A federal district court in Pennsylvania is allowing a school district to proceed with its claim against a parent in which the district is seeking to recover attorney’s fees under the IDEA. Under the IDEA, a school district may recover attorney’s fees against an attorney of a parent, or a parent, if the parent’s complaint or judicial action is brought “for any improper purpose, such as to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly increase the cost of litigation.” 34 C.F.R. 300.517(a)(1)(iii).

In this case, the district court found that the school district had presented sufficient evidence to support its claim that the parent had acted for an improper purpose in bringing her multiple due process complaints. Specifically, the court noted that the parent had filed fourteen due process hearings from 2001 to 2009 in connection with her two children and had, on at least two occasions, filed new complaints while others were still pending. The parent also refused to participate in one of the hearings and filed repeated claims with the Office for Civil Rights. The district prevailed in each matter, each of which involved similar or identical claims.

In addition, the court noted that the parent had also requested three mediation sessions during the 2008-09 school year, none of which had been successful. Most notably, the district presented evidence to support its claim that the parent told the mediator that she was trying to drive up the district’s litigation costs in order to force the district to pay for her children to attend private schools. The district’s claim was further supported by a finding by the court that despite the fact that the parent had previously communicated with the district in English for the prior eight years, the parent, a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese, began requesting in June 2007 that the district provide translation services at all meetings and proceedings and translate all documents into Mandarin Chinese. Click here for a copy of Bethlehem Area School District v. Zhou, No. 09-03493, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74404 (E.D. Pa. July 23, 2010).