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Boutelle v. Board of Education of Las Cruces Public Schools

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 15, 2019

DOMINIC BOUTELLE, as parent of L.B, a minor child, Plaintiff,



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon “Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment” [ECF 45] (“Motion”). The Motion is fully briefed. See ECFs 50 (Plaintiff's Response), 58 (Defendant's Reply). For the reasons articulated below, the Court will GRANT Defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In December 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court against Defendant Board of Education of Las Cruces Public School (“LCPS”). Compl., ECF 1. Plaintiff's Complaint consists of two parts. First, it alleges that LCPS denied Plaintiff's son L.B. a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”). Id. at 1, 4-10.[1] Second, it alleges that LCPS engaged in disability discrimination against L.B. Id. at 1, 10-12.[2]

         A. Plaintiff's IDEA Claim

         In November 2018, Plaintiff advanced his IDEA claim through his “IDEA Brief in Chief” (“IDEA Motion”), which presented this Court with evidence and supporting arguments for its review. See ECF 31. Consistent with Plaintiff's Complaint, this IDEA Motion also asked this Court to find that LCPS denied L.B. a FAPE and to thus reverse the hearing officer's decision and award an equitable remedy. ECF 31 at 11, 27; Compl. at 12 (requesting same forms of relief).[3] In May 2019-after reviewing the parties' briefing, approximately 2, 600 pages of administrative records, and additional evidence that Plaintiff submitted-the Court held that LCPS did not deny L.B. a FAPE. ECF 62 (Memorandum Opinion and Order) at 1-2, 27.

         In adjudicating this IDEA Motion, the Court made various factual findings and legal conclusions. Id. at 15-27. In relevant part, the Court found that LCPS had “no reason [during the timeframe alleged by Plaintiff] to suspect a disability”-and that LCPS thus “did not deny L.B. a FAPE by not pursuing a psychological evaluation [sooner].” Id. at 20. In addition, the Court concluded that “LCPS's formation of an [Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) related to the conditions of emotional disturbance and ADHD] in early May 2017, as opposed to earlier in the school year, did not deny L.B. a FAPE.” Id. at 5, 23.

         The Court also addressed Plaintiff's argument that LCPS should not have placed L.B. on long-term suspension after a rock-throwing incident. Id. at 23-25. In doing so, the Court examined Plaintiff's assertion that L.B.'s rock throwing at other students might not have been intentional but rather merely a manifestation of a disability, specifically Tourette syndrome (“TS”). Id. at 23. After reviewing the evidence, the Court affirmed the previous administrative findings that L.B.'s actions were “intentional”-and “not a manifestation of [L.B.'s] disabilities”-and it therefore concluded that the long-term suspension also did not deny L.B. a FAPE:

After reviewing the record and giving “due weight” to the hearing officer's factual findings, this Court has no reason to disturb the finding that L.B. intentionally threw rocks at other students on April 19, 2017. L.B.'s conduct on that occasion-including striking a student with four rocks and then striking a separate student with a rock right after having asked something like “do you think I can hit him with a rock?”-certainly seems to suggest intentional conduct, rather than some sort of involuntary, complex motor tic, as suggested by Plaintiff. Thus-in also giving “due weight” to the administrative proceedings, the factual findings of which are considered prima facie correct-this Court concludes that the “Manifestation Determination” team correctly concluded that L.B.'s rock-throwing behavior on this occasion was “not a manifestation of his disabilities.”
Second, this Court also agrees with the hearing officer's factual findings that the reason for L.B.'s long-term suspension was this rock-throwing event . . . .
Because L.B.'s rock-throwing behavior was intentional and not a manifestation of a disability, the school was permitted to apply the same “relevant disciplinary procedures” it would have applied to any other rock-throwing child without a disability. In addition, because the school still provided L.B. with an appropriate IEP that was in effect during the long-term suspension, it also met its substantive obligation under the IDEA. Therefore, LCPS did not deny L.B. a FAPE by placing him on long-term suspension.

Id. at 24-25 (quoting Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 181 (1982); Garcia v. Bd. of Educ. of Albuquerque Pub. Sch., 520 F.3d 1116, 1125 (10th Cir. 2008); 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(C); Administrative Record (“AR”) 25-6 at 96-99) (citing Pl.'s Mot. 25, ECF 31; AR 25-1 at 77; AR 25-5 at 447, 468-69; AR 25-6 at 160, 312) (footnotes omitted).

         In light of its holding that LCPS did not deny L.B. a FAPE, the Court concluded its adjudication of Plaintiff's IDEA claim by affirming the hearing officer's decision and denying Plaintiff's IDEA Motion. Id. at 15-25, 27.

         B. Plaintiff's Disability Discrimination Claim

         Plaintiff's disability discrimination claim was not formally advanced through his IDEA Motion and was therefore not explicitly adjudicated by this Court. See ECFs 1, 31, 62. This discrimination claim alleges that, as of April 20, 2017, the day L.B. was suspended from school for rock throwing, LCPS had engaged in “past and ongoing discrimination on the basis of disability.” Compl. 1, 10. Plaintiff alleges that such discrimination occurred because LCPS was “deliberately indifferent, ” “did not want to understand or accommodate” L.B.'s disability-related needs, and “lack[ed] professional knowledge” for supporting students with TS. Id. at 1, 10-12. This claim then asserts that, during L.B.'s long term-suspension, which included his ...

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