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M.C. v. Antelope Valley Union High School District

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 30, 2017

M.C., by and through his guardian ad litem M.N.; M. N., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Antelope Valley Union High School District, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted August 2, 2016 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court No. 2:13-cv-01452-DMG-MRW for the Central District of California Dolly M. Gee, District Judge, Presiding

          Christian M. Knox (argued), Colleen A. Snyder Holcomb, Daniel R. Shaw, and F. Richard Ruderman, Ruderman & Knox LLP, Sacramento, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          David R. Mishook and Christopher J. Fernandes, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, Oakland, California; for Defendant-Appellee.

          Jennifer E. Nix and Carl D. Corbin, School and College of Legal Services of California, Santa Rosa, California; Keith J. Bray and D. Michael Ambrose, California School Boards Association/Education Legal Alliance, West Sacramento, California; Ronald D. Wenkart, Orange County Department of Education, Costa Mesa, California; for Amici Curiae California School Boards Association and Education Legal Alliance.

          Barrett K. Green and Daniel L. Gonzalez, Littler Mendelson PC, Los Angeles, California, for Amicus Curiae William S. Hart Union High School District.

          Before: Stephen Reinhardt, Alex Kozinski, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

         The panel filed an amended opinion reversing the district court's judgment in favor of the defendant school district and remanding for further proceedings in an action brought by a student and his parent under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

         The panel held that the district court erred in deferring to the administrative law judge's findings after a due process hearing because the ALJ was not thorough and careful.

         The panel held that the plaintiffs did not waive a claim that the school district violated the IDEA's procedural requirements by failing to adequately document the services provided by a teacher of the visually impaired. The plaintiffs did not object to the omission of this claim from the ALJ's restatement of issues, but they were not aware until later that the school district had unilaterally changed the student's individualized educational program (IEP). The panel held that the school district's presentation of evidence on the claim vitiated any waiver on plaintiffs' part.

         The panel held that, absent the parent's consent, the school district was bound by the IEP as written, and the unilateral amendment was a per se procedural violation of the IDEA because it vitiated the parent's right to participate at every step of the IEP drafting process. There was an additional procedural violation because the IEP as initially drafted did not provide the parent with an accurate offer of the services provided to the student by a teacher of the visually impaired. The panel held that the parent suffered procedural harm by not being apprised of the actual status of the services being provided, causing her to incur legal fees in attempting to protect that right.

         The panel held that the school district's failure to specify that assistive technology devices that were provided to the student infringed the parent's opportunity to participate in the IEP process and denied the student a free appropriate public education.

         The panel held that the school district's failure to respond to the plaintiffs' due process complaint violated the IDEA and due process. The panel remanded for a determination of the prejudice the parent suffered as a result of the school district's failure to respond and the award of appropriate compensation therefor.

         Regarding substantive violations of the IDEA, the panel held that, due to the procedural violation regarding services provided by a teacher of the visually impaired, the burden of proof shifted to the school district to show that the services the student actually received were substantively reasonable. The panel remanded so that the school district could have an opportunity to make such a showing before the district court.

         The plaintiffs claimed that the school district denied the student a free appropriate public education by failing to develop measurable goals in all areas of need and failing to provide adequate orientation and mobility services, as well as adequate social skills instruction. The panel remanded so that the district court could consider these claims in light of Endrew F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist., 137 S.Ct. 988 (2017), which clarified that to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school district must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances.

          OPINION

          KOZINSKI, Circuit Judge.

         The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") guarantees children with disabilities a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). We consider the interplay between the IDEA's procedural and substantive safeguards.

         BACKGROUND

         M.C. suffers from Norrie Disease, a genetic disorder that renders him blind. He also has a host of other deficits that cause him developmental delays in all academic areas. M.C.'s mother, M.N., met with several school administrators and instructors to discuss M.C.'s educational challenges and draft an individualized educational program ("IEP"). At the conclusion of this meeting, she signed ...


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