Winkelman v. Parma City School District (05-983)
Acronyms & Terms Used
- District - Parma City School District
- FAPE - Free Appropriate Public Education
- IDEA - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
- IEP - Individualized Education Program
- IHO - Impartial Hearing Officer
- LRE - Least Restrictive Environment
- Pro Se Litigant - A party who represents his or her own interests before the court without being represented by an attorney
- SLRO - State Level Review Officer
- TEACCH - treatment and education of autistic and related communication-handicapped children
- Writ of Certiorari- A writ issued by a superior court (as the Supreme Court) to call up the records of a particular case from an inferior judicial body (as a Court of Appeals). It is one of the two ways to have a case from a U.S. Court of Appeals reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Federal Court - District/6th Circuit
Directly challenging the decision of the State Board of Education, the Winkelmans appealed their case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on July 15, 2004. The Winkelmans filed their complaint as pro se litigants, which means the party represents his or her own interests before the court without being represented by an attorney. In this case, Jeff and Sandee Winkelman represented their own interests and those of their son Jacob without an attorney. The Winkelmans requested that the district court reverse the administrative decisions and reimburse them for the cost of all education related services and placements. The District responded to the Winkelmans' complaint and filed its answer on August 6, 2004. In its answer, the District argued that the Winkelmans were not permitted by law under IDEA to represent their child in a federal court proceeding because they were not attorneys.
Next, the Winkelmans filed a motion for temporary restraining order asking the court to order the District to pay for Jacob's private school education for the 2004 - 2005 school year. At the time of filing the complaint, Jacob did not have an IEP for the 2004 - 2005 school year because he attended the Monarch School during the 2003 - 2004 school year. In the motion, the Winkelmans asked the court to establish the Monarch School as Jacob's stay-put placement. The Winkelmans also requested the court order the District to reimburse them for any education and transportation expenses. In response, the District again argued that Jeff and Sandee Winkelman were not attorneys; and therefore, were not permitted to represent their child Jacob under IDEA. In support of its argument, the District cited Wenger v. Canastota Cent. Sch. Dist., 146 F.3d 123, 124-25 (2d Cir. 1998), Collinsgru v. Palmyra Bd. of Educ., 161 F.3d 225 (3d Cir. 1998), and Devine v. Indian River County Sch. Bd., 121 F.3d 576 (11th Cir. 1997). The Second, Third, and Eleventh Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals held that non-attorney parents were not permitted to represent their child pro se under IDEA. The District also argued that the Winklemans failed to satisfy the four-part test for a temporary restraining order as set forth in Mason County Medical Ass'n v. Knebel, 563 F.2d 256, 261 (6th Cir. 1977). Thus, the District argued that a temporary restraining order was an inappropriate remedy.
Settling the matter of Jacob's stay-put school placement, Judge Ann Aldrich denied the Winkelmans' motion on August 24, 2004. Consequently, if the Winkelmans placed Jacob at the Monarch School prior to the completion of the case, they would do so at their own financial risk. Under IDEA, the Winkelmans would be entitled to retroactive reimbursement for the cost of his private school placement if the court determined that (1) Jacob's placement at the District violated IDEA; and (2) Jacob's placement at a private school was proper under IDEA. 20 U.S.C. §1415(e)(3)(A).
Then the District filed a motion to recuse Judge Aldrich, which she granted on September 28, 2004. The case was then reassigned to Judge John M. Manos. At the same time, the Winkelmans unsatisfied by the denial of their motion, filed an interlocutory appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. An interlocutory appeal is “[a]n appeal that occurs before the trial court's final ruling on the entire case. 28 USCA § 1292(b).” Black's Law Dictionary 113 (9th ed. 2004).
While the interlocutory appeal was pending before the Sixth Circuit, the case continued before the trial court. On March 2, 2005, the Winkelmans filed their motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the administrative record. The Winkelmans asked the court to reverse SLRO Hagen's decision and reimburse them for the cost to educate Jacob at the Monarch School. On March 17, 2005, Parma filed its motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the administrative record, which asked the court to affirm SLRO Hagen's decision in its entirety. After reviewing the alleged procedural and substantive violations under IDEA, the court, in its order dated June 2, 2005, denied the Winkelmans' motion and granted the District's motion. The court found that the District had provided Jacob a free appropriate education under IDEA. The court's order was another victory for the District.
