurable
progress at Eagle Hill), James C. Woodley (in-home crisis counselor to Defendants who testified
that S.P. showed signs of progress after attending Eagle Hill), and Dr. Cartwright (who testified
that S.P. showed a "dramatic improvement" after attending Eagle Hill) to be credible and adopted
their testimony as fact.
Again, the District has not pointed to any compelling evidence to
undermine these credibility determinations. Furthermore, the Court agrees with Defendants that
S.P.'s current placement (in particular the fact that he is no longer enrolled at Eagle Hill) is beyond
the scope of the issues currently before the Court. As to the District's point that the amount of
reimbursement should be reduced, the testimony of the witnesses relied on by the ALJ undermines
this argument, since the testimony states that the Community School was not a good fit for S.P.
Thus, the Court cannot conclude at this stage that Defendants were unreasonable in placing S.P. at
Eagle Hill, such that the amount of reimbursement should be reduced.
Finally, with respect to the ALJ's determination that S.P. should receive eight months of
compensatory education, the ALJ relied on the evaluation performed by Ms. Blumenstyk, which
showed that S.P. was far below his aptitude level in both reading comprehension and math
calculation skills after attending Cornerstone from approximately March 2011 to August 2012,
and testimony from Dr. Cartwright that the root cause of S.P.'s issues was a learning disorder,
which was not being satisfactorily addressed at Cornerstone. (OAL decision at 46-47.) Relying
on this testimony, the ALJ concluded that the District should have known that S.P. was not
receiving a FAPE at Cornerstone as early as Spring 2012, and determined that a new program
should have been place by July 1, 2012. Again, the District has not pointed to any compelling
evidence to undermine the ALJ' s reliance on this testimony.
In sum, the District has not pointed to any compelling evidence that the ALJ overlooked, nor
have they sufficiently explained how the ALJ erred in reaching his conclusions. Because there is
no new evidence before the Court, additional deference is owed to the ALJ's conclusions. See
Hardison v. Bd. ofEduc. of the Oneonta City Sch. Dist., 773 F.3d 372, 386 (2d Cir. 2014) ("[T]he
district court should afford more deference when its review is based entirely on the same evidence
as that before the [administrative officer].") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Accordingly, the Court finds that this factor weighs against granting the stay.
B. Irreparable Harm to Moving Party if Stay is Not Issued
The District argues that financial harm is irreparable in the case of a public school district
paying for special education costs under IDEA because the District may not seek reimbursement
from the parents if the District ultimately prevails in the dispute. (Mov. Br. at 30-32.) In support,
the District cites to a handful of recent district court decisions from other circuits, and argues that
a public school district paying for special education as ordered by a lower court will suffer
irreparable harm, especially where the amount in question is "not trivial." (Id.) The District argues
that the amount in contention here ($229,537.47) should not be paid until a decision on the merits
of the appeal has been rendered.
In opposition, Defendants contend that the cases relied on by the District are distinguishable.
(Opp. Br. at 29-31.) First, they claim that Meza v. Bd. of Educ. of the Portales Mun. Schs, 2011
WL 1128876 (D.N.M. Feb. 25, 2011) is distinguishable because in that case the hearing officer's
Order was not legally valid under IDEA. Second, they contend that D.C. v. Masucci, 13 F. Supp.
3d 33, 41 (D.D.C. 2014) is inapposite because there the hearing officer did not address how the
compensatory education funds would address the deficits caused by the school system's past
failures. Finally, Defendants distinguish Wilmington Board ofEducation v. GW & CW o/blo MW,
2015 WL 4164876 (D. Conn. June 15, 2015), on grounds that the court there ultimately denied the
motion for a stay pending appeal.
This factor weighs in favor of the District because there is no specific mechanism under
the IDEA through which the District could seek a return of the money if this Court ultimately rules
in its favor. As such, the District's appeal of the OAL decision would practically become moot if
they are required to pay the ordered reimbursement to Defendants. See D. C. v. Masucci, 13 F.
Supp. 3d 33, 41 (D.D.C. 2014) ("District will likely suffer irreparable harm in the form of both
economic injury and the potential loss of its ability to effectively appeal the [administrative
decision] if the stay is not granted.").
