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N.E. v. Seattle School District

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

May 16, 2017

N.E., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendant Seattle School District's (“the District”) motion to dismiss this case as moot. (Mot. (Dkt. # 27).) Plaintiffs N.E. and his parents C.E. and P.E. (“the Parents”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) oppose the District's motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 29).) The court has considered the District's motion, the parties' submissions in support of and opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court grants the District's motion for the reasons set forth below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On October 16, 2015, Plaintiffs filed this interlocutory appeal from an administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision regarding N.E.'s “stay-put” placement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 1) ¶ 1; 1st Hruska Decl. (Dkt. # 3) ¶ 7, Ex. 7 (“ALJ Decision”)).)

         N.E. is a male child who attended third grade at Newport Heights Elementary School in the Bellevue School District (“the BSD”) for most of the 2014-15 school year. (See ALJ Decision at 2.) During most of that year and in the prior years, N.E.'s individual education plan (“IEP”) placed him in general education classes with paraeducator support (“general classes”) for the majority of the school day. (See id.; 1st C.E. Decl. (Dkt. # 4) ¶ 1.) The most recent IEP reflecting that arrangement dates from December 2014 (“the December 2014 IEP”). (See ALJ Decision at 2; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 1 (“12/14 IEP”).)

         N.E. had significant difficulties during the 2014-15 school year. (See ALJ Decision at 2; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 3.) Certain BSD officials and teachers, the Parents, and their respective counsel attended an IEP meeting on May 26, 2015. (See ALJ Decision at 2; 1st Hruska Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. 4 at 10-13 (“Landwehr Decl.”) ¶ 5.) At the meeting, the BSD proposed a new IEP that would place N.E. in specialized classes for students with behavioral and emotional disorders (“separate classes”). (See Landwehr Decl. ¶ 5; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 3.) The Parents objected to this proposal. (See ALJ Decision at 2; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 3; Landwehr Decl. ¶ 5.)

         At the meeting, BSD officials and the Parents also discussed where to place N.E. for the remainder of the school year. (See ALJ Decision at 2.) When the meeting occurred, N.E. was subject to an emergency expulsion, and the Parents were uncomfortable with N.E. returning to Newport Heights Elementary. (See id.; Landwehr Decl. ¶ 6.) The BSD and the Parents agreed that N.E. would finish the final weeks of the 2014-15 school year at a different school in the district. (See ALJ Decision at 2.) At that school, N.E. would spend the majority of the day in a one-on-two setting that included N.E., a teacher, and a paraeducator, but no other students (“individual classes”). (See id.; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 4; Landwehr Decl. ¶ 6.)

         One day later, on May 27, 2015, the BSD produced a final IEP for N.E. (“the May 2015 IEP”). (See ALJ Decision at 2; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. 2 (“5/15 IEP”).) The May 2015 IEP had two stages: (1) N.E. would finish the end of the 2014-15 school year in the agreed-upon individual classes; and (2) N.E. would be placed in separate classes at the start of the 2015-16 school year. (See ALJ Decision at 2-3; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 5; 5/15 IEP at 15-16.) The Parents did not file an administrative due process challenge to the May 2015 IEP and instead allowed N.E. to continue attending the individual classes until the school year ended on June 22, 2015. (See ALJ Decision at 2-3; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 7.)

         The Parents and N.E. moved to Seattle in the summer of 2015 and contacted the District to enroll N.E. for the 2015-16 school year. (See ALJ Decision at 3; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 8; Landwehr Decl. ¶ 7.) The Parents requested that the District place N.E. in classes similar to the individual classes N.E. had attended during the final part of the prior school year. (See ALJ Decision at 3; Landwehr Decl. ¶ 7.) The District reviewed N.E.'s records and decided to place him in separate classes similar to those contemplated in the second part of the BSD's May 2015 IEP. (See ALJ Decision at 3; 1st C.E. Decl. ¶ 8; Landwehr Decl. ¶ 7.)

         The Parents objected and filed an administrative due process challenge to the District's decision. (See ALJ Decision at 3; Hruska Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 1 (“DP Hearing Req.”)); 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). At the same time, the Parents filed a motion for “stay put, ” arguing that N.E.'s stay-put placement is his placement in general classes as described in the December 2014 IEP. (See ALJ Decision at 3; DP Hearing Req. at 3; 1st Hruska Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. 2 (“Stay-Put Mot.”)); 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j) (stating that pending a due process challenge, “the child shall remain in the then-current educational placement of the child”). The District contended that the separate classes described in the May 2015 IEP represented the appropriate stay-put placement for N.E. (See ALJ Decision at 3; 1st Hruska Decl. ¶¶ 4-6, Exs. 3-5.) Following testimony and oral argument on the stay-put motion, the ALJ sided with the District and concluded that separate classes were N.E.'s stay-put placement. (See ALJ Decision at 1, 4.)

         Plaintiffs' interlocutory appeal seeks reversal of the ALJ's stay-put decision and a declaration that the District is required to place N.E. in a general education setting consistent with his December 2014 IEP pending the outcome of Plaintiffs' due process challenge to the District's intended placement. (Compl. at 5.) Upon filing this appeal, Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) and preliminary injunction ordering the District to place N.E. in general classes pending the due process challenge. (See Compl.; TRO Mot. (Dkt. # 2); 10/27/15 Order (Dkt. # 11) at 5.) The court denied Plaintiffs' motion because the court found no support for Plaintiffs' theory that the court could “ignore any unrealized stages of a multi-stage IEP or treat such stages as distinct IEPs.” (10/27/15 Order at 9.)

         Plaintiffs appealed the court's decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (See Not. of Appeal (Dkt. # 15).) On November 11, 2016, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the court's denial of the TRO and preliminary injunction. See N.E. by and through C.E. & P.E. v. Seattle Sch. Dist., 842 F.3d 1093, 1098 (9th Cir. 2016) (holding that “[s]tage two of the May 2015 IEP . . . was N.E.'s stay-put placement”). On February 3, 2017, the Ninth Circuit issued its formal mandate, returning the case to this court's jurisdiction. (Mandate (Dkt. # 23).)

         The parties took no further action in this matter after the Ninth Circuit issued its mandate until the court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause why the case should not be dismissed as moot. (3/9/17 OSC (Dkt. # 24) at 5.) In Plaintiffs' response to the court, they contended that an actual controversy regarding N.E's educational placement continues to exist. (Resp. to OSC (Dkt. # 25) at 2.) ...


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