IDEA Plaintiff Denied Access to Defendant ESI in Federal Review of Administrative Decision
In Soltes v. Board of Directors of Woods Charter School Company, et. al., Case No. 16-119 (M.D. N.C., Jan. 24, 2017), Plaintiff, a minor, sued Defendants through his father for claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Prior to suit, Plaintiff’s father sought an Individualized Education Program for Plaintiff, and lodged complaints to seek a due process hearing when they IEP was found to be inadequate. The Office of Administrative Hearings assigned the case to an administrative law judge (ALJ), who presided over numerous discovery disputes during the full discovery process prior to the hearing. After the final due process hearing, the ALJ found in favor of Plaintiff on all issues, and but a State Review Officer reversed on most of the issues. Plaintiff then filed suit in federal court seeking a reversal of the State Review Officer’s decision. The parties filed opposing discovery proposals, and the court ordered briefing.
Plaintiff sought discovery of Defendant’s ESI (electronically stored information). The IDEA permits a federal court reviewing an administrative decision to look at the record of the proceedings and hear additional evidence only to supplement the administrative record, thus limiting the amount of discovery that can be taken in such a case. The party seeking the discovery must prove that it is relevant and that such supplemental evidence is necessary. However, additional evidence in such a case is usually limited.
The court found that Plaintiff failed to show how the Defendant ESI discovery it sought was relevant to the issues raised challenging the Officer’s decision or how it would lead to the disclosure of additional evidence. Plaintiff also did not establish that the ESI would lead to disclosure of evidence that he couldn’t have obtained in time for the OAH hearing. Extensive discovery occurred in the OAH proceeding, and Plaintiff never sought to compel production of the ESI. Therefore, the court denied Plaintiff’s request to seek the ESI.