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Smith v. Cheyenne Mountain School District 12

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 20, 2019



          William J. Martinez United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Smith (“Smith”), proceeding pro se, files this lawsuit against Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 (“School District”) for the sole purpose of obtaining an injunction under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j) requiring the School District to continue providing normal educational services to his eleven-year-old autistic son, R.S., while Smith and School District work through a dispute over R.S.'s placement. Currently before the Court is Smith's Verified Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. (ECF No. 3.) As to the TRO portion of this motion, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

         “A party seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction must show (1) a substantial likelihood that the movant eventually will prevail on the merits; (2) that the movant will suffer irreparable injury unless the injunction issues; (3) that the threatened injury to the movant outweighs whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party; and (4) that the injunction, if issued, would not be adverse to the public interest.” NRC Broad. Inc. v. Cool Radio, LLC, 2009 WL 2965279, at *1 (D. Colo. Sept. 14, 2009).

         On this record, the Court finds a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. This case arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. Smith alleges that R.S. has an IDEA-mandated individualized education plan (“IEP”) which specifies a school within the School District known as “The Vanguard School” as R.S.'s “School of Attendance.” (¶ 6.)[1] On May 30, 2019, Smith received an e-mail from the “Executive Director” of The Vanguard School announcing that the school would not hire a paraprofessional to work with R.S. and so R.S.'s enrollment was denied for the 2019-20 school year. (¶ 7.) IDEA requires states to create and administer formal procedures for resolving these sorts of disputes. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415. Smith, apparently invoking these procedures, “filed a Due Process Complaint with the Colorado Department of Education” on August 7, 2019. (¶ 10.) Having done so, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j) comes into play, which requires that “the child shall remain in [his or her] then-current educational placement” “during the pendency of any [administrative] proceedings.”

         R.S. was supposed to begin sixth grade at The Vanguard School on August 14, 2019. (¶ 14.) “On those days when R.S. has been dropped off at The Vanguard School, R.S. has been confined to an office, separated from his peers, and provided with no educational services. During this time, R.S. has not been allowed into a classroom, has not been allowed to interact with his peers, and has not even been afforded a lunch or recess break.” (¶ 15.)

         The dispute, apparently, is whether The Vanguard School's announcement in the May 2019 e-mail denying R.S.'s enrollment means that R.S. has no “then-current educational placement” under § 1415(j), and so The Vanguard School has no obligation under that statute; or, on the other hand, whether The Vanguard School's designation as R.S.'s “School of Attendance” in his IEP takes precedence until the IEP is amended. On this highly abbreviated record, the Court finds that Smith is likely to prevail on his argument that the IEP continues to control. Thus, per § 1415(j), The Vanguard School must continue to educate R.S. according to his IEP while the Due Process Complaint works its way through the Colorado Department of Education procedures.

         Turning to irreparable harm, the Court disagrees with Smith's argument that irreparable harm should be presumed. (See ECF No. 3 at 6-7.) “Courts may presume irreparable harm only when a party is seeking an injunction under a statute that mandates injunctive relief as a remedy for a violation of the statute.” First Western Capital Mgmt. Co. v. Malamed, 874 F.3d 1136, 1140 (10th Cir. 2017) (emphasis in original). Section 1415(j) does not mandate injunctive relief as a remedy for violation. However, the Court finds that Smith's allegations of R.S.'s treatment at The Vanguard School-i.e., being isolated for the entire school day, with no educational services- could create lasting emotional trauma, with effects on R.S. himself and on Smith. Accordingly, irreparable harm has been satisfied on this abbreviated record.

         The Court additionally finds that the irreparable harm to R.S. and Smith outweighs any harm to the School District, at least in the near-term contemplated by a TRO, given that The Vanguard School has been educating R.S. for many years before this dispute. (See ¶ 9.)

         Finally, a TRO would not be adverse to the public interest. To the contrary, it is in the public interest to ensure that IDEA's policies are carried out.

         To obtain a temporary restraining order before the party to be restrained has an opportunity to appear and respond, a plaintiff must present

(A) specific facts in an affidavit or a verified complaint clearly show[ing] that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the movant before the adverse party can be heard in opposition; and
(B) the movant's attorney['s] certifi[cation] in writing [regarding] any efforts made to give notice and the reasons why it should not be required.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(b)(1). As for requirement “A, ” Smith provides a verified complaint on which the Court has relied to discern the facts meriting a TRO. The Court further finds that Smith has made a sufficient showing that a TRO should issue without notice, so that R.S. may return to the general student population as swiftly as possible. As for requirement “B, ” Smith himself provides the required certificate, explaining that immediate action is needed due to R.S.'s current treatment at The Vanguard School (ECF No. 3 at 11-12.)

         Smith has also complied with D.C.COLO.LCivR 65.1, describing his efforts to communicate with the School ...

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