IDEA Rights – Court Awards Full Reimbursement for Less Than Perfect Private Placement

In Florence County School District Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993), the U.S. Supreme Court set minimum criteria that must be met before a guardian may obtain reimbursement for the unilateral placement of a child in a private school. A parent or guardian is entitled to reimbursement only if a federal court concludes both (1) that the public placement violated the IDEA, and (2) that the private school placement was proper under the IDEA statute.  Courts have noted that if either criterion is not met, the parent or guardian may not obtain reimbursement.  If both criteria are satisfied, the court then must exercise its “broad discretion” and weigh “equitable considerations” to determine whether, and how much, reimbursement is appropriate. Carter, 510 U.S. at 15–16.

In a case before the Ninth Circuit that arose in the Southern California (C.B. v. Garden Grove Unified School District), the court found that the public placement was not proper, but there was a dispute over the appropriateness of the private placement.  The school district contended that the private placement did not meet all of the student’s needs.  However, precedent makes clear that reimbursement is warranted even if the private placement did not provide all the necessary educational benefits.  The private placement need not be perfect; but it must at least provide education instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child, supported by such services as are necessary to permit the child to benefit from instu4riont. 

An administrative law judge ruled that a 50% reimbursement was proper, on the ground that the private placement provided less than full benefits.  The U.S. District Court in the Central District of California rejected that view and awarded full reimbursement. The school district appealed.

The Ninth Circuit, in conducting de novo review of the appropriateness of the placement, held that the trial court had properly balanced the equities in determining how much reimbursement is appropriate.  The appellate panel affirmed the district court judge’s conclusion that full reimbursement was appropriate.

For your convenience, a full copy of the C.B. decision is attached.

Slote & Links regularly advises clients on issues related to the IDEA statute. Feel free to give us a call if you have a question in this important legal area.

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