KCSOS-VOCS v. A.C., Individually, and by and Through Her Guardian Ad Litem Gustavo Cortes, et al., No. 1:2018cv01331 - Document 16 (E.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER DENYING 13 Motion for Sanctions and ORDER CLOSING CASE re 12 signed by Chief Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill on 11/14/2018. CASE CLOSED. (Jessen, A)
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1 2 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 4 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 5 6 7 KERN COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS – VALLEY OAKS CHARTER SCHOOL TEHACHAPI, 8 9 10 11 12 1:18-cv-01331-LJO-JLT MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SANCTIONS (ECF NO. 13) Plaintiff, v. A.C., individually, and by and through her guardian ad litem GUSTAVO CORTES, AND GUSTAVO CORTES, Defendants. 13 I. BACKGROUND 14 15 This case arises out of an underlying dispute between the parties over the provision of 16 educational services to A.C., a young adult who is eligible for special education services under the 17 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.. Generally, IDEA 18 operates to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education 19 (“FAPE”) that meets their unique needs. Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 309 (1988). 20 In 2016, a dispute arose pertaining to the provision of services to A.C. In an initial administrative 21 ruling, in Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) Case No. 2016040211, Kern County 22 Superintendent of Schools – Valley Oaks Charter School Tehachapi (“KCSOS-VOCS”) was ordered to 23 provide A.C. residential treatment. See ECF No. 13 at 2. Eventually, A.C. was placed in residential 24 treatment program in San Diego. Id. 25 A second dispute arose about how A.C.’s needs were to be met after she aged out of the San 1 1 Diego residential treatment program. Id. According to A.C. and her guardian, as part of an October 2017 2 Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”), KCSOS-VOCS agreed to fund A.C.’s continued attendance at 3 the San Diego facility as a day student, while providing funding that would allow A.C.’s parents to 4 reside nearby to provide her with housing and transportation. Id. A.C. filed OAH Case No. 2017110316, 5 alleging that KCSOS-VOCS had not been abiding by this agreement. Id. This OAH case was resolved in 6 KCSOS-VOCS’s favor, with the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) finding that A.C.’s guardian had 7 not unconditionally consented to any of the options offered to her in the October 2017 IEP. Id. at 4. A.C. 8 and her guardian are appealing that final administrative decision in this Court under Case No. 1:18-cv- 9 00909-LJO-JLT. 10 A.C. and her guardian filed yet another OAH complaint on July 16, 2018 (OAH Case No. 11 2018070796), this time arguing that KCSOS-VOCS denied A.C. a FAPE by failing to provide A.C. and 12 her family with prior written notice that it did not consider the October 2017 IEP consented to. ECF No. 13 13 at 4. In late August 2018, KCSOS-VOCS moved to dismiss the OAH complaint on res judicata 14 grounds. Id. at Ex. A. The ALJ denied the motion, ruling that the earlier administrative decisions had not 15 decided the issue of prior written notice. Id. at Ex. C. KCSOS-VOCS renewed the motion to dismiss in 16 mid-September 2018. Id. at Ex. D. The ALJ denied the motion for reconsideration on September 21, 17 2018. Id. at Ex. F. 18 Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on September 26, 2018, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief 19 against a then-ongoing administrative proceeding in OAH Case No. 2018070796. ECF No. 2. On the 20 same day, Plaintiff also filed a request for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) seeking an “injunction 21 or holding” precluding the OAH proceeding from continuing. ECF No. 6. On September 29, 2018, the 22 Court denied sua sponte the TRO request because Plaintiff failed to demonstrate cognizable irreparable 23 injury. ECF No. 11. A few days later, following Defendants’ conditional voluntary dismissal without 24 prejudice of OAH Case No. 2018070796, see ECF No. 13, Ex. G, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed this 25 case. ECF No. 12. 2 1 Shortly thereafter, Defendants filed a motion for sanctions, asserting that this lawsuit was 2 frivolous and seeking $500 in sanctions to cover a portion of the legal expenses incurred by Defendants. 3 ECF No. 13. Plaintiff opposes imposition of sanctions. ECF No. 14. 4 5 II. DISCUSSION Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 provides the relevant standard, requiring anyone making a 6 representation to the Court to certify “that to the best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief, 7 formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances”: 8 (1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation; 9 10 (2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law; 11 12 (3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and 13 14 (4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information. 15 Plaintiff correctly points out that under the so-called “safe harbor” provision contained within 16 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(c)(2), a party moving for sanctions must first provide notice and a 17 reasonable opportunity to withdraw the challenged representation, normally within 21 days after notice 18 is provided. Here, this provision has not been satisfied, as the offending representations were effectively 19 withdrawn by way of voluntary dismissal within 21 days of the filing of the Complaint. 20 The Court, after proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, may impose sanctions on its own 21 initiative if it believes any party has violated Rule 11(b). Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(3). Here, it is suggested 22 that Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in bad faith and/or that the lawsuit was frivolous. See ECF No. 13. Rule 23 11 sanctions are not warranted if “the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by 24 existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for 25 3 1 establishing new law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2). Here, Plaintiff’s complaint sought interlocutory review 2 of the ALJ’s refusal to dismiss Defendants’ underlying OAH allegations. While the Ninth Circuit has 3 ruled generally that interlocutory appeals from OAH proceedings are not appropriate, see M.M. v. 4 Lafayette Sch. Dist., 681 F.3d 1082, 1090 (9th Cir. 2012), the facts of this case are not substantially 5 identical to those of M.M. and the Ninth Circuit specifically declined therein to rule out whether 6 “exceptions might be appropriate” to the general holding that a party must wait until the conclusion of 7 the administrative proceedings to appeal an ALJ determination. See id. at 1090 n. 11. While, the Court 8 believes the legal basis for Plaintiff’s lawsuit was tenuous, it does not agree that it was technically 9 frivolous or otherwise worthy of sanction. Accordingly, the motion for sanctions is DENIED. 10 III. CONCLUSION AND ORDER 11 For the reasons set forth below, the motion for sanction is DENIED. As the underlying 12 Complaint has been dismissed, the Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE THIS CASE. 13 14 IT IS SO ORDERED. 15 Dated: /s/ Lawrence J. O’Neill _____ November 14, 2018 UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 4