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I.Z.M. v. Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 14, 2017

I.Z.M., by and through his parents and natural guardians, et al. Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools, Independent School District No. 196, et al. Defendants - Appellees Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. Amicus on Behalf of Appellants

          Submitted: February 8, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before LOKEN, COLLOTON, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          LOKEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         I.Z.M. suffers from severe vision problems, a disability entitling him to a "free appropriate public education" ("FAPE") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. For ninth grade, I.Z.M. attended Eastview High School, part of Independent School District No. 196 ("the District"), consisting of the public schools in Rosemount, Apple Valley, and Eagan, Minnesota. One FAPE requirement is "special education and related services . . . provided in conformity with the [child's] individualized education program" ("IEP"). 20 U.S.C. § 1401(9)(D). I.Z.M.'s IEP provided that he "will use Braille for all classroom assignments and instruction" and specified other supplemental aids and services to be provided. See § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(IV), (d)(3)(B)(iii). Upset with the District's perceived failures in providing these services, I.Z.M. and his parents, L.M. and T.M., [1]filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education. After a four-day evidentiary hearing, a state Administrative Law Judge issued a thirty-nine-page Order and supporting Memorandum concluding that the District provided I.Z.M. a FAPE and dismissing the complaint.

         I.Z.M. then filed this action in federal court for judicial review of the ALJ's decision, as the IDEA authorizes. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). The Complaint joined non-IDEA claims for relief under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. The district court[2] granted the District's motions for judgment on the administrative record on the IDEA claim and for summary judgment on the non-IDEA claims. I.Z.M. appeals, arguing the court committed errors of law in dismissing each claim. Reviewing these issues of law de novo, we affirm.

         I. IDEA Issues.

         A.

         The ALJ rejected I.Z.M.'s claim that the District failed to provide a FAPE in five distinct ways. In the district court, I.Z.M. challenged the ALJ's decision on only two issues, so the others need not be considered. The ALJ stated the two issues:

Whether the School District consistently provided accessible, accurate and timely instructional material, especially in Braille, such that the lack of materials denied the Student access to involvement and the ability to make progress in the general education curriculum and to make progress on his IEP goals.
Whether the School District timely provided functioning assistive technology devices and maintained, repaired or replaced those devices as needed such that the lack of assistive technology denied the Student access to involvement and the ability to make progress in the general education curriculum and to make progress on his IEP goals.

         I.Z.M. and his parents testified that the District failed to provide accessible instructional materials to I.Z.M. in a timely manner as well as instruction enabling him to improve his Braille skills. In her thirty-nine page decision, the ALJ explained at length why I.Z.M. failed to meet his burden to prove the denial of a FAPE by a preponderance of the evidence. See M.M. ex rel. L.R. v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 512 F.3d 455, 458-59 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 979 (2008). The ALJ found that "the provisions in the IEP were largely, although not perfectly, implemented." Regarding access to Braille materials, although the District did not provide I.Z.M. Brailled materials one hundred percent of the time, the ALJ found "very little evidence of times when materials were not available in some accessible format." Most failures involved not entire textbooks, but short assignments within I.Z.M.'s capacity to read with alternative aids and even large print. Regarding provision of assistive technology, the ALJ found that, although problems arose, "[t]he number of issues the Student had could be expected given the number and complexity of the devices the Student was provided, " and District staff "were almost always immediately responsive to the issues."

         Credibility findings were critical to the ALJ's determination. The ALJ found that I.Z.M. "tended to generalize and . . . exaggerat[e] the issues that he had at school." The ALJ found there were "times when acrimony and accusations [by L.M.] depleted staff time and energy and took time away from supporting the student." When witness testimony conflicted, the ALJ credited the District's witnesses. Based on this testimony, the ALJ found that I.Z.M. was capable of reading Braille, but often chose not to do so, and concluded his lack of progress in reading Braille[3] did "not negate the fact that he received significant educational benefit from his participation and progress in his classes at the School District." I.Z.M. "continued to make progress in the regular education curriculum and even in Honors classes, "[4] and "met, and often exceeded, the ability to communicate with the proficiency of his peers."

         The ALJ found "that the School District implemented the Student's IEP such that the Student received educational benefit." The District "took all reasonable steps to provide instructional materials to the Student in accessible formats and at the same time as the other children received instructional materials." I.Z.M. failed to prove that any lack of accessible materials denied him "access to involvement and the ability to make progress in the general educational curriculum and to make progress on his IEP goals." Based on these detailed findings, the ALJ concluded that the ...


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