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Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Filed: April 6th, 2020

Precedential Status: Non-Precedential

Citations: None known

Docket Number: 18-56407

Nature of suit: Civil

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NOT FOR PUBLICATION FILED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS APR 6 2020 MOLLY C. DWYER, CLERK U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUITN. G., a conserved adult, by and through her No. 18-56407conservators, R.G. and G.G.; et al., D.C. No. Plaintiffs-Appellants, 8:17-cv-02121-AG-DFM v. MEMORANDUM*PLACENTIA YORBA LINDA UNIFIEDSCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Andrew J. Guilford, District Judge, Presiding Argued and Submitted March 6, 2020 Pasadena, CaliforniaBefore: HURWITZ and FRIEDLAND, Circuit Judges, and KORMAN,** DistrictJudge. N.G. is a young woman on the autistic spectrum who qualified for educationalservices pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 * This disposition is not appropriate for publication and is not precedentexcept as provided by Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3. ** The Honorable Edward R. Korman, United States District Judge forthe Eastern District of New York, sitting by designation. U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., because of her significant intellectual deficits. Until 2016,N.G.’s school district (“the District”) funded her attendance at a certified non-publicschool. In September 2015, N.G.’s parents asked the District to offer N.G. aplacement in a full-time residential treatment program because the behavioralprogress she had made at school was not reflected at home, where her self-injuriousand aggressive behavior continued and negatively affected her twin sister, who alsohas significant disabilities. This request was denied. On November 25, 2015, N.G.’sparents filed a request for a due process hearing. They alleged that the failure to offerN.G. a residential placement denied her a free appropriate public education(“FAPE”) for the 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 school years. See 20 U.S.C.§ 1412(a)(1). In January 2016, the parties entered into a settlement agreement,pursuant to which the District agreed to help fund N.G.’s unilateral placement atHeartspring, a private residential treatment center in Kansas, through June 2016. Theagreement also provided that the parties would proceed with an annual meeting todevelop an individualized education program (“IEP”) for N.G. for the 2016–2017school year “to offer an IEP for the period following expiration” of theirsettlement agreement. During that meeting, the District again did not offer N.G. aresidential placement, and shortly thereafter N.G.’s parents enrolled her atHeartspring. The agreement was ultimately extended to provide a total of $145,000in funding through December 31, 2016. 2 18-56407 In April 2017, at which point N.G. remained enrolled at Heartspring, theDistrict held the next annual IEP meeting, for the 2017–2018 school year, and againdeclined to offer a residential placement. N.G. then filed another request for a dueprocess hearing principally alleging that the District had failed to offer a FAPE fromthe expiration of the settlement period at the end of 2016 through the 2017–2018school year. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that N.G. had failed to meet theburden of establishing that, during any time period at issue in this case, she requireda residential placement for educational purposes, or that placement at a non-publicschool would not provide her with a FAPE. She found that “the weight of theevidence . . . demonstrated that Student had been making significant educational andbehavioral progress” prior to her parent’s unilateral placement of N.G. atHeartspring. Specifically, the ALJ found that N.G.’s “self-injurious and physicallyaggressive behaviors had significantly decreased by the time of IEP teammeetings to the extent that some of thebehaviors had not occurred at all in the two months prior to the meetings.” Bycontrast, after N.G.’s parents rejected the placement that the District had offered,there was strong evidence that N.G.’s “maladaptive behaviors did not abate at allsubsequent to her enrollment at Heartspring. Rather, many of those behaviorsincreased during the 15 months she was there prior to the hearing .” 3 18-56407 After the ALJ ruled in favor of the District on all issues, with one exception,N.G. commenced this action. The district court affirmed the ALJ’s decision. Wehave jurisdiction of N.G.’s appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm. In IDEA cases, an ALJ’s findings are entitled to “substantial weight” if the“decision evinces careful, impartial consideration of all the evidence anddemonstrates sensitivity to the complexity of the issues presented.” OjaiUnified Sch. Dist. v. Jackson, 4 F.3d 1467, 1476 (9th Cir. 1993); accord AshlandSch. Dist. v. Parents of Student R.J., 588 F.3d 1004, 1008-09 (9th Cir. 2009). Afterreviewing the lengthy record compiled by the ALJ and her exhaustive 48-pageopinion, the district judge held that her findings were entitled to substantial weight,and that he would likely reach the same conclusions even under a lower standard ofdeference. We affirm the factual determination that there was no relevant time when aresidential placement of N.G. was “necessary to provide special education andrelated services.” See R.J., 588 F.3d at 1009 (internal quotation marks omitted); seealso id. (“Whether a residential placement is necessary . . . is ultimately a questionof fact, which we review for clear error.”). The April 2016 IEP was “reasonablycalculated to enable to make progress appropriate in light of circumstances” and thus offered her a FAPE for the post-settlement period. SeeEndrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, 137 S. Ct. 988, 999 4 18-56407 (2017).1 N.G.’s remaining claims do not require extended discussion. We reject herargument that the ALJ erred in ordering the District to reimburse N.G. only for theeducational portion of the expenses she continued to incur at Heartspring from Aprilto June 2017, when the non-residential placement the District offered was notavailable. The ALJ held that N.G. was not entitled to reimbursement for residentialexpenses because she had failed to “prove that she required placement at a residentialtreatment center to receive a FAPE at any time pertinent to this case.” The districtcourt’s decision not to disturb that remedy was a reasonable exercise of its broaddiscretion to “grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.” 20 U.S.C.§ 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii). N.G. also claims that the District denied her a FAPE by failing to offer her anadequate transition plan from Heartspring to its offered non-residential placement.California Education Code § 56345(b)(4), upon which the District relies in responseto this contention, only requires a plan for “transition into the regular class program1 We need not determine whether the District was obligated to convene a newIEP meeting between January and April 2017 because, in light of our determinationthat there was no reversible error as to whether N.G. required a residential placementat any relevant time, any error in fulfilling such an obligation would have beenharmless procedural error. See Doug C. v. Haw. Dep’t of Educ., 720 F.3d 1038, 1043(9th Cir. 2013). We also need not determine whether the ALJ and district court erredin concluding that N.G.’s parents had, through their settlement agreement, releasedany claims related to the District’s placement offer for the 2016–2017 school yearbecause we affirm on the merits regarding the adequacy of that offer. 5 18-56407 if the pupil is to be transferred from a special class or nonpublic, nonsectarian schoolinto a regular class in a public school.” Such a transfer was not contemplated here.Moreover, as the ALJ found, the District did include a transition plan in the April2017 IEP and while N.G. argued that the plan was inadequate, “she offered noevidence of exactly what more District should have included.” Finally, contrary to N.G.’s argument, the District made a definite,unambiguous placement offer in its June 2017 letter, even if it also addressed otheraspects of the District’s then-ongoing efforts to accommodate N.G. See 20 U.S.C.§ 1415(c)(1). AFFIRMED. 6 18-56407

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