United States District Court, D. Maryland
L.D., et al.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools, et al.
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge
pending before the court are the parties' motions for
summary judgment and the plaintiffs' motion to supplement
the record. For the reasons stated below, the court will deny
both motions for summary judgment, deny the plaintiffs'
motion to supplement as moot, and remand the case to the
administrative law judge for further proceedings.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties ask this court to decide whether the plaintiffs are
entitled to a publicly funded independent educational
evaluation ("BEE") under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). L.D. attends
Anne Arundel County Public Schools ("AACPS").
According to the findings of fact by the administrative law
judge ("ALJ"), which the parties do not dispute,
the basic facts are as follows: L.D.
receives special education services pursuant to an
individualized education program ("IEP"); her
diagnoses include autism spectrum disorder, chromosomal
anomalies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and some
speech and language disorders. Administrative Hearing
Decision (February 6, 2018) at 4-5, ECF 22. L.D. was in
seventh grade during the 2016-2017 school year. Id.
at 5. In December 2016, in preparation for a reevaluation of
L.D. as part of a triennial review,  the IEP team
reviewed materials related to L.D.'s progress and
determined, with the participation and consent of L.D. 's
mother, "the need for further assessment in the
following areas: written expression, pragmatic language,
fine/visual, sensorimotor, and social/emotional
development." Id. From December 2016 to
February 2017, the school conducted evaluations of written
expression, social and emotional development, and pragmatic
language. Id. at 5-8. On March 15, 2017, the IEP
team, including the parents, "agreed to conduct
additional assessments in the areas of basic reading skills,
reading comprehension, math calculation, math reasoning, and
sensorimotor." Id. at 8. In March 2017, the
school conducted an evaluation of L.D.'s performance in
reading and math. Id. at 8-9.
5, 2017, the IEP team, including L.D.'s parents,
conducted a comprehensive evaluation review, including by
reviewing L.D.'s performance in assignments and
standardized tests; her psychological, academic,
communication, and occupational therapy assessments; a
diagnosis of dysgraphia and recommendation from Anthony B.
Wolff, Ph.D.; and her academic achievement. Id. at
9. L.D.'s parents disagreed with the IEP team's
conclusion that L.D. did not have a specific learning
disability. Id. at 10. The parents later requested
IEEs in the areas of psychology, academics, and speech
language, and requested that the school pay for the
evaluations. Id. at 11. The school requested a due
process hearing to show the evaluations it conducted were
appropriate and that the parents were not entitled to
publicly funded IEEs. Id.
limited the hearing to "whether the AACPS evaluations in
the areas of reading, writing, math, pragmatic language, and
social emotional development were appropriate" and if
not "whether the Parents have a right to independent
educational evaluations at public expense." Id.
at 11, This limitation was contested by the parents, who
argued that they should have "the opportunity to address
the issue of suspected [learning] disability that AACPS
failed to assess." Motion to Recuse at 3 (November 22,
2017), Administrative File, ECF 22.
hearing, the parents presented expert testimony that the
evaluations were inadequate. Ms. Roundtree, an expert in
special education and reading, testified that the AACPS
assessments did not provide enough information regarding
pseudoword decoding. Administrative Hearing Decision at
15-16. Dr. Culotta, an expert in psychological assessment and
students with learning disabilities, testified that the AACPS
assessments did not consider L.D.'s extensive history,
the data required further analysis, and the assessment was
unduly narrow. Id. at 16. Ms. Robinette, an expert
in speech language therapy and assessment, stated that the
assessment of L.D.'s pragmatics was not appropriate
because L.D.'s "pragmatic profile is so
complex" and the assessment did not include
articulation. Id. at 17. The ALJ excluded certain
testimony regarding the alleged failure to test L.D. for
areas relevant to her suspected learning disability and the
type of information considered by the IEP team as outside the
scope of the case.
found that the evaluations in the areas of reading, math,
written expression, pragmatic language, and social emotional
development were appropriate. She noted that "[t]he only
criticism offered by the Parents' experts was that the
assessments should have been broader and should have included
more information regarding the Student's history,"
id. at 20, but "what each expert ignored was
that [the AACPS] assessments were purposely limited in scope
by the IEP team and its need for additional
information," id at \l. L.D., by and
through her parents and next friends, M.D., and S.D. (the
"parents") then filed this complaint against
defendants AACPS, George Arlotto, and Bobbi Pedrick
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment
should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphases added). "A dispute is
genuine if 'a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va.
v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330
(4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it 'might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly,
"the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]"
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view
the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014)
(per curiam) (citation and quotation omitted), and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted);
see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts,
780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the
court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and
defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Bait.
Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir.
2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774,
778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).
light of the IDEA's manifest preference for local control
of schools, we apply a 'modified de novo review' to a
state ALJ's decision in an IDEA case, 'giving due
weight to underlying administrative proceedings.' We
determine independently whether the school district violated
the IDEA but consider the ALJ's factual findings to be
'prima facie correct.' Performed correctly, this sort
of review ensures that courts do not 'substitute their
own notions of sound educational policy for those of the
school authorities which they review.'" T.B.,
Jr. by and through T.B., Sr. v. Prince George 's Cnty.
Bd. of Educ, 897 F.3d 566, 572 (4th Cir. 2018)
Framework: The IDEA seeks "to ensure that all
children with disabilities have available to them a free
appropriate public education [referred to as
'TAPE"]. .. designed to meet their unique needs and
prepare them for further education, employment, and
independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). To
that end, the statute requires state or local agencies
receiving certain federal funds to "establish and
maintain procedures... to ensure that children with
disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural
safeguards with respect to the provision of a free
appropriate public education by such agencies." 20
U.S.C. § 1415(a).
have the obligation, known as Child Find, to identify
children with disabilities who are in need of special
education and related services. T.B., 897 F.3d at
571-72 (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)(A)). Each eligible
child should receive an "individualized education
program" ("IEP") which includes "a
statement of the child's present levels of academic
achievement and functional performance," "a
statement of measurable annual goals," and "a
statement of the special education and related services and
supplementary aids and services . .. to be provided to the
child." Id. at 571 (quoting 20 U.S.C. §
1414(d)(1)(A)(i)). The EEP must be "reasonably