United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the court on Defendant's motion to dismiss
(Doc. # 6), which the court construes as a motion for
judgment on the administrative record, see Durbrow v.
Cobb Cty. Sch. Dist., 887 F.3d 1182, 1189 (11th Cir.
2018). For the reasons explained below, the court concludes
the motion is due to be granted.
an action for review of an administrative proceeding
conducted pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (“IDEA”). See 20 U.S.C.
§§ 1400, 1415(i)(2)(A). The IDEA “offers the
States federal funds in exchange for a commitment to provide
all ‘children with disabilities' individually
tailored special education, also known as a ‘free
appropriate public education' or ‘FAPE.'”
Durbrow, 887 F.3d at 1189 (citing 20 U.S.C.
§§ 1400(d)(1)(A), 1412(a)(1)(A)). “The
principal vehicle for providing a FAPE is an individualized
education program (‘IEP') prepared by the
child's parents, teachers, and school officials that is
reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress
appropriate in light of the child's circumstances.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The IDEA
also requires states that accept IDEA funds to identify,
locate, and evaluate all “children with
disabilities” who reside in the state. 20 U.S.C. §
1412(a)(3)(A). This obligation is known as a state's
“child-find duty.” Durbrow, 887 F.3d at
plaintiff in this case, C.A., claims the Jefferson County
Board of Education breached its child-find duty with respect
to C.G., a child enrolled in a public school operated by the
Board. (Doc. # 1). Plaintiff -- who is the guardian and next
friend of C.G. -- specifically alleges the Board failed to
identify, locate, and evaluate C.G. as a candidate for
special education even though C.G.'s educational
performance gave the Board adequate notice that C.G. might be
a child with a disability in need of special education.
(Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff therefore filed a due
process complaint with the Alabama State Department of
Education pursuant to procedures the Department maintains
under 20 U.S.C. § 1415. (Id. at 1-2; Docs. #
14-1, 14-2). The hearing officer assigned to the matter
ultimately dismissed Plaintiff's complaint at the
Board's request, ruling that because C.G. is not a
“child with a disability, ” the Board owed no
child-find duty to C.G. or Plaintiff. (Doc. # 14-16 at 2-5).
Plaintiff now challenges the hearing officer's decision
in this lawsuit. She asks the court to reverse the hearing
officer's order of dismissal and remand for a due process
hearing on her child-find claim. (Doc. # 1 at 7).
adequately review the hearing officer's decision, some
additional background concerning the administrative
proceedings is necessary. Plaintiff filed her due process
complaint against the Board on August 27, 2018. (Doc. # 14-1
at 2). The complaint alleged that the Board violated the IDEA
both by failing to develop and implement an IEP for C.G. and
by breaching its child-find duty. (Id. at 4; Doc. #
14-2 at 1-2).
receiving the complaint, the Board arranged for C.G. to be
evaluated to determine whether he met IDEA eligibility
criteria-that is, whether he was a “child with a
disability” for purposes of the IDEA and therefore
entitled to an IEP, see Durbrow, 887 F.3d at 1193.
(Docs. # 14-3 at 3-4, ¶ 6; 14-7 at 4, ¶ 2; 14-16 at
2). Upon receiving written consent, the Board performed an
initial evaluation of C.G. to determine his eligibility for
special education services. (Docs. # 14-7 at 4, ¶ 2;
14-16 at 2). After completing the evaluation, the eligibility
team determined that C.G. did not meet IDEA eligibility
criteria and therefore was not entitled to special education
services. (Docs. # 14-7 at 4, ¶ 2; 14-16 at 2). Though
Plaintiff and C.G. initially challenged that eligibility
determination, they later withdrew any challenge to the
Board's determination that C.G. was ineligible to receive
special education services. (Docs. # 14-7 at 4; 14-8 at 1-2;
14-16 at 3). Instead, Plaintiff chose to pursue only the
child-find claim before the hearing officer. (Docs. # 14-8 at
3; 14-9 at 4-5; 14-16 at 3).
Board's request, the hearing officer dismissed
Plaintiff's child-find claim without a hearing. (Doc. #
14-16 at 2-5). Plaintiff now challenges that dismissal in
Standard of Review
IDEA provides that “[a]ny party aggrieved by the
findings and decision” of a hearing officer on a due
process complaint “shall have the right to bring a
civil action with respect to the complaint presented . . . in
a district court of the United States, without regard to the
amount in controversy.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A).
The district court must then “receive the records of
the administrative proceedings, ” “hear
additional evidence at the request of a party, ” and
“basing its decision on the preponderance of the
evidence . . . grant such relief as the court determines is
appropriate.” Id. § 1415(i)(2)(C).
case, the parties agree that no discovery is necessary and
that the case should be resolved on the basis of the
administrative record. (Doc. # 10 at 5-8). They have filed
the administrative record with the court. (Doc. # 14). In
assessing the administrative record, a district court reviews
a hearing officer's factual findings for clear error and
reviews questions of law de novo. Draper v. Atlanta
Indep. Sch. Sys., 518 F.3d 1275, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008).
issue presented to the hearing officer in C.G.'s case was
“whether [C.G.] is entitled to a due process hearing
regarding an alleged child find violation when he has been
evaluated, found ineligible to receive special education
services, and withdrawn any challenge to the evaluation
results.” (Doc. # 14-16 at 3). Relying on the Eleventh
Circuit's decision in Durbrow, 887 F.3d at 1196,
the hearing officer ruled that C.G. was not entitled to a due
process hearing in these circumstances. (Id. at
3-4). The hearing officer first held that, to be entitled to
a FAPE and owed a child-find duty under the IDEA, a student
must be a “child with a disability” within the
meaning of the IDEA. (Id.). Because C.G. had been
evaluated and determined not to be a “child with a
disability” for IDEA purposes, and because C.G. had
withdrawn any challenge to that determination, he had no
viable child-find claim. (Id. at 4). The hearing
officer therefore dismissed C.G.'s due process complaint
without a hearing. (Id.).
lawsuit, Plaintiff does not (and cannot) challenge the
hearing officer's determination that C.G. is not a
“child with a disability” under the
IDEA. Instead, Plaintiff merely challenges the
hearing officer's conclusion that Plaintiff cannot
succeed on her child-find claim if C.G. is not a “child
with a disability.” Plaintiff's position is that
the Board owed her a duty to identify, locate, and evaluate
C.G. prior to the filing of a due process complaint because
C.G.'s educational performance gave the Board adequate
notice that C.G. might be a child with a disability in need
of special education. (Docs. # 1 at ¶ 23; 8 at 3-7).