The opinion of the court was delivered by: Larimer, Chief Judge.
Twenty-two year old student sued school district under Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), seeking compensatory education.
On plaintiffs motion for preliminary injunctive relief, the District
Court, Larimer, Chief Judge, held that plaintiff was entitled to
preliminary injunction requiring school district to pay for private
Plaintiffs, Aaron Sabatini ("Aaron") and his mother, Sharon Sabatini
("Mrs.Sabatini"), commenced this action under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.,
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, the
Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.,
and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendant, Corning—Painted
Post Area School District ("the District"), has denied Aaron his right to
a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE"), as guaranteed to him by
IDEA. Plaintiffs have moved for a preliminary injunction directing the
District to pay Aaron's tuition at an educational institution in
Aaron, who was born on February 26, 1978, resides in the
Corning—Painted Post Area School District. He has been diagnosed
with generalized anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and a nonverbal
learning disability. He is classified as multiply disabled by the
District's Committee on Special Education ("CSE").
On May 28, 1998, the CSE met to consider plaintiffs' request that Aaron
receive a FAPE in a residential placement. The CSE agreed and recommended
that Aaron receive schooling at a residential facility. On June 22,
1998, however, the District's Board of Education ("the Board") rejected
the CSE's recommendation and appointed a new CSE to consider plaintiffs'
request. On July 14, 1998, the new CSE again recommended a residential
placement, but the Board rejected that recommendation as well.
On August 11, 1998, plaintiffs requested an impartial hearing under
IDEA, alleging that Aaron had been denied a FAPE since the 1994—
1995 school year. The parties later entered into a settlement agreement,
under the terms of which the District agreed to "actively engage in a
search for a residential placement" for Aaron, and to "provide an
appropriate educational program for Aaron during the 1998-99, 1999—
2000, and 2000— 2001 school years or until such time as Aaron
receives a high school diploma, whichever comes first." Defendant's
Answer Ex. A.
The District alleges that it attempted, but was unable to find any
residential placement that would accept Aaron. In February 1999,
however, Mrs. Sabatini requested expense money to visit Mitchell College
in Connecticut. Mitchell has a Learning Resource Center ("LRC") designed
to provide services to students with disabilities. The District agreed to
pay Mrs. Sabatini's travel expenses.
On May 20, 1999, plaintiffs requested an impartial hearing, alleging
that the District had failed to abide by the terms of the December 1998
settlement agreement by its failure to place Aaron at Mitchell and had
failed to provide a FAPE for Aaron. The hearing was held on August 12,
1999, and on September 24, 1999, the Impartial Hearing Officer ("IHO")
issued a decision in plaintiffs' favor. Specifically, the IHO found
that: Aaron's placement in a nonapproved private residential placement
was authorized by IDEA; the District had not met its burden of proof that
it had provided Aaron with a FAPE; plaintiffs met their burden of proving
that Mitchell is an appropriate educational placement for Aaron;
compensatory education, i.e., public education beyond the age of
twenty-one to compensate for education to which a child was entitled, but
of which he was deprived prior to reaching that age, was an authorized
form of relief under IDEA; and the IHO had authority to grant
compensatory education to Aaron. The IHO concluded that"[e]quity demands
that the District place A[aron] at Mitchell in accordance with the
parties' written [settlement] agreement." Complaint Ex. A. In support of
her decision, the IHO also noted that the District itself had conceded at
the hearing that it had not provided Aaron with a FAPE; the District's
attorney had stated to the IHO, "[W]e cannot say to you that we can
provide a free appropriate public educational program for Aaron. We
can't." Impartial Hearing Transcript ("IHT") at 13.
On October 19, 1999, the District filed an appeal of the IHO's decision
to the State Review Officer ("SRO"), who is employed by the Department of
Education. N YEduc.L. § 4404(2). Although federal regulations
implementing IDEA provide that such an appeal is to be decided within
thirty days after the request for review was made, 34 C.F.R. § 300.511
(b)(1), there is no dispute that the SRO has not yet issued a decision,
more than two months after the District filed its appeal.
Plaintiffs filed the complaint in this action on November 3, 1999. The
First Claim for Relief alleges that the District's actions deny Aaron his
right to a FAPE under IDEA and N.Y.Educ.L. Art. 89. The Second Claim for
Relief alleges that the District has discriminated against Aaron in
violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
29 U.S.C. § 794. In the Third Claim for Relief, plaintiffs allege
that the District has denied Aaron his rights under the ADA by depriving
him of appropriate accessibility to essential services and programming.
The Fourth Claim for Relief alleges that defendant has denied plaintiffs
their rights to due process and equal protection as guaranteed by the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs seek
declaratory and injunctive relief, $500,000 in compensatory damages, and
their costs and attorney's fees.
Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction requests an order: (1)
that the court assume and retain jurisdiction; (2) requiring defendant to
implement the IHO's September 24, 1999 decision; and (3) enjoining
defendant from pursuing an administrative appeal of the IHO's decision,
pending an expedited trial or hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a
preliminary injunction, during which time Aaron would be placed at
Mitchell, or in the alternative, ordering defendant to place Aaron at
Mitchell during the pendency of the administrative appeal.
I. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies