United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN, District Judge.
Before the Court is Defendant Orleans Parish School District's ("OPSB") "Motion for Summary Judgment." Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and in opposition, the statements made at oral argument, the administrative record, the additional evidence submitted by the parties, and the applicable law, the Court will grant the motion.
A. Factual Background
In this action, D.B. and C.B. ("Plaintiffs") seek reimbursement from the OPSB for expenses related to the initiation and completion of an Independent Educational Evaluation ("IEE") of their son, S.B., which was conducted during the 2011-2012 school year. S.B. is a child identified with the disability of autism under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA").
On August 25, 2011, Plaintiffs emailed OPSB to request an IEE at pubic expense for S.B. OPSB granted the request on September 6, 2011. At the administrative hearing in this matter, Plaintiffs stipulated that OPSB informed them that the IEE must follow the criteria set forth in Louisiana Bulletin 1508, Pupil Appraisal Handbook ("Bulletin 1508"). On October 3, 2011, Plaintiffs notified OPSB that they had selected Dr. Steven York, a psychologist, to conduct the IEE. However, Dr. York was unable to complete the IEE, and in January 2012, Plaintiffs hired Dr. Patricia Brockman to complete the evaluation.
On April 23, 2012, OPSB received a signed copy of the IEE completed by Dr. Brockman. OPSB reviewed the evaluation against the applicable agency criteria set forth in Bulletin 1508 and notified Plaintiffs on May 7, 2012 that the IEE was not in compliance with the agency criteria. OPSB invited Dr. Brockman to contact Deloris Simms, OPSB Appraisal External Evaluation Reviewer, to discuss the areas of alleged non-compliance. Neither Plaintiffs nor Dr. Brockman have contacted Ms. Simms regarding the alleged deficiencies in the IEE. On January 31, 2013, OPSB received a request from Plaintiffs for reimbursement for the cost of the IEE. On February 28, 2013, OPSB notified Plaintiffs again that an IEE obtained with public funds must meet the same criteria used by the OPSB when it conducts an evaluation, and the IEE submitted for review failed to meet those criteria. OPSB denied reimbursement for the IEE at issue.
On April 30, 2013, Plaintiffs requested a due process hearing in part to contest OPSB's denial of reimbursement for the IEE. A preliminary hearing was conducted on June 18, 2013 before Administrative Law Judge Robert Aguiluz (the "ALJ") of the Division of Administrative Law. On August 14, 2013, the ALJ found that "[r]eimbursement is not a remedy available to the parents under the IDEA because the criteria for the evaluation obtained by the parents was not the same as the required Bulletin 1508 criteria used by the OPSB."
B. Procedural Background
On October 7, 2013, Plaintiffs filed the Complaint in this matter, wherein they seek injunctive relief in the form of reimbursement of all expenses related to obtaining and conducting the IEE at issue. OPSB filed the pending motion for summary judgment on July 31, 2014,  and Plaintiffs submitted a memorandum in opposition on August 13, 2014. OPSB filed a reply on August 19, 2014. Oral argument on this motion was conducted on August 20, 2014. Plaintiffs then filed a supplemental memorandum on August 25, 2014; OPSB submitted a supplemental memorandum on September 1, 2014. On September 15, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a response. Finally, on September 17, 2014, OPSB filed a sur-reply.
II. Parties' Arguments
A. OPSB's Arguments in Support
OPSB argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' IDEA claims because it has established both procedural and substantive compliance with the IDEA. First, OPSB argues that it followed the procedural mandates of the IDEA and the regulations promulgated by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ("BESE") in Bulletin 1508. Specifically, OPSB argues that it granted Plaintiffs' request for the IEE within eight days of receiving the request, informed Plaintiffs that the IEE must meet agency criteria, and provided appropriate notice of reasonable cost criteria. With respect to substantive compliance with the IDEA, OPSB argues that "the ALJ affirmed that the School Board did not deny reimbursement for a compliant IEE - instead, the School Board denied reimbursement for an evaluation which did not meet Bulletin 1508 criteria." OPSB avers that the decision of the ALJ must be accorded due weight because he was trained to understand the provisions of the IDEA and "rendered a factually and legally valid decision." Additionally, OPSB contends that Plaintiffs bear the burden of persuasion here because they are contesting OPSB's reimbursement decision.
B. Plaintiffs' Arguments in Opposition
Plaintiffs first contend that OPSB bears the burden of proof as to whether it is justified in denying reimbursement to Plaintiffs for the IEE. Next, Plaintiffs argue that this Court should give the ALJ decision "little or no deference" because it was based on the ALJ's interpretation of federal law, rather than an assessment of the facts in this case, and because it was rendered without an evidentiary hearing.
Next, Plaintiffs contend requiring formalistic compliance with every requirement in Bulletin 1508 would impose an unnecessary burden on parents that is inconsistent with their right to obtain an IEE at public expense. According to Plaintiffs, replication of the Bulletin 1508 evaluation process is not required for reevaluation. Plaintiffs argue that disputed facts exist with respect to whether Bulletin 1508 is applicable to the IEE process, and whether Plaintiffs' IEE complied with Bulletin 1508's relevant provisions. Plaintiffs ...