Disability Expert Witness Testimony Admitted Citing Extensive Experience in Special Education Litigation

Disability Expert Witness Testimony Admitted Citing Extensive Experience in Special Education Litigation

North East Independent School District (NEISD) appealed the administrative decision by a Special Education Hearing Officer (SEHO) in favor of the minor student I.M., who qualifies for special education services due to autism and an intellectual disability. Following an evidentiary hearing, the SEHO determined that the NEISD had failed to provide I.M. with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As a remedy, the SEHO ordered NEISD to provide Extended School Year services to I.M. during the summer of 2023.

In response to the SEHO decision, NEISD contended that the decision was legally erroneous and lacked support from the evidence presented during the hearing. NEISD sought an order from the Court to reverse and vacate the SEHO decision.

I.M., represented by his mother as the next friend, counterclaimed against NEISD, seeking attorney’s fees under the IDEA as the prevailing party in the administrative proceedings.

Both parties submitted cross motions for summary judgment to the District Court. The motions addressed two primary issues: firstly, whether I.M. had indeed received a FAPE from NEISD, and secondly, whether I.M. was entitled to the requested amount of attorney’s fees. The latter consideration involved a discussion on whether the fee request should be reduced based on I.M.’s relative success in the administrative proceedings and the outcomes of settlement negotiations between the parties. These motions are fully briefed and ripe for a ruling by the District Court. 

NEISD sought the Court’s consideration of additional evidence beyond the administrative record, specifically a three-page investigatory letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) dated October 24, 2023. This letter was addressed to NEISD and pertained to a complaint filed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by I.M.’s parents subsequent to the SEHO hearing. The complaint alleged a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In the complaint, I.M.’s parents asserted that the staff at an after-school program had engaged in discriminatory practices against I.M. based on his disability. The alleged discriminatory actions included refusal of enrollment, cancellation of enrollment, and failure to provide accommodations for both I.M. and other children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or similar disabilities. The DOJ investigatory letter served as a piece of evidence in the case, and NEISD sought to introduce it in support of its arguments during the legal proceedings.

I.M. filed two motions related to NEISD’s expert, Jose L. Martín, who was designated to provide expertise on the attorney’s fees claimed by I.M. in his counterclaim. The first motion sought the exclusion of Martín, asserting that NEISD’s designation of him was untimely in violation of the Court’s Scheduling Order.

In the second motion, I.M. contested NEISD’s designation of Martín, invoking Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert standards. The challenge questioned the admissibility and reliability of Martin’s expert testimony on attorney’s fees. I.M. argued that the designation did not meet the criteria set forth in the applicable rules and standards, warranting the exclusion of Martin’s expert testimony from consideration in the legal proceedings.

Disability Expert Witness

Jose L. Martín is a founding partner at the law firm of Richards Lindsay & Martín, L.L.P. located in Austin, Texas where his practice focuses on disability issues, litigation affecting school districts, and special education under key federal statutes, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As an attorney, Martín represents numerous public school districts in the state of Texas. Through his legal work, he has gained extensive experience in addressing the day-to-day challenges faced by schools in their efforts to comply with both state and federal disabilities laws. He is a graduate of the University of Texas in Journalism, and the University of Texas School of Law.

As a strong advocate for preventive legal measures, Jose L. Martín actively engages in sharing his expertise through various presentations. Martín’s commitment to preventive legal practices is evident through his participation in both national and regional conferences on Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Discussion by the Court

The IDEA provides that, when reviewing an administrative decision under the IDEA, the Court (i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the Court determines is appropriate. 

I.M. opposed the inclusion of the Department of Justice (DOJ) letter as additional evidence, contending that the letter was not relevant to the issues under consideration by the Court. I.M. argued that there was no ADA claim pending before the Special Education Hearing Officer (SEHO) during the administrative proceedings.

In contrast, NEISD argued that the DOJ letter was pertinent to I.M.’s counterclaim for attorney’s fees, asserting that the content of the letter and the related settlement negotiations influenced the reasonableness of I.M.’s fee request. NEISD specifically contended that its settlement offer, which involved offering no-cost enrollment in the same afterschool program addressed in the DOJ letter, could have provided I.M. with more favorable relief than what was obtained through the SEHO decision.

During the Court’s hearing, NEISD confirmed that including the DOJ letter in the evidentiary record for the District Court would not necessitate the supplementation of the parties’ summary judgment motions. NEISD maintained that the inclusion of the DOJ letter was an efficient means of illustrating the existence of an additional related claim that NEISD sought to address through its settlement offer.

