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Harris v. Williams

August 4, 2003

LA VITA HARRIS, NEXT FRIEND (AND MOTHER) FOR MARK HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MAYOR ANTHONY WILLIAMS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No.: 2

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

This Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act ("IDEA") matter is before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The plaintiff, La Vita Harris, brings this action on behalf of her minor son Mark, who attends specialeducation classes provided by the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). The defendants are District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams, School Superintendent Paul L. Vance, Assistant Superintendent for the Division of Special Education Anne Gay, and Chief of Special Education Reform Ray Bryant (collectively,"the defendants"). The plaintiff appeals a determination by a DCPS hearing officer regarding certain evaluations that the defendants allegedly failed to conduct or, alternatively, to disclose to the plaintiff. In response, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that the applicable statute of limitations bars the complaint. Because the plaintiff filed her complaint within 30 days of receiving notice of the hearing officer's determination, the court denies the defendants' motion to dismiss.

II. BACKGROUND

With some difficulty, the court gleans from the complaint and its accompanying exhibits the following factual background. The plaintiff is the mother of Mark Harris, a 16-year-old boy with learning disabilities. Compl. ¶ 8, Ex. A. In June 2001, pursuant to IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., the plaintiff attended an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meeting with DCPS personnel regarding Mark's special education at Shaw Junior High School. Id. Ex. C. Nine months later, in March 2002, the plaintiff retained counsel "to improve the level of special education services" that DCPS was providing her son. Id. ¶ 8, Ex. G. The plaintiff's counsel immediately wrote to the school to request Mark's records. Id. Exs. C, E. In response, the plaintiff's counsel received some records, but they did not contain copies of Mark's evaluations supporting his IEP. Id. Ex. A.

In April 2002, Mark was incarcerated at Oak Hill Juvenile Facility, and subsequently moved to the Gateway 3 Shelter House, where he remained through mid-June. Id. Exs. A, E. In May 2002, a coordinator from Gateway attended Mark's IEP meeting and signed the IEP. Id. Exs. D, E. The plaintiff states that although she retained custody of Mark during his stay at Gateway, neither she nor her counsel received notice of the May 2002 meeting. Id. Ex. E.

In August 2002, the plaintiff formally requested a due-process hearing before a DCPS hearing officer pursuant to IDEA. Id. ¶ 9, Ex. B. In her request, the plaintiff stated that DCPS either had not conducted evaluations for Mark or had not provided the plaintiff with copies of any such evaluations and asked that the hearing officer direct DCPS to immediately conduct or disclose evaluations for Mark. Id. Ex. B.

The hearing took place in mid-November 2002.*fn1 Id. Ex. F. Although DCPS failed to disclose any evaluations prior to the hearing as required under IDEA, the DCPS counsel told the hearing officer that the evaluations for Mark's June 2001 and May 2002 IEPs did in fact exist. Id. ¶ 15, Ex. A. As for disclosure, the DCPS counsel stated that IDEA regulations required only that DCPS provide the parent with access to the student's records. Id. Ex. A. In response, the plaintiff argued that there was no evidence that the evaluations existed, and that DCPS had an obligation to provide her with the records. Id.

On November 29, 2002, the hearing officer determined that the plaintiff had failed to establish that Mark's records were incomplete, and that the regulations required only that DCPS provide parents with access to, rather than copies of, student records. Id. On December 3, 2002, the DCPS Hearing Office assistant coordinator received the hearing officer's determination, marked it"issued 12-3-02," and faxed a copy to the plaintiff's counsel. Defs.' Reply Ex. 1 ("Toland Aff."). The plaintiff's counsel received the fax on December 4, 2002. Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 1.

On January 3, 2003, the plaintiff filed her complaint. On January 24, 2003, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that the plaintiff's suit is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot.") at 1. The court now addresses the defendants' motion.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for the Statute of Limitations for HOD Appeals under IDEA

Congress enacted IDEA"to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living." Calloway v. District of Columbia, 216 F.3d 1, 3 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A)). Under IDEA, school districts must develop IEPs to meet the special educational needs of disabled students. Id. (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)). As a procedural safeguard, IDEA affords parents the right to examine all records regarding their child's disability and to participate in meetings regarding the child's identification, evaluation and educational placement. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1). If a parent objects to the child's identification, evaluation, or educational placement, the parent may request a due-process hearing before a hearing ...


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