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In re Derek H.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 29, 2015

In the Matter Of DEREK H., by and through his Mother,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF HAWAII, Defendant. RITAKO H., Plaintiffs,

ORDER ADOPTING PLAINTIFFS’ [SIC] REVISED FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS REGARDING OUTSTANDING COSTS AND EXPENSES, AND DISMISSING AS MOOT PLAINTIFFS’ ADMINISTRATIVE APPEAL

ALAN C. KAY, SR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

The instant order ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Chang’s December 8, 2015 findings and recommendations in this case, entitled Plaintiffs’ [Sic] Revised Findings and Conclusions Regarding Outstanding Costs and Expenses (“F&R”), ECF No. 52, and DISMISSES this action with prejudice as moot.

The parties are already familiar with the history of this case; accordingly, only the relevant factual and procedural background is included in the Court’s discussion below.

DISCUSSION

I. The Court Adopts the F&R

First, Findings and Recommendations having been filed and served on all parties on December 8, 2015, and no objections having been filed by any party, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that, pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(C) and Local Rule 74.2, the F&R is adopted as the opinion and order of this Court.

Consistent with Magistrate Judge Chang’s directions in the F&R, Plaintiffs are awarded $7, 689.14 for speech therapy services provided to Plaintiff Derek H. (“Derek” or “Student”) at ABC School during the operation of stay-put, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). F&R at 8, ECF No. 52. Plaintiffs are denied the remaining $1, 231.39 that they requested in taxi transportation costs, because the record does not establish that taxi services were necessary and/or appropriate. Id. at 5.

II. The Court DISMISSES the Instant Action as Moot

Second, the Court concludes that, following its adoption of the F&R with respect to any outstanding amounts owed during Student’s stay-put placement at ABC School, Plaintiffs’ administrative appeal in this case is moot. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.

The Court begins by briefly reviewing the legal framework guiding its decision. The “stay-put” provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) allows a student to remain in his “then-current educational placement” during “the pendency of any proceedings conducted pursuant to this section, ” including mediation, administrative hearings, and judicial appeals regarding student placement offers. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). In this case, ABC School has been Student’s stay-put placement as a result of a May 7, 2012 administrative decision, which had placed him at ABC School through extended school year (“ESY”) 2013. Plaintiffs’ due process request in this case was filed on July 31, 2013, preserving ABC School as Student’s “then-current educational placement” during the administrative proceeding below and the instant judicial appeal. See Compl. Ex. A at 2-4, ECF No. 1-1.

Meanwhile, the “case or controversy” requirement of Article III of the United States Constitution denies federal courts the power to decide moot cases, in which they would be asked to “decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case before them.” Cammermeyer v. Perry, 97 F.3d 1235, 1237 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477 (1990) (quotation omitted)). Instead, federal courts may resolve only “real and substantial controversies admitting of specific relief.” Id. (citation and alteration omitted); see also, e.g., Pub. Utils. Comm’n of Cal. v. FERC, 100 F.3d 1451, 1458 (9th Cir. 1996) (“The Court must be able to grant effective relief, or it lacks jurisdiction.”).

Put differently, “the crucial question is whether granting a present determination of the issues offered will have some effect in the real world. When it becomes impossible for a court to grant effective relief, a live controversy ceases to exist, and the case becomes moot.” Miller ex rel. S.M. v. Bd. of Educ. of Albuquerque Public Schs., 565 F.3d 1232, 1250 (10th Cir. 2009) (citation and alterations omitted).

In this case, there is no continuing challenge to the administrative finding below that Defendant Department of Education, State of Hawaii (“DOE”) denied Student a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) under the IDEA. Rather, Plaintiffs have consistently requested relief in this case in the form of an order reversing the administrative decision to deny Plaintiffs any reimbursement for Student’s 2013-2014 educational expenses at ABC School on equitable grounds, notwithstanding this denial of FAPE. See Compl. at 4, ECF No. 1; Opening Br. at 35, ECF No. 38; Reply Br. at 17, ECF No. 41.[1]

The issue of mootness was not raised in this case prior to the filing of Defendant’s Answering Brief, wherein DOE argues that Plaintiffs’ administrative appeal is moot because stay-put already obligates DOE to provide the same relief that Plaintiffs request (namely, reimbursement for Student’s 2013-2014 expenses at ABC School). See Answering Br. at 16-20, ECF No. 39. Specifically, DOE contends that it “already funded Student’s placement at ABC” pursuant to stay-put, from the date on which Plaintiffs initiated their due process complaint (July 31, 2013) until Plaintiffs’ relocation out-of-state (March 2015). Thus, DOE argues that the Court can “no ...


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