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Oskowis v. Sedona Oak-Creek Unified School District #9

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 19, 2019

Matthew Oskowis, Plaintiff,
v.
Sedona Oak-Creek Unified School District #9, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Dominic W. Lanza United States District Judge

         The plaintiff in this matter is Matthew Oskowis (“Oskowis”), the father of E.O., a 13-year-old boy diagnosed with infantile autism. Over the past few years, Oskowis has filed at least nine due process complaints against the Sedona Oak-Creek Unified School District No. 9 (the “District”), each alleging that E.O. was denied a free appropriate public education as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. Three of those complaints are at issue here-Oskowis appeals their dismissal, for failure to state a claim, by Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) from the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings. This matter comes before Court on the District's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 68.) As explained below, the Court affirms the dismissal of Oskowis's due process complaints and therefore grants summary judgment in favor of the District.

         BACKGROUND

         I. The IDEA's Legal Framework

         It's helpful to begin by briefly summarizing the legal framework against which this case unfolded. “The IDEA offers federal funds to States in exchange for a commitment: to furnish a ‘free appropriate public education'-more concisely known as a FAPE-to all children with certain physical or intellectual disabilities.” Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Schs., 137 S.Ct. 743, 748-49 (2017). “Under the IDEA, an ‘individualized education program,' called an IEP for short, serves as the ‘primary vehicle' for providing each child with the promised FAPE. . . . Crafted by a child's ‘IEP Team'-a group of school officials, teachers, and parents-the IEP spells out a personalized plan to meet all of the child's ‘educational needs.' Most notably, the IEP documents the child's current ‘levels of academic achievement,' specifies ‘measurable annual goals' for how she can ‘make progress in the general education curriculum,' and lists the ‘special education and related services' to be provided so that she can ‘advance appropriately toward [those] goals.'” Id. (citations omitted).

         The IDEA also establishes formal procedures for resolving disputes. “To begin, a dissatisfied parent may file a complaint as to any matter concerning the provision of a FAPE with the local or state educational agency (as state law provides). That pleading generally triggers a ‘[p]reliminary meeting' involving the contending parties; at their option, the parties may instead (or also) pursue a full-fledged mediation process. Assuming their impasse continues, the matter proceeds to a ‘due process hearing' before an impartial hearing officer. . . . Finally, a parent unhappy with the outcome of the administrative process may seek judicial review by filing a civil action in state or federal court.” Id. at 749 (citations omitted).

         This case arises from three administrative proceedings that were initiated when Oskowis filed due process complaints with the Arizona Department of Education, each arguing that E.O. had been denied a FAPE. II. The Administrative Proceedings

         A. 16C-DP-066-ADE

         On June 16, 2016, Oskowis filed a due process complaint in proceeding 16C-DP-066-ADE. (Doc. 69 ¶ 10.) In it, he argued the District denied E.O. a FAPE over three calendar years because: (1) the District didn't provide a qualified paraprofessional to E.O.; (2) the paraprofessional provided by the District wasn't adequately supervised by the special education teacher; and (3) the IDEA precludes E.O.'s paraprofessional from providing services within E.O.'s self-contained special education classroom. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         On June 24, 2016, the District filed a response. Included as attachments to the response were “affidavits from two of [E.O.'s] prior special education teachers attesting that they provided direct supervision of the paraprofessional” as well as evidence demonstrating the paraprofessional's qualifications. (Doc. 75-1 at 11; see also Doc. 69 ¶¶ 12-15, 17-20.)

         During a “prehearing conference, ” the ALJ asked Oskowis to address the evidence that had been submitted by the District. In response, Oskowis “acknowledged . . . that [he] had no information or belief to support [his] allegation that the paraprofessional did not meet the requirements . . . to be considered a qualified paraprofessional” and similarly “offered no basis for [his] allegation that the special education teacher did not properly supervise the paraprofessional.” (Doc. 75-1 at 10-11; see also Doc. 69 ¶ 16.)

         Accordingly, on March 13, 2017, the ALJ issued an order dismissing Oskowis's complaint for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 75-1 at 9-12.) The order concluded: “Given the baseless assertions presented in the Complaint, Petitioners' Complaint is deemed frivolous. IT IS ORDERED granting Respondent School District's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.” (Id. at 12.)

         B. 17C-DP-013-ADE

         On September 1, 2016, Oskowis filed a due process complaint in proceeding 17C-DP-013-ADE. (Doc. 69 ¶ 2.) In it, he argued the District denied E.O. a FAPE by failing “to monitor [E.O.'s] progress against the annual goals & objectives of [his] IEP [and] their corresponding STOs [Short Term Objectives]” and failed “to engage the IEP Team to revise the IEP to address the lack of expected progress of [E.O.] toward those STOs.” (Id. ¶ 3.)

         On September 9, 2016, the District moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         On March 10, 2017, the ALJ issued an order granting the District's motion. (Doc. 75-1 at 2-6.) The order concluded: “Petitioners' Complaint fails as a matter of law and should be dismissed as the claims therein are not supported by the IDEA or its regulations. Given the [rejection of the same argument in past proceedings] and the lack of any support in the IDEA or its regulations on this claimed issued, the Petitioners' instant Complaint is deemed to be frivolous.” (Doc. 75-1 at 6.)[1]

         C. 17C-DP-053-ADE

         On March 2, 2017, Oskowis filed a due process complaint in proceeding 17C-DP-053-ADE. (Doc. 69 ¶ 23.) In it, he argued the District denied E.O. a FAPE because, between August 5, 2015 and December 16, 2015, the District didn't begin delivering services to E.O. until 9:00 a.m., which “would not allow enough time for the services of the IEP to be adequately delivered.” (Id. ¶ 24.)

         On March 9, 2017, the District moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         On March 10, 2017, the ALJ issued an order granting the District's motion, and on March 28, 2017, the ALJ issued an order denying reconsideration. (Doc. 75-1 at 14-17.) The March 28 order concluded: “Petitioners' instant due process complaint fails as a matter of law and should be dismissed. Based on the fact that Petitioners' previous two complaints on the exact same issue were dismissed, Petitioners knew or should have known that the Complaint does not raise a valid claim under the IDEA. For this reason, Petitioners' instant due process complaint is deemed to be frivolous.” (Doc. 75-1 at 16.) III. The Instant Case Oskowis filed a complaint with this Court on April 13, 2017. (Doc. 1.) The operative complaint asserts three causes of action, each corresponding to one of the administrative proceedings described above. (Doc. 17.) Oskowis claims that the ALJs erred in dismissing his due process complaints. (Id.)

         On June 22, 2018, the District moved for summary judgment on all three causes of action. (Doc. 68.)[2] The issues are now fully briefed (Docs. 68, 70, 75).[3]

         JU ...


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