However, the Court notes that the District delayed nearly seven months in seeking a stay
of the OAL decision. It was only after the New Jersey Department of Education demanded that
the District reimburse Defendants that the District moved for a stay. (See ECF No. 6, Letter.) This
demand by the state agency is significant, since it is ultimately the State that is legally responsible
under the IDEA. See Casey K. ex rel. Norman K. v. St. Anne Cmty. High Sch. Dist. No. 302, 400
F.3d 508, 511-12 (7th Cir. 2005) ("IDEA is a program of financial assistance to states conditioned
on the states' complying with certain requirements of the Act .... From the Act's standpoint the
state is an indivisible unit.") (emphasis in original). The Court further notes that the New Jersey
Department of Education has stated that the District need only provide a plan for the ordered
compensatory education. In other words, the state agency has weighed in and stated that the
District must reimburse Defendants for the money they have already spent, but that the District
need not provide money at this time for prospective compensatory education. The fact that the
State has specifically demanded that the District reimburse Defendants undermines the claim of
irreparable harm, but the Court nevertheless finds that this factor weighs in favor of the District.
C. Harm to Non-Moving Part if Stay is Issued
The District argues that granting a stay will not injure Defendants, because S.P. continues to
receive appropriate educational services. (Mov. Br. at 32-33.) The District emphasizes that
Defendants unilaterally withdrew S.P. from Eagle Hill, and that he is currently attending Craig
School, and so there is no risk of disruption to S.P.'s educational program. (Id.)
In opposition, Defendants contend that S.P. is currently receiving appropriate educational
services because the parents are solely funding his therapies and tuition, and have been providing
S.P. with an appropriate education first at Eagle Hill and now at Craig High School. (Opp. Br. at
31-32.) Defendants claim that the parents have been placed under significant financial stress as a
result of having to do the District's job for the past three school years. (Id.) Defendants claim that
the District failed to provide S.P. with a FAPE, and they are now unfairly delaying the
compensation owed to Defendants. (Id.) Defendants claim that a stay could potentially disrupt
S.P.'s current educational services because the family continues to be burdened with S.P.'s tuition
and therapies. (Id.)
The Court finds that this factor weighs in favor of Defendants. The amount of reimbursement
ordered in the OAL decision is hardly insignificant. The Court has no reason to doubt Defendants'
position that they are burdened with the costs of providing tuition and therapies to S.P ., and that
the reimbursement for Eagle Hill is necessary to ensure that S.P. continues receiving a FAPE.
Accordingly, the Court finds that this factor weighs against granting the stay.
D. Public Interest
The District puts forth two main public interest factors in favor of granting the stay. (Mov.
Br. at 33-34.) First, the District contends that the unilateral placement of S.P. in a residential, outof-state program was unnecessary (as evidenced by his withdrawal) and flies in the face of IDEA,
the goal of which is educate students with disabilities in an appropriate program in the least
restrictive environment. (Id.) Second, the District argues that public interest lies is not forcing the
District to pay $229,537.47 for private educations costs that "are likely to be deemed unnecessary"
since there is a general interest in ensuring that public monies are spent in accordance with the law
and at reasonable levels. (Id.)
In opposition, Defendants contend the public interest favors adhering to decisions rendered
under IDEA and the administrative courts. (Opp. Br. at 32-33.) Defendants assert that granting
the stay would undermine the process set forth in IDEA. (Id.) They further argue that S.P.'s
ultimate withdrawal from Eagle Hill is not relevant to the issue before the Court.
The Court finds that this factor is neutral and neither weighs in favor of granting the stay or
against it. On the one hand, the Court agrees with the District that there is a public interest in
ensuring that public monies are spent appropriately. On the other hand, the Court agrees that the
public interest lies in favor of the District complying not only with the order of the OAL, but also
with the demand from the New Jersey Department of Education. Accordingly, the Court finds that
this factor is neutral.
When weighing all of the relevant factors, the Court finds that the District has not met its
burden of demonstrating an entitlement to a stay under the facts presently before the Court.
Accordingly, the Court denies the District's motion. An appropriate Order accompanies this
!TED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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