Once again the Winkelmans disagreed with the trial court's order and filed a motion with the trial court asking it to reconsider its decision, which the court ultimately denied. Next, the Winkelmans, unrepresented by an attorney, appealed the issue of an appropriate educational placement for Jacob to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Winkelmans filed their notice of appeal on July 1, 2005. In response, the District filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on July 14, 2005 because the Winkelmans were representing their child pro se.
At the same time, the interlocutory appeal regarding the denial of the motion for temporary restraining order was pending before the Sixth Circuit. But at that time, the Sixth Circuit did not decide whether the denial of the motion was appropriate. Instead, the Sixth Circuit in a per curium opinion focused on whether Jeff and Sandee Winkelman could represent their son Jacob in the case unrepresented by an attorney even though they were not trained or licensed attorneys. The Sixth Circuit relied on its recent decision in Cavanaugh v. Cardinal Local Sch. Dist., 409 F.3d 753 (6th Cir. 2005). In Cavanaugh, the Sixth Circuit decided, “IDEA does not grant parents the right to represent their child in federal court.” Id. at 756. Thus, the Sixth Circuit relied on Cavanaugh and dismissed the Winkelmans' appeal, unless within thirty days Jeff and Sandee hired an attorney to represent Jacob. See Order in No. 04-4159 (Sept. 20, 2005). Complying with the order, the Winklemans hired an attorney, Jean-Claude Andre, who entered an appearance on behalf of Jacob Winkelman on October 18, 2005. Finally, more than a year after the Winkelmans filed the interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision. See Order No. 04-4195 (Jan. 25, 2006). The Sixth Circuit reasoned that the Winkelmans failed to raise their arguments before the trial court and had raised their arguments for the first time on appeal. Additionally, the Sixth Circuit held that the trial court did not otherwise abuse its discretion.
Meanwhile, in the other appeal, the Sixth Circuit did not resolve the issue of Jacob's educational placement. Again, the Sixth Circuit focused on whether the Winkelmans, unrepresented by counsel could represent their child in federal court. The Sixth Circuit relied on Cavanaugh and dismissed the appeal unless the Winkelmans hired an attorney to represent Jacob within thirty days of the court's order. See Order in No. 05-3886 (Nov. 4, 2005). On December 5, 2005, the United States Supreme Court issued an order staying the November 4, 2005 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit pending a timely filing and ruling of a petition for writ of certiorari. The Winkelmans filed a petition for writ of certiorari on February 2, 2006.
At that time, the law regarding whether a non-attorney parent of a disabled child could represent the child in federal court was unsettled. The First Circuit allowed non-attorney parents to represent their child pro se. Maroni v. Pemi-Baker Regional Sch. Dist., 346 F.3d 247 (1st Cir. 2003). The Second, Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits prohibited non-attorney parents from representing their child pro se in federal court. The majority position, however, allowed parents to represent themselves pro se for violations of their rights under IDEA. Mosely v. Bd. of Ed. of Chicago, 434 F.3d 527 (7th Cir. 2006); Collingsgru v. Palmyra Bd. of Ed., 161 F.3d 225 (3d Cir. 1998); Wenger v. Canastota Cent. Sch. Dist., 146 F.3d 123 (2d Cir. 1998) (per curiam); Devine v. Indian River Cty. Sch. Bd., 121 F.3d 576 (11th Cir. 1997). Similarly, the Sixth Circuit absolutely prohibited non-attorney parents from representing their child pro se in federal court. Cavanaugh v. Cardinal Local Sch. Dist., 409 F.3d 753 (6th Cir. 2005). Thus, the Winkelmans turned to the United States Supreme Court to resolve the matter. On October 27, 2006, the United States Supreme Court granted the Winkelmans' petition for writ of certiorari.