Following the arguments presented by both parties at the hearing, the Court granted NEISD’s motion to consider additional evidence outside of the administrative record. Notably, this decision occurred after I.M. rescinded her opposition to the motion.

I.M. filed a motion seeking the exclusion of expert Jose L. Martín, arguing that NEISD’s designation of Martín was untimely as per the Court’s Scheduling Order. The Court, however, denied the motion, pointing out that the Scheduling Order had set an expert-designation deadline of November 8, 2023, for parties asserting claims for relief and a deadline of November 22, 2023, for parties resisting claims of relief.

In this context, NEISD designated only one expert, Martín, on November 21, 2023, specifically to testify on the attorney’s fees claimed by I.M. and the question of whether they are reasonable and necessary. The Court noted that Martin’s expert report clearly demonstrated that he was presenting an opinion solely on I.M.’s counterclaim. Consequently, NEISD, in relation to this expert, fell under the category of a party resisting a claim for relief. As such, the Court deemed NEISD’s expert designation to be timely, in accordance with the deadlines specified in the Scheduling Order.

As to I.M.’s reliability challenge filed against Martín’s testimony, Daubert set forth four specific factors that the trial court should ordinarily apply when considering the reliability of scientific evidence: (1) whether the technique can or has been tested; (2) whether it has been subjected to peer review or publication; (3) whether there is a known or potential rate of error; and (4) whether the relevant scientific community generally accepts the technique. 

The Court determined that NEISD successfully met the burden of establishing the reliability of Jose L. Martín’s proposed expert testimony regarding I.M.’s counterclaim for attorney’s fees. Martín, a licensed attorney and founding partner at Richards, Lindsay, and Martín in Austin, specializes in disability issues, litigation affecting school districts, and special education cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). His extensive experience includes litigating on behalf of school districts in Texas, consulting with Departments of Education nationwide, and speaking on topics related to special education and the IDEA.

In rendering his opinion, the Court noted that Martín had thoroughly reviewed the SEHO decision, I.M.’s administrative-level complaint, various declarations filed on behalf of I.M., the offers of settlement made during the administrative proceedings, and other documents in the administrative record.

Martín’s expert report asserted that I.M. qualified as a prevailing party under the IDEA, but recommended a significant reduction in the requested attorney’s fees. The reduction was suggested because I.M. did not achieve all the relief sought during the administrative proceedings, and Martín opined that I.M. could have obtained more favorable results by accepting NEISD’s settlement offer.

After examining Martín’s expert report, along with the parties’ briefs and considering arguments from counsel during the Court’s hearing, the Court concluded that I.M.’s motion did not present a genuine challenge to the reliability of Martín’s testimony. The Court observed that I.M. failed to identify any purported defects in Martín’s methodology or the reliability of his methods in opining on I.M.’s counterclaim for attorney’s fees. Instead, the disagreement between the parties revolved around differing perspectives on what transpired at the administrative level, how to assess the relief granted by the SEHO compared to what I.M. sought, and whether a reduction in fees was justified.


The Court granted NEISD’s motion to consider additional evidence outside of the administrative record but denied both I.M.’s motions pertaining to NEISD’s expert, Jose L. Martín. The Court has not arrived on an outcome for this case since the remaining issues involved in this case still await resolution.

Key Takeaways:

The denial of I.M.’s motion to exclude expert Jose L. Martín underscores the importance of adherence to court-issued scheduling orders. In this instance, NEISD’s timely designation of Martín, who focused specifically on I.M.’s counterclaim for attorney’s fees, was deemed compliant with the deadlines set forth in the Scheduling Order.

The Court’s reliance on the Daubert factors in evaluating the reliability of Martín’s expert testimony establishes a precedent for assessing the soundness of expert opinions in the context of special education litigation. Martín’s extensive experience and thorough review of relevant documents contributed to the Court’s determination that his testimony was reliable.

The Court’s observation that I.M.’s challenge did not constitute a true reliability challenge underscores the importance of identifying specific defects in an expert’s methodology when challenging the reliability of expert testimony. In this case, the disagreement between the parties centered on differing interpretations of events at the administrative level and the appropriateness of fee reduction, rather than any identified flaws in Martín’s methodology.

Overall, these key takeaways emphasize the nuanced nature of expert testimony in special education litigation, requiring a careful consideration of procedural timelines, adherence to court orders, and a focused assessment of the reliability of expert opinions.

Case Details:

Case CaptionNorth East Independent School District V. I.M. B/N/F Bianca R.
Docket Number5:23cv769
CourtUnited States District Court, Texas Western
Citation2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13214
Order DateJanuary 24, 2024