The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the Motion To Dismiss Or, In The
Alternative, For Summary Judgment filed by defendants Arlene Ackerman
and the District of Columbia ("Defs.' Motion"), and the Motion For
Partial Summary Judgment filed by plaintiffs Thomas and Jean Zearley,
individually and as parents and next friends of Ian Zearley ("Pls.'
Motion"). Upon consideration of those motions, the oppositions and
replies thereto, the entire record herein and the relevant law, the
Court denies defendants' motion in its entirety, and denies in part and
grants in part plaintiffs' motion.
This is an action alleging violations of the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. ("IDEA") and
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ian Zearley is a nineteen year-old student in the
District of Columbia who has been identified as disabled and whose
education is therefore governed by the provisions of IDEA. (Plaintiffs'
Statement of Material Facts As To Which No Genuine Issue Exists at ¶ 8
("Pls.' Statement ¶ __"); Defs.' Motion at 2.) On July 11, 1997, Ian's
diagnosis was changed from "specifically learning disabled" to
"seriously emotionally disturbed" and DCPS began to evaluate the
recommendation that he be moved to a 24-hour residential placement.
(Pls.' Statement ¶ 24; Defs.' Motion at 2.) By the beginning of the
1997-98 school year, DCPS had issued neither notice of a new placement
nor notice that Ian should continue in his current placement. (Pls.'
Statement ¶ 31; Defs.' Motion Exh. 12.) The Zearleys, therefore, enrolled
Ian at Little Keswick School in Virginia, and took personal financial
responsibility for the yearly tuition of almost $60,000. (Pls.'
Statement ¶¶ 32, 36; Defs.' Motion at 3.)
While the Zearleys were informed orally that DCPS would accept and
fund Ian's placement at Little Keswick, DCPS never issued a formal
placement notice for 1997-1998 and paid Ian's tuition bills sporadically
and incompletely. (Pls.' Statement ¶¶ 41, 42; Defs.' Motion at 7;
Defendants' Opposition To Plaintiffs' Motion For Partial Summary
Judgment at 2 ("Defs.' Opp.").) In addition, DCPS never completed an
interstate compact placement request form, as required by Virginia law.
(Pls.' Statement ¶ 50; Defs.' Motion at 7.)
On May 26, 1998, Little Keswick informed the Zearleys that unless DCPS
completed the two page placement request form, Ian could not be enrolled
at Little Keswick in the fall of 1998. (Pls.' Statement ¶ 50; Defs.'
Motion at 7.) Furthermore, should DCPS not give written notice of Ian's
fall placement, and officially accept financial responsibility, the
Zearleys would be responsible for Ian's tuition. (Pls.' Statement ¶ 43;
Defs' Motion at 7.) DCPS failed to complete the interstate placement
form or provide any notice of Ian's fall placement before the start of
the school year on September 5, 1998. (Pls.' Statement ¶¶ 50, 48, 54;
Defs.' Motion at 9.)
On September 8, 1998, the Zearleys filed a complaint in this court and
a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction
requiring DCPS to fill out the interstate compact placement request
form. (Cplt. at ¶¶ 23-28.) The complaint also requested a declaratory
judgment stating that DCPS had violated Ian's IDEA rights, permanent
injunctive relief requiring DCPS to comply with IDEA and damages under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violations to plaintiffs civil rights.
(Cplt. at ¶¶ 21-33.) On September 14, 1998, the Zearleys filed a request
to convene a due process hearing to address DCPS's failure to propose a
placement for Ian for the 1998-99 year. (Pls.' Statement ¶ 61; Defs.'
Motion at 9.) On September 24, 1998, this court issued a temporary
restraining order requiring DCPS to complete the placement request form.
DCPS subsequently completed the form and plaintiffs withdrew their
request for a preliminary injunction.
