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PETTIES v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

May 12, 1995

NIKITA PETTIES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants. DAVID SKERRITT, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL L. FRIEDMAN

 These two cases are before the Court on plaintiffs' motions to show cause why the defendants should not be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with this Court's Orders of March 17, 1995. The plaintiffs in the Petties case are minor students and their parents who represent a class certified by the Court on March 17, 1995, and defined as follows:

 
all [District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS")] students currently placed in private special education schools or receiving special education and/or related services from a private third party provider, all [DCPS] students placed in public schools who currently are receiving related services from private providers, and all [DCPS] students who have been determined by an administrative decision or by agreement with the DCPS to be eligible to receive services from private providers (including private placements).

 The plaintiffs in the Skerritt case are David Skerritt, an eleven-year-old child with emotional and learning disabilities, and his mother.

 On March 17, 1995, the Court, after hearing argument, entered a Preliminary Injunction in the Petties case directing the defendants to comply with their statutory obligations under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., and its implementing regulations, and made the following findings:

 
Defendants have placed numerous DCPS students in private special education facilities pursuant to their obligation to provide an appropriate placement for these students. Similarly, defendants have entered into contracts or other agreement[s] with private firms or other entities for the provision of special education related services to students attending public schools within the [DCPS] system. Defendants are required by law to maintain these students' placements and related services by paying the costs thereof.
 
Defendants have not paid the costs of private special education placements or related services either fully or on a current or timely basis for at least the 1994-1995 school year. Consequently, defendants have violated the IDEA and other laws and regulations intended to ensure that DCPS students with special education needs receive a free, appropriate education.

 Petties v. District of Columbia, C.A. No. 95-0148, Preliminary Injunction at 1-2 (D.D.C. Mar. 17, 1995). The Court ordered the defendants to pay within 14 days all costs outstanding as of the date of the Court's Order, including costs of tuition for all private special education placements of DCPS students and all costs of all special education related services that private providers render to DCPS students pursuant to contracts or other agreements with the DCPS. The Court entered a similar Order on the same date in the Skerritt case. *fn1"

 On April 25, 1995, upon motion of the plaintiffs in the Petties case, the Court directed the defendants to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of the Court's March 17 Order with respect to the following matters:

 
1. Defendants' notification to private special education schools that, after June 9, 1995, defendants will not pay tuition or provide transportation for DCPS students placed in those schools;
 
2. Defendants' failure to pay all outstanding costs of private special education placements and/or related services, including those for which DHS has been invoiced; and
 
3. Defendants' failure to pay the outstanding costs of special education placements and/or related services as to which defendants claim there is a "dispute."

 Petties v. District of Columbia, C.A. No. 95-0148, Order To Show Cause (D.D.C. Apr. 25, 1995).

 In the Skerritt case, the Court granted plaintiffs' motion directing the defendants to show cause why they should not be held in contempt with respect to their notification to David Skerritt's school that they would not pay tuition or provide transportation for him after June 9, 1995. Skerritt v. District of Columbia, C.A. No. 94-2451, Order (D.D.C. Apr. 25, 1995). The defendants responded to the orders to show cause, and the Court heard argument from counsel in both cases on May 4, 1995.

 I. CIVIL CONTEMPT

 The Court has both an inherent and a statutory power to enforce compliance with its orders and may exercise that authority through a civil contempt proceeding. Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, 370, 16 L. Ed. 2d 622, 86 S. Ct. 1531 (1966); United States v. United Mine Workers of America, 330 U.S. 258, 330-32, 91 L. Ed. 884, 67 S. Ct. 677 (1947); SEC v. Parkersburg Wireless Ltd. Liab. Co., 156 F.R.D. 529, 534 (D.D.C. 1994); SEC v. Current Financial Services, Inc., 798 F. Supp. 802, 806 (D.D.C. 1992). Congress codified the courts' contempt powers in 18 U.S.C. § 401, which provides:

 
A court of the United States shall have power to punish by fine or imprisonment, at its discretion, such contempt of its ...

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