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O'Shea v. Board of Education of the Poughkeepsie City School Dist.

October 31, 2007

DANIEL AND MALLORY O'SHEA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE PARENTS OF A DISABLED CHILD, ECF CASE S.O., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE POUGHKEEPSIE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conner, Senior D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Daniel and Mallory O'Shea, individually and as parents and legal guardians of their daughter S.O., bring this action for attorneys' fees pursuant to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. In an earlier case involving the same parties, this Court held that plaintiffs were entitled to tuition reimbursement for S.O.'s private-school placement during the 2001-2002 school year under the IDEA's "pendency provision," 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). See Bd. of Educ. v. O'Shea, 353 F. Supp. 2d 449, 459-60 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (Conner, J.) ("O'Shea I"). Plaintiffs now move for summary judgment on the grounds that they are entitled to attorneys' fees under the IDEA as prevailing parties to an earlier state review officer's ("SRO") ruling on the tuition-reimbursement claim. Defendant, the Board of Education of the Poughkeepsie City School District ("the District") cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c), arguing, inter alia, that plaintiffs are not prevailing parties within the meaning of the IDEA. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion is denied and defendant's motion is granted.*fn1

BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are set out in detail in O'Shea I, familiarity with which is presumed. Accordingly, we recite only the facts relevant to our resolution of the present issues.

S.O. was classified as speech impaired while she was in kindergarten. Id. at 450. Because she had made significant progress in speech therapy by the beginning of her third-grade year, the Committee on Special Education ("CSE") adopted the school psychologist's recommendation that S.O. be de-classified. Id. But during her third-grade year, S.O.'s classroom teacher noticed that S.O. was easily distracted and overwhelmed by ordinary reading assignments. Id. at 451. Before the start of her fourth-grade year, the CSE re-classified S.O. as learning disabled, again acting on the school psychologist's recommendation. Id.

The CSE then created an individualized education plan ("IEP") for S.O.'s fourth-grade year. Id. Her parents, however, were unsatisfied with the IEP, and they notified the District of their intention to enrol S.O. in a private school, Kildonan, for the 1999-2000 school year. Id. They also requested that the District reimburse them for the cost of tuition. Id. Thus began a series of impartial hearings and SRO reviews of the appropriateness of S.O.'s IEP and private-school placement, all of which ultimately led to O'Shea I.

By the time O'Shea I was litigated, S.O. had been at Kildonan for four school years, from 1999-2000 to 2002-03. See id. at 451-52. The administrative review of S.O.'s placement began in 2001, when plaintiffs requested an impartial hearing to review her IEP and seek tuition reimbursement for the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 school years. Id. at 451. The first impartial hearing was conducted by Independent Hearing Officer ("IHO") Sienko between November 20, 2001 and July 29, 2002. Id. at 452. IHO Sienko awarded plaintiffs tuition reimbursement for the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 school years, and the District appealed to the SRO, which led to SRO Decision No. 02-101. Id.

On October 3, 2002, plaintiffs requested another impartial hearing, this time seeking review of S.O.'s 2001-02 IEP as well as tuition reimbursement for that school year. Id. IHO Wanderman denied the reimbursement request, and plaintiffs appealed to the SRO. Id.

The first SRO decision (SRO Decision No. 02-101, reviewing IHO Sienko's decision) was issued on December 10, 2003. Id. at 453. The SRO held that plaintiffs were not entitled to tuition reimbursement for the 1999-2000 school year because their request had been untimely, but they were entitled to reimbursement for 2000-01 because Kildonan was the proper placement for S.O. that year and that request had been timely. Id. The second SRO decision (SRO Decision No. 03-052, reviewing IHO Wanderman's decision) was rendered the next day. Id. The SRO overruled IHO Wanderman, concluding that Kildonan was S.O.'s proper placement for the 2001-02 school year and that plaintiffs were therefore entitled to tuition reimbursement for that year. Id. The District then brought suit in this Court, seeking an order vacating SRO Decision No. 03-052. Id. at 451. We dismissed the District's action, holding that plaintiffs were entitled to reimbursement for the 2001-02 school year under the IDEA's "pendency provision," 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). Id. at 459-60.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

In deciding defendant's Rule 12(c) motion, we must "accept[] the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw[] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 163 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotations and citation omitted). However, "conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent dismissal under Rule 12(c)." Zamierowski v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 05 Civ. 9309, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46616, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. June 28, 2006) (Conner, J.) (internal quotations and citation omitted). A claim should be dismissed only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Patel v. Searles, 305 F.3d 130, 135 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotations and citation omitted). The complaint is "deemed to include any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit or any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference." Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 44, 47 (2d Cir. 1991).

In deciding whether to grant plaintiffs' summary judgment motion, we must determine whether there is any genuine issue of material fact and whether plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986). The court must resolve all ambiguity in favor of the non-moving party and ...


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