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KING v. PINE PLAINS CENT. SCH. DIST.

March 6, 1996

JAMES and BARBARA KING, Parents of ROBERT K., A Disabled Student, Plaintiffs, against PINE PLAINS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DUTCHESS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES and THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONNER

 CONNER, Senior D.J.:

 Plaintiffs James and Barbara King, the parents of a disabled child, filed this action on December 8, 1995, against defendants Pine Plains Central School District ("Pine Plains"), Dutchess County Department of Social Services ("DSS") and the New York State Education Department ("SED"). Plaintiffs assert claims under various provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.; § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Each of the defendants has moved to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. In addition, Pine Plains has moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and DSS has moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 and 12(b)(7) for failure to join a necessary party. Plaintiffs have moved for a preliminary injunction. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs' motion is denied in part.

 BACKGROUND

 The IDEA is a comprehensive statutory framework established by Congress to aid the states in providing disabled children with a "free appropriate public education." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c); Mrs. W v. Tirozzi, 832 F.2d 748, 750 (2d Cir. 1987). To safeguard the right to a free appropriate public education, the IDEA imposes elaborate procedural requirements to which states receiving federal financial assistance must adhere. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415. New York has enacted a body of statutes that define the rights and obligations, both procedural and substantive, of parents, school districts, SED and other state and local agencies that are involved in the education of disabled children. See N.Y. Educ. Law § 4000 et seq.

 Under the IDEA, parents must be given an opportunity to bring complaints about "any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1)(E). Complaints are reviewed at an "impartial due process hearing" conducted by the state or local educational agency. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(2); N.Y. Educ. Law § 4404(1). If a hearing is conducted at the local level, an appeal may be had to the state agency. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(c); N.Y. Educ. Law § 4404(2). Upon exhaustion of these administrative remedies, an aggrieved party may then appeal to a federal or state court, which may grant appropriate relief. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2).

 Against this legal backdrop, we turn to the circumstances of this particular case. Treating the allegations in the complaint as true, as we must when considering a motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs in this action are the adoptive parents of a 16-year-old child, Robert, who has been classified as multiply disabled. During the 1992-93 school year, Robert lived with his mother in Brewster, New York, and attended a local public school where he received special education. In the summer of 1993, as a result of Robert's behavioral problems, his parents placed him in Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital ("Four Winds") in Katonah, New York. Upon his discharge from Four Winds later that summer, Robert moved to his father's home in Clinton Corners, New York, and enrolled in the Pine Plains Central School District.

 As is required by the IDEA and the corresponding New York statute, see 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401(a)(19), 1414(a)(5); N.Y. Educ. Law § 4402, the Pine Plains Committee on Special Education ("CSE") met to develop an individualized education program ("IEP") for Robert for the 1993-94 school year. Robert's parents requested that the school district place him in a residential facility. The CSE chose instead to place Robert in special education classes at a local public school. According to plaintiffs, Robert experienced difficulties throughout the 1993-94 school year. In April 1994, plaintiffs complained to the CSE that Robert was not receiving an appropriate education.

 On June 9, 1994, Robert was readmitted to Four Winds because of "fire-setting incidents and physically assaultive behavior." Complaint, at P 24. As a result of a fire-setting incident, Robert was referred to the District Attorney's office and to DSS for assessment and placement consideration. At the request of Robert's parents, the school district paid for an independent evaluation of Robert's educational needs. The independent expert recommended residential placement, as did the staff at Four Winds.

 On August 30, 1994, the CSE met to consider Robert's IEP for the 1994-95 school year. His parents once again requested residential placement for Robert, but the CSE determined that placement in special education classes in a program at the local public school would be appropriate. On September 5, 1994, plaintiffs asked for an impartial hearing to contest that decision. On October 29, 1994, before the hearing was completed, the Family Court ordered Robert's placement, under the auspices of DSS, at the Devereux School ("Devereux"). Devereux is a private residential school that specializes in teaching disabled children. Robert entered Devereux on November 1, 1994, and has remained there since.

 On April 27, 1995, the impartial hearing officer ("IHO") issued a decision in which he ruled that Robert's 1994-95 IEP failed adequately to state Robert's current functioning levels, lacked criteria for determining whether Robert benefited from the prescribed program and lacked sufficiently individualized goals. Although the IHO found the 1994-95 IEP inadequate in these respects, he determined that plaintiffs were not entitled to reimbursement from Pine Plains for any costs that they might incur by sending Robert to Devereux pending the outcome of their appeal because they had failed to establish that Devereux was an appropriate placement for Robert.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Motions to Dismiss

 In evaluating defendants' motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), this Court's task "is merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof." Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 1980). In order to prevail, the moving party must demonstrate "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 40 (2d Cir. 1983). A court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974).

 Typically, the local school district in which a child resides is responsible for determining whether the child is disabled, developing his IEP and administering his educational program. See N.Y. Educ. Law § 4402. The range of placement options available to the school district includes placement in a private residential facility. See N.Y. Educ. Law §§ 4401(2). Residential placement is appropriate, and must be provided by the school district at no cost to the parents, when it is necessary for the child to benefit educationally from instruction. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.302; Board of Educ. of East Windsor Regional High Sch. v. Diamond, 808 F.2d 987, 991-92 (3d Cir. 1986); Kruelle v. New Castle County Sch. Dist., 642 F.2d 687, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1981). However, when "the residential placement is a response to medical, social or emotional problems that are segregable from the learning process," Kruelle, 642 F.2d at 693, the school district is not obligated to bear the total cost of the placement. Instead, the school district must cover the cost of special education and related services, as defined at 20 U.S.C. § 1401(a)(16)-(17), but need not fund medical treatment or other non-educational expenses. The distinction between educational placement and placement that addresses a disabled child's social, emotional or medical needs is easily stated, but its application is highly fact-specific. Compare Windsor, 808 F.2d at 991-93 (fully funded residential placement necessary for educational purposes); North v. District of Columbia Bd. of Educ., 471 F. Supp. 136, 140-42 (D.D.C. 1979) (same); with Clovis Unified Sch. Dist. v. Calif. Office of Admin. Hearings, 903 F.2d 635, 645-47 (9th Cir. 1990) (residential placement was for medical purposes; local school district financially responsible only for providing instruction); Field v. Haddonfield Bd. of Educ., 769 F. Supp. 1313, 1325-29 (D.N.J. 1991) (same).

 In New York, the Family Court may also place a disabled child in a private residential facility. *fn1" See N.Y. Educ. Law § 4005. If appropriate for that particular child, his instruction may be provided at a school operated by the residential facility. See N.Y. Educ. Law § 4002(2)(d). Each institution that maintains a school is required to appoint a CSE, see N.Y. Educ. Law § 4002(3), and once a public agency places a disabled child at the school, the CSE is required to develop an IEP in accordance with the ...


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