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M.M. v. Red Clay Consolidated School District

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 15, 2019

M.M., a minor, by next friend Darin Thomas, and DARIN THOMAS, individually, Plaintiffs,

          Samuel L. Guy, Attorney at Law, Wilmington, DE - attorney for Plaintiffs

          Michael P. Stafford, Lauren E.M. Russell, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Defendant May 15, 2019 Wilmington, Delaware



         Plaintiffs Darin Thomas (“Thomas”) and his daughter M.M. (“M.M.”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit against Defendant Red Clay Consolidated School District (“Red Clay” or “Defendant”) on February 22, 2018 in the Delaware Court of Chancery, alleging a breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in connection with an agreement to settle a prior administrative complaint that Red Clay “had failed to provide M. M. with FAPE pursuant to the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as] IDEA.” (D.I. 1, Ex. A). The case was removed to this Court on March 20, 2018. (D.I. 1).[1] Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 41). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the time the Complaint was filed, M.M. was a student attending school in the Red Clay Consolidated School District (D.I. 1, Ex. A ¶ 3).[2] She was served by an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), and classified as a student with a Moderate Intellectual Disability. (D.I. 44 at ¶ 233-34 ¶¶ 4-6). M.M. first enrolled in the District in 2012 and attended the Meadowood Program, an educational program in the District for students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, for the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 school years. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4). On February 2, 2016, Thomas filed a special education administrative due process complaint against Red Clay alleging violations of the IDEA with respect to M.M. (D.I. 44 at ¶ 1-16). During the pendency of the administrative process, on June 10, 2016, the parties entered an Agreement and Mutual Release (“the Agreement”). (Id. at A119-128). On June 21, 2016, the administrative complaint was dismissed with prejudice. (Id. at A48).

         The Agreement states, in pertinent part:

. . . the entering of this Agreement is not an admission by the District that [M.M.] did not receive the education or other services required by law . . .
2. For and in consideration of the undertakings of [Thomas], as set forth herein, and intending to be legally bound, the District agrees to provide payment or reimbursement for up to a maximum amount of $75, 000.00 worth of legitimate education expenses for [M.M.], to be utilized between now and the end of the school year in which [M.M.] turns 21. . . .[3]
3. Should [Thomas] elect to enroll [M.M.] in a private school or program pursuant to paragraph 2, supra, then [M.M.] shall be considered a parentally-placed private school student as that term is used under the IDEA. No. payment to, or reimbursement for, private school tuition expenses pursuant to this Agreement shall alter this. This Agreement does not create any obligation on the part of the District to fund a private placement nor may this Agreement be deemed an admission that the District's own schools and programs cannot provide Student with a Free Appropriate Public Education. The Parties further agree and warrant that [M.M.'s] private school shall not be deemed her ‘pendant' or ‘stay-put' placement in a future dispute between them unless otherwise agreed to by the parties or otherwise determined by an administrative tribunal or court of law.
4. Should [Thomas] elect to enroll [M.M.] in a private school or program pursuant to paragraph 2, supra, then notwithstanding her status as a parentally-placed private school student, the District agrees to (a) furnish [Thomas] with a list of potential transportation providers in the area, and (b) at the election of [Thomas], if the private school or program is located within a 50 mile radius of [Thomas] and [M.M.'s] residence within the District, then to contract directly with a third-party transportation provider to provide transportation services for [M.M] to and/or from her private school or program. . . .

(Id. at A119-123). Following the execution of the Agreement, Thomas contacted three private schools located in Pennsylvania: Devereux, Elwyn (which runs the Davidson School), and CADES, seeking to enroll M.M. The District communicated via email and phone with Devereux regarding the possible admission of M.M. in June and July of 2016. (Id. at A130, A132-135, A137, A181, A183). On August 2, 2016, Devereux declined admission, stating “unfortunately we do not have an appropriate educational program for [M.M.].” (Id. at A185). According to Thomas, he received “a call from Devereaux Ms. Maryann she was saying that there weren't any room for [M.M.] at this time due to her age group . . . .” (D.I. 44 at ¶ 50).

         Following Devereux's decision, Thomas informed Red Clay that he called Elwyn to discuss enrollment for M.M in the Davidson School. (Id. at A187). On August 22, 2016, a representative from Elwyn emailed Red Clay indicating that they “would like to issue a letter of acceptance [for M.M.]” but would “need confirmation that Red Clay School District will act as the liaison for [M.M.] while she is a student at Davidson” and would “need a district rep to participate in any IEPs and meeting regarding [M.M.].” (Id. at A190). The Elwyn representative then asked whether “the district still will be involved and act as the LEA for [M.M]” because “Davidson require [sic] that the school districts assume the responsibility for students while they are placed [at Elwyn].” (Id. at A189). Red Clay replied that “this request for private placement is being made by the family with payment through a legal settlement” and that “Red Clay will not serve as the LEA because we are not seeking private placement.” (Id. at A192). On August 23, 2016, following this clarification, a representative from Elwyn informed Thomas that “[o]ur policy prohibits us from accepting students without an LEA or district representation” and thus “the Davidson School will not be able to move forward with placement.” (Id. at A189).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff met with a representative of CADES, but “Cade [sic] said they could not accommodate M.M.” (Id. at A67). In a September 16, 2016 email, a representative of CADES informed Thomas that they “typically do not accept students who require behavioral support because our staff are not trained in behavioral intervention, ” and that the school had a few questions about M.M. after reviewing her educational records. ...

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