Special School District No. 1, Minneapolis Public Schools Plaintiff- Appellant
R.M.M., by and through her parents, O.M. and T.M. Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: November 17, 2016
from United States District Court for the District of
Minnesota - Minneapolis
BENTON and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges, and EBINGER,  District
SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.
case is about the provision of special education services to
a young child attending a nonpublic school. Federal law
grants this child neither an individual right to a free
appropriate public education nor the right to dispute the
provision of special education services in a due process
hearing. The question before us is whether Minnesota state
law grants either of these rights. After careful analysis, we
determine that state law does grant these rights, and thus we
affirm the district court.
was a young student who voluntarily attended a Catholic
private school in Minneapolis beginning in kindergarten. She
struggled in the classroom and received what support and
instruction the private school could offer. Finally, in the
fifth grade, she received an evaluation from the Minneapolis
Public Schools, Special School District No. 1
("MPS"). The evaluation determined that R.M.M.
needed special education instruction for reading, written
expression, and math. MPS proposed an individual service plan
that would provide R.M.M. two 30-minute reading sessions per
week and two 30-minute writing sessions per week. The plan
called for R.M.M. to be bussed twice per week from her
private school during science class to a nearby public school
for the reading and writing sessions, to be held back-to-back
over the course of an hour.
enrolled in MPS part time in the spring of her fifth grade
year. But her parents grew dissatisfied with the quality of
instruction and declined to send her again after four
sessions. Her private school later informed R.M.M.'s
parents that it could no longer meet her educational needs
and recommended that R.M.M. enroll in MPS as a full-time
student. She began her sixth grade year enrolled in MPS full
parents then filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department
of Education ("MDE") and requested an impartial due
process hearing. The amended complaint stated a claim that
MPS had denied R.M.M. a free appropriate public education
("FAPE") while R.M.M. was enrolled at her private
school. MPS moved to dismiss the claim, but the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied the motion.
Following a three-day due process hearing, the ALJ concluded
that MPS had denied R.M.M. a FAPE. MPS then filed a lawsuit
in federal district court appealing the ALJ's decision.
MPS argued that the ALJ lacked jurisdiction over R.M.M.'s
FAPE claims. Each party filed motions over this issue.
R.M.M.'s parents moved to dismiss MPS's appeal for
failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). MPS moved for Judgment on the
Administrative Record under Rule 12(c), arguing that the ALJ
lacked jurisdiction over the FAPE claim because private
school students do not have an individual right to either a
FAPE or a due process hearing.
district court granted the motion to dismiss and denied the
motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record. On the
issue of R.M.M.'s right to a FAPE, the district court
first analyzed federal law. The court found that federal law
did not grant the right to a FAPE to a private school student
but did permit states to grant rights beyond the minimum
requirements set out by federal law. Turning to Minnesota
state law, the court held that Minnesota granted private
school students the right to a FAPE. On the issue of a due
process hearing, the court ruled in favor of R.M.M. and held
that private school students in Minnesota are entitled to a
due process hearing to dispute whether they have received a
FAPE. MPS now appeals.
review the district court's ultimate decision under a de
novo standard. See Fort Zumwalt Sch. Dist. v.
Clynes, 119 F.3d 607, 611 (8th Cir. 1997). Our duty is
to interpret and apply the law, not to "substitute [our]
own notions of sound educational policy for those of the
school authorities which [we] review." Bd. of Educ.
of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester Cnty. v.
Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982). To determine whether
state standards exceed minimum federal standards, we look to
state law. See Gill v. Columbia 93 Sch. Dist., 217
F.3d 1027, 1035 (8th Cir. 2000). Because the Minnesota
Supreme Court has not spoken on this issue, we may
"consider relevant state precedent, analogous decisions,
considered dicta, . . . and any other reliable data" to
predict how that court would rule. PHL Variable Ins. Co.
v. 2008 Christa Joseph Irrevocable Trust ex rel. BNC
Nat'l Bank, 782 F.3d 976, 979 (8th Cir. 2015)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA") "to ensure that all children with
disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public
education that emphasizes special education and related
services designed to meet their unique needs." 20 U.S.C.
§ 1400(d)(1)(A). Thus, IDEA created a substantive right
to a FAPE for children with disabilities. See Endrew F.
ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, 137
S.Ct. 988, 993 (2017). A FAPE is defined as special education
and related services that-
(A)have been provided at public expense under public
supervision and direction, and without charge;
(B)meet the standards of the State educational agency;
(C)include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or
secondary school education in ...