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Johnson v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Educ.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

November 8, 2019

STEPHANIE JOHNSON, individually and on behalf of A.J., a child with a disability, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Consider Additional Evidence. (Doc. No. 16).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a civil action brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”) and corresponding state law seeking review of an Administrative Law Judge's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment in the underlying administrative proceeding. The motion for summary judgment was granted in favor of Defendant and disposed of all claims against Defendant before a due process hearing. (Final Decision, R. Section 12-1, pp. 108-110).

         The ALJ's summary judgment decision was based on the arguments of counsel at the summary judgment hearing, applicable law, and the following documents, all of which are already part of the administrative record filed in this Court:

a. Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment along with the affidavits of Erin Barksdale, principal; Michelle Collis, speech/language pathologist; Courtney Faithfull, school psychologist; Rhonda Gomez, special education administrator Kimberly Morris, accountability specialist; and Meghan Ross, itinerant coordinating teacher and accompanying Exhibits; and
b. Petitioner's Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Law in Support along with the affidavit of Petitioner S.J. and accompanying Exhibits.

(Final Decision, R Section 12-1 p. 108).

         During the second layer of administrative review at the Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”), Plaintiff made a motion to the State Review Hearing Officer (“SHRO”) to supplement the record with additional evidence not presented to the ALJ at the time of hearing. The SHRO at DPI denied Plaintiff's motion and affirmed the ALJ's decision on summary judgment based on the administrative record received from the Office of Administrative Hearings and facts drawn from “the motions, responses, and transcript of the hearing on Summary Judgment.” (Notice of Filing of Supplement to Administrative Record, Ex. A, pp. 1, Doc. No. 15). Plaintiff now brings the pending motion for additional evidence, in which Plaintiff seeks to present additional evidence, including Exhibits 1-3, 8-9 and 19-20, which are certain psychological and medical records of A.J, and Exhibits 4-7 and 10-18, which are A.J.'s student records.

         In opposing Plaintiff's motion for the court to consider new evidence, Defendant contends that this Court's review of the ALJ's summary judgment decision should be limited to the same record from the administrative proceeding that the ALJ and SHRO relied on in reaching their final decisions. For the following reasons, the Court agrees.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The IDEA provides that a federal court reviewing a state administrative decision “(i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C) (emphasis added).” R.S. v. Bd. of Dirs. of Woods Charter Sch. Co., No. 1:16cv119, 2017 WL 354270, at **3-4 (M.D. N.C. Jan. 24, 2017). “To avoid undermining the administrative proceeding, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has construed the term ‘additional evidence' narrowly.” Id. at *4 (citing Springer v. Fairfax Cty. Sch. Bd., 134 F.3d 659, 667 (4th Cir. 1998)).

         “In Springer, the Fourth Circuit explained that ‘[a] lax interpretation of ‘additional evidence' would reduce the proceedings before the state agency to a mere dress rehearsal by allowing appellants to transform the [IDEA]'s judicial review mechanism into an unrestricted trial de novo.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “The Springer Court further explained that ‘[a] lenient standard for additional evidence would [thus] have the consequence of making the whole IDEA process more time consuming, as parties scrambled to use the federal court proceeding to patch up holes in their administrative case.'” Id. “The Springer Court therefore reasoned that the exclusion of evidence available during the administrative proceeding ‘properly encourages thorough administrative review of special education disputes,' ‘facilitates the resolution of these disputes sooner rather than later,' and ‘advances the aims of Congress in [IDEA].'” Id.

         Federal District courts “routinely limit the introduction of ‘additional evidence' to address circumstances that remained beyond a party's ...


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