During the course of the litigation, DCPS has reimbursed the Zearleys
for their out-of-pocket expenses associated with the tuition for Little
Keswick, paid Ian's tuition in full and issued a 1998-99 placement order
for Ian. (Pls' Statement ¶¶ 42, 48, 57; Defs.' Mot. at 2.) However, DCPS
has been sanctioned twice thus far in the litigation: first, for its
failure to waive service of process under FRCP 4(d)(2) and second, for
its failure to provide appropriate discovery responses. (Order Granting
Motion For an Award of Costs and Fees; Order Granting Motion For
Discovery Sanctions.) In addition, Ian left Little Keswick in November
of 1999 due to worsening emotional problems. (Pls.' Statement ¶ 62;
Defs.' Reply to Opp. at 2.) While the Zearleys have requested a meeting
to revise his IEP, no such meeting had, as of March 2000, been scheduled.
(Pls.' Opp. at 12, Exh. T & U.)
On February 29, 2000, defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment. On March 8, 2000, plaintiffs filed a
motion for partial summary judgment. As explained in more detail below,
the Court denies defendants' motion in its entirety, and denies in part
and grants in part plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.
There are four issues raised by the parties' cross-motions for
dispositive judgment. These issues are (1) whether plaintiffs' IDEA
claims are moot; (2) whether any material disputed facts remain
regarding plaintiffs' IDEA claims; (3) whether alleged IDEA violations
can constitute a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (4)
whether defendants and plaintiffs have met their summary judgment burden
with regards to plaintiffs' section 1983 claim.
Defendants argue that since DCPS has complied with the requirements
of IDEA by agreeing to Ian's placement and paying his educational costs,
plaintiffs' IDEA claims are moot, and defendants are entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. (Memorandum Of Points And Authorities In
Support Of Defendants' Motion To Dismiss Or, In The Alternative, For
Summary Judgment at 8 ("Defs.' Memo.").) Plaintiffs argue that an IDEA
proceeding is a short-term action that falls under the doctrinal
exception to mootness for action that is "capable of repetition yet
evading review." (Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Points
and Authorities In Opposition To Defendants' Motion To Dismiss Or, In
The Alternative, For Summary Judgment at 12 ("Pls.' Memo.").)
The issue of mootness arises "when the issues presented are no longer
`live' or the parties lack a cognizable interest in the outcome." United
States Parole Commission v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 395, 100 S.Ct. 1202,
63 L.Ed.2d 479 (1980). In such a case, a court has no jurisdiction
because Article III of the Constitution limits federal judicial power to
resolution of cases and controversies. The doctrine of "capable of
repetition yet evading review" is an exception to mootness for cases
where the party can demonstrate that "(1) the challenged action [is] in
its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or
expiration, and (2) there [is] a reasonable expectation that the same
complaining party [will] be subjected to the same action again." United
States v. Weston, 194 F.3d 145 (D.C.Cir. 1999).
The challenged action here is DCPS' failure to comply with its IDEA
obligations to Ian Zearley over the 1997-1998 school year. It is well
established that violations of IDEA satisfy both prongs of this test.
See, e.g., Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 322-23, 108 S.Ct. 592,
98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988) Jenkins v. Squillacote, 935 F.2d 303, 306
(D.C.Cir. 1991); Petties v. District of Columbia, 881 F. Supp. 63, 69
(D.D.C. 1995) (holding that DCPS' history of delayed payments in
identical circumstances created a "sufficient likelihood" that the
behavior would be repeated): First, DCPS' failure to comply with its
IDEA obligations is action too short to be fully litigated prior to its
cessation. See, e.g., Jenkins, 935 F.2d at 306 (D.C.Cir. 1991) ("there
can be no doubt that a one-year placement order under the IDEA is, by
its nature, too short in duration to be fully litigated prior to its
expiration") (quoting Honig, 484 U.S. at 322-23, 108 S.Ct. 592). Second,
Ian is eligible to receive educational placements under IDEA until his
21st birthday, and there is therefore a "reasonable expectation" that
Ian and his parents will be subject to the same action again. See
Jenkins, 935 F.2d at 308 (holding that when a child would remain
eligible under IDEA for at least eleven more years, there was a