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Lebron v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 20, 2014

MARIBEL LEBRÓN; FRANCISCO PORTALES; K.F.P.L. MINOR; CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP PORTALES-LEBRÓN, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO, represented by Governor Alejandro García Padilla; DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OF PUERTO RICO, represented by its Secretary, Eduardo Moreno Alonso, Defendants, Appellees, COLEGIO DE TALLER INTELIGENCIA EMOCIONAL, INC.; MARLYN MENDEZ; EDWIN R. CANO; CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP CANO-MENDEZ; A INSURANCE CO.; B INSURANCE CO., Defendants

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, U.S. District Judge.

Carlos Rodriguez García, with whom Rodriguez García PSC was on brief, for appellants.

Rosa Elena Pérez-Agosto, Assistant Solicitor General, Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General, with whom Margarita Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor General, Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General, was on brief, for appellees.

Before Thompson, Kayatta, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 26

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

Maribel Lebrón and Francisco Portales, parents of K.F.P.L. (" the child" ), sued the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Department of Education (" DOE" )[1] under numerous state and federal

Page 27

statutes for alleged discrimination and retaliation against their disabled child. The district court dismissed all the claims against the Commonwealth, and the parents appeal on various grounds.

For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

We recite the facts as they are alleged in the complaint.

In 2008, the child was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism that neither party disputes is a disability. In anticipation of enrolling the five year old in school for the first time, the parents registered him with the DOE in 2008.

Before school started, Lebrón, the child's mother, met with the DOE's Special Education Supervisor regarding school placement. From the beginning, the parents and the DOE butted heads about how to satisfy the child's educational needs. Lebrón told the Supervisor in that initial meeting that the child's psychologist had recommended placement in a group of six or fewer children. The Supervisor said outright that the DOE would not follow that recommendation. Nor would the DOE provide the child with certain vision therapy Lebrón requested. Despite these disagreements, on July 14, 2008, the DOE provided the child his first Individualized Education Plan (" IEP" )--a requirement for every disabled public school student.[2]

For reasons not specifically pleaded, around September 2008, the parents began to search for a school in a different area of Puerto Rico. The DOE recommended the parents consider Colegio Taller de Inteligencia Emocional (" Colegio" ), a private school. Lebrón visited Colegio and met with the owner, Marlyn Mendez. Lebrón explained to Mendez the child's medical diagnoses, treatments, and special education needs, including the importance of his placement with a small group of children. Mendez indicated that she was able to accommodate the child, and the parents decided to forego public schooling and enroll the child at Colegio.

The parents were pleased with Colegio until 2010. That summer, the child began a biomedical treatment that required him to eat a special diet. Lebrón requested that when the new school year started, she be permitted to go to the school to give the child his lunch each day, until he adapted to his new dietary regime. The school " sternly prohibited" Lebrón from giving the child his lunch in the cafeteria, where the other children ate, instead requiring that she do so in the playroom. Other problems with the school (the details of which we need not get into) intensified, and Lebrón scheduled a meeting with the president of Colegio, Edwin Cano, to discuss what she considered " discriminatory treatment" on the part of Colegio's administration.

Colegio apparently failed to allay the parents' concerns. Fed up, the parents brought their complaints to the DOE by attempting to file an administrative complaint against Colegio. Maria Melendez, a DOE supervisor, told the parents in a March 8, 2011 meeting that the DOE could

Page 28

not help them because Colegio was a ...


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