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Pangerl v. Peoria Unified School District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 29, 2016

Regina Pangerl, Plaintiff,
Peoria Unified School District, Defendant.


Honorable John J. Tuchi United States District Judge

At issue are Plaintiff Regina Pangerl’s Motion in Limine as to the Administrative Record (Doc. 43, “Mot. to Exclude”), to which Defendant Peoria Unified School District (“the District”) filed a Response (Doc. 49, “Resp. to Mot. to Exclude”); Plaintiff’s Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record (Doc. 44, “Mot. to Supplement”), to which the District filed a Response (Doc. 50, “Resp. to Mot. to Supplement”); the District’s Motion to Quash Plaintiff’s Subpoena Duces Tecum (Doc. 59), to which Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 61); and Plaintiff’s Request for Status of these Motions (Doc. 62).


In the first cause of action of the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), Plaintiff raises a claim against the District on behalf of herself and her minor daughter, T.P., to appeal an administrative decision under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i) (“IDEA”). (Doc. 40, FAC ¶¶ 1, 66-68.) Plaintiff alleges T.P. has learning disabilities and the District failed to provide her with a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) from 2010 to 2013, as required under IDEA, by among other things failing to properly develop and design an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), failing to provide the requisite speech and language, reading, math and writing instruction services, failing to fully assess T.P., failing to provide an appropriate plan to allow T.P. to transition out of high school, and retaliating against T.P. for her parents’ attempts to enforce their rights under special education laws. (FAC ¶¶ 14-18, 23, 67.) On January 13, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Due Process Complaint with the Arizona Department of Education, Exceptional Student Services, Dispute Resolution Unit. (FAC ¶ 20.) Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Eric A. Bryant held hearings on Plaintiff’s Due Process Complaint between September 3, 2013, and October 8, 2013, and issued a Decision on March 18, 2014, ordering the District to provide T.P. with an additional 40 hours of special education math instruction but denying all other requested relief. (FAC ¶¶ 21, 25, 27-28.)

In the FAC, Plaintiff alleges ALJ Bryant erred by, among other things, considering irrelevant or extrinsic evidence and disregarding relevant evidence, finding the transition plan in the IEPs to be appropriate, finding the District properly implemented most aspects of the IEPs, and finding the District provided T.P. with a FAPE over the relevant period with the exception of math instruction. (FAC ¶ 68.) Plaintiff requests that the Court vacate the ALJ’s March 18, 2014 Decision, find that the District denied T.P. a FAPE, award compensatory education services for the 2011-2013 school years as well as transition services, and award Plaintiff her expenses, attorneys’ fees and costs in enforcing T.P.’s special education rights. (FAC at 22-23.)

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this action on April 21, 2014, alleging a single cause of action under IDEA to appeal the administrative decision. (Doc. 1.) On August 18, 2014, Plaintiff served the Complaint on the District. (Doc. 7.) On September 8, 2014, the District filed its Answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint (Doc. 11), and on October 27, 2014, the Court ordered that Plaintiff file any evidentiary motions by December 15, 2014 and that the parties file simultaneous Opening Briefs by April 10, 2015. (Doc. 19.) On December 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed an emergency motion to extend the time to file evidentiary motions (Doc. 21), which the Court granted, giving Plaintiff until February 17, 2015 to file evidentiary motions and the parties until June 15, 2015 to file Opening Briefs (Doc. 22).

On January 26, 2015, some nine months after filing her initial Complaint, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend the Complaint to add three new claims under the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Arizona law, which would change the complexion of this case from a straightforward appeal of an administrative decision to one that also includes federal and state law claims that would be resolved for the first time by the Court. (Doc. 29.) The District had no objection to Plaintiff’s filing of an Amended Complaint, but, considering that the amendment contained new claims of a distinct evidentiary character, the Court concluded it would be most efficient to resolve the appeal on the currently set schedule and turn to Plaintiff’s new claims thereafter, if necessary. (Docs. 35, 38, 39.) With the Court’s permission, Plaintiff filed the FAC on February 18, 2015. (Doc. 40.)

Plaintiff filed another motion for extension of time on February 9, 2015 (Doc. 33), which the Court granted, giving Plaintiff until April 20, 2015 to file the evidentiary motions (Doc. 36). Plaintiff filed the present Motions on April 20, 2015 (Docs. 43, 44), and, after the Court granted the District an extension of time to respond, the District filed its Responses on June 24, 2015 (Docs. 49, 50). The Court effectively stayed litigation of Plaintiff’s other claims until resolution of Plaintiff’s first cause of action, the appeal of the administrative decision under IDEA. (Docs. 39, 57.)


A. Motion to Exclude Evidence from the Administrative Record

In the first Motion, styled a Motion in Limine, Plaintiff asks the Court to exclude from the pre-existing Administrative Record portions of evidence that Plaintiff believes the ALJ should not have considered in reaching his Decision. (Mot. to Exclude at 5.) The evidence at issue falls into four categories based on Plaintiff’s allegations: (1) evidence not timely disclosed to Plaintiff; (2) evidence that predates or postdates the claim period; (3) evidence that the District obtained by illegal subpoena; and (4) other improper evidence. (Mot. to Exclude at 5-6.) Plaintiff does not provide any legal support for the proposition that, in an appeal of an administrative decision under IDEA, a district court may properly exclude or strike evidence contained in the pre-existing Administrative Record.

In Response, the District points out that a motion in limine is a vehicle for obtaining a trial court’s guidance on the admissibility of evidence and is inappropriate in an appeal. (Resp. to Mot. to Exclude at 1-2.) The District contends that Plaintiff’s Motion amounts to a request for the Court to review the propriety of the ALJ’s evidentiary rulings in the context of Plaintiff’s appeal of the ALJ’s Decision. (Resp. to Mot. to Exclude at 2.)

The Court agrees that the Administrative Record is the Administrative Record as it came to the Court and existed prior to the initiation of this appeal. Striking evidence contained in the Administrative Record and potentially considered by the ALJ, as urged by Plaintiff, is inappropriate.

Moreover, while Plaintiff’s Motion is “in limine” to the extent Plaintiff filed it “at the threshold” of this appeal, the Motion is at the very least unconventional in the context of an appeal. In actuality, the Motion challenges the ALJ’s evidentiary rulings below, presenting issues that are ordinarily raised in a party’s Opening Brief on appeal. Indeed, the Court could construe Plaintiff’s Motion as an end-run around the page limitation on Plaintiff’s Opening Brief. Nevertheless, because the parties have fully briefed the propriety of the ALJ’s consideration of certain evidence in reaching his Decision, the Court will now examine those evidentiary rulings. The Court notes it can only reach conclusions regarding the ALJ’s consideration of certain evidence to the extent that is possible outside the Court’s ultimate evaluation of the propriety of the ALJ’s Decision as a whole-an evaluation the Court will undertake when this appeal is briefed.

On appeal, this Court reviews the ALJ’s factual determinations for “clear error” and the ALJ’s ultimate determination of the appropriateness of T.P.’s IEP de novo. Adams v. Oregon, 195 F.3d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir. 1999). The Court gives “due weight to the [ALJ’s] administrative proceeding and [does] not substitute [its] opinions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which [it is] reviewing.” Id.

In determining the degree of deference owed to the administrative findings, [this] court, in recognition of the expertise of the administrative agency, must consider the findings carefully and endeavor to respond to the [ALJ’s] resolution of each material issue. After such consideration, [this] court is free to accept or reject the findings in part or in whole. Nevertheless, the ...

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