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F.R. v. BOARD OF EDUC.

October 7, 1999

F.R. AND K.R., INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF M.R., A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINEDGE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is an action for an award of attorneys fees pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (the "IDEA"). Plaintiffs seek fees pursuant to the provision in the IDEA that authorizes an award of fees to "the parents of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party" in connection with any action or proceeding brought pursuant to the IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). Defendant argues that an award of fees in this case is not authorized by statute and moves, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss plaintiffs' action in its entirety. For the reasons set forth below, the court holds that plaintiffs have stated a claim for an award of attorneys' fees and therefore denies the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background

The facts as set forth in the complaint, accepted as true for purposes of this motion to dismiss, are as follows. Plaintiffs F.R. and K.R. ("Plaintiffs") are the parents of M.R., a child born in June of 1983 who, at all relevant times, attended school within the Plainedge School District (the "District"). Defendant is the Plainedge Board of Education.

When M.R. was in first grade, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder along with hyperactivity. His condition was improved with the use of medication, and, at that time, M.R.'s parents made no request for any special education services and none were provided. When M.R. was in the fourth grade, his teacher was changed for reasons that are not clearly set forth in the complaint. At no time prior to the involvement of plaintiffs' attorney did M.R.'s parents make any request that special education services be provided for M.R. and the District Committee on Special Education ("CSE") never met on his behalf. Nor during this time period were Plaintiffs advised by the District of any rights M.R. might have pursuant to the IDEA.

In October of 1998, as a result of M.R.'s behavioral difficulties, the District ordered that a psychological examination be performed on M.R. Plaintiffs allege that the results of this examination, as well as M.R.'s prior history, mandated a referral of M.R. to the District's CSE. Shortly after the October 9 psychological examination, M.R. was suspended from school for an indefinite period of time due to behavioral difficulties. Plaintiffs state that the difficulties experienced by M.R. were the result of disabilities that had not been properly addressed by the District.

On November 5, 1998, Plaintiffs contacted counsel to discuss their child's rights. In a letter dated November 10, 1998, Plaintiffs' counsel advised the District that he would be representing Plaintiffs (the "November 10 Letter"). The November 10 Letter referred to a suspension hearing scheduled for November 16, 1998. Counsel advised the District that M.R.'s situation would be more properly addressed by the CSE and demanded an impartial hearing to determine whether the District's had failed to properly address M.R.'s needs.

The November 10 Letter stated that the requested impartial hearing could be resolved if the District agreed to immediately convene a meeting of the CSE on M.R.'s behalf for the purposes of classifying M.R. as either "Other Health Impaired" or "Emotionally Disturbed" and thereafter agreed to provide an appropriate and challenging educational program for M.R. The November 10 Letter also requested expungement of M.R.'s record with respect to his recent suspension. Finally, the November 10 Letter requested that M.R.'s full school file be forwarded to counsel for review.

In a letter addressed to Plaintiffs dated November 12, 1998, the District advised Plaintiffs that the CSE would meet on November 20, 1998 to discuss M.R.'s educational program. At the meeting, which was not attended by Plaintiffs' counsel, the District declined to classify M.R. as requested in the November 10 Letter.

On November 24, 1998, Plaintiffs' counsel wrote to the District's counsel stating that Plaintiffs disagreed with the District's November 12, 1999 determination and again demanded that a hearing be held regarding M.R.'s status (the "November 24 Letter"). The November 24 Letter stated that the matter could be settled if the District agreed to change its decision regarding the classification of M.R., provide for a functional behavioral assessment, develop an individualized behavior intervention plan and provide counseling to M.R.

On December 10, 1998, the District CSE again met to discuss M.R.'s status. At that meeting, it was decided that M.R. would be classified, as requested by counsel, as "Other Health Impaired." It was further decided that M.R. would attend special classes in an program located outside of the District. Plaintiffs consented to the placement and M.R. remains in that placement to date.

On March 12, 1999, Plaintiffs' counsel wrote to the District's counsel stating that his clients were prevailing parties in proceedings with the District and requested reimbursement of approximately $2,000 in attorney fees. Counsel attached an itemized invoice detailing how his time was spent in the matter. Shortly thereafter, counsel for the District advised Plaintiffs' counsel of the District's belief that Plaintiffs ...


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