The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge
Re: Accotink Academy Invoice Dispute Hearing of March 19, 2003 and Pathways Schools Invoice Dispute Hearing of March 27, 2003
This matter is before the Court for consideration of the Preliminary Report and Recommendations of the Special Master in the Matter of the Accotink Academy Invoice Dispute Hearing Held on March 19, 2003 ("Acc. Report") and the Report and Recommendations of the Special Master in the Matter of the Pathways Schools Invoice Dispute Hearing Held on March 27, 2003 ("Path. Report"), both filed by Steven M. Schneebaum in his capacity as Hearing Officer and Designee of Special Master Elise Baach ("Hearing Officer"). The Reports concern invoices submitted by the Accotink Academy ("Accotink") and the Pathways Schools ("Pathways"), private providers of special education services for defendant District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") to DCPS for the months of October, November and/or December of 2002. Defendants filed a combined objection to the Reports, and plaintiffs responded in support of the Pathways Report.
A. Payment to Private Providers Pursuant to the October 11, 2002 Order
Payments by DCPS to private providers for special education services provided to DCPS students are made pursuant to an Order of this Court, which details a highly structured payment scheme and delineates resolution procedures for disputes that arise concerning invoices submitted by private providers. See Order Modifying and Supplementing August 25, 1997 Order Regarding Payment System, dated October 11, 2002 ("October 11 Order" or "Order"). The Order was entered by the Court on joint motion of the parties.
Under the October 11 Order, providers must submit to defendants actual invoices for services rendered no later than the fifth day of every month following the month in which the services were provided. See October 11 Order ¶ (a). Payments are to be made by the first business day of the following month. See id. If defendants dispute any charges contained in an invoice, "defendants shall provide a written dispute notice to the provider no later than 20 days after the invoice was submitted," containing a detailed description of the basis of the dispute and all supporting documentation. Id. ¶ (b). If a portion of the invoice is undisputed, defendants must submit payment for that portion to the provider by the fifth day of the month following the month in which the invoice was submitted. See id. If defendants fail to provide a timely, welldocumented dispute notice, "the amount invoiced by the school or provider will be accepted and paid by the defendants." Id. If a provider disagrees with the amount paid by defendants, it must submit to DCPS's Chief Financial Officer the reasons for its objection, in writing with supporting documentation, no later than 10 business days after receipt of a dispute notice. See id. ¶ (d). If a provider fails to submit such written objections within the time provided, "then the amount paid by the defendants will be understood to be accepted by the school or provider." Id.
Within 10 days of receipt of the provider's written objection and documentation under Subparagraph (d), defendants "shall issue either a separate check reconciling any difference from the amount originally paid, or a written rejection of any claim of the school and/or the provider and the reason for the rejection." See October 11 Order ¶ (e). A reconciliation or written rejection as set forth in Subparagraph (e) "will serve as the final administrative decision of the defendants." Id. ¶ (f). If the provider "is not fully satisfied with the reconciliation or the basis for rejection of their (sic) claim as set forth in subparagraph (e), and the parties are unable to reach a resolution, the provider may file a request for a proceeding to determine findings of fact and recommendations for resolution with the Office of the Special Master." Id. ¶ (g). A proceeding on the dispute shall be held before the Special Master or her designee. See id. ¶ (i).*fn1
B. October 2002 Disputed Invoices
In his reports, the Hearing Officer detailed the facts surrounding the invoice challenges at issue. On November 5, 2002, Accotink submitted three invoices to DCPS for services provided in October of that year. On November 25, 2002, DCPS sent by facsimile a notice of dispute for one invoice that concerned Accotink's Alternative Learning Center, in the amount of $5353.33. Accotink objected to this notice on December 4, 2002, asserting that it was untimely because DCPS had faxed the notice after business hours on the last day it was due. DCPS never responded to this objection or paid the balance Accotink claimed it was due. See Acc. Report at 2-3.
C. November 2002 Disputed Invoices
On or about December 5, 2002, Accotink submitted three invoices for services provided in November. In response, on December 24, 2002, DCPS faxed notices of dispute of the invoices concerning Accotink's Therapeutic School and the Alternative Learning Center. On January 6, 2003, Accotink submitted its written objection to DCPS, contending that the dispute notices were untimely and lacked sufficient supporting documentation. DCPS did not respond and did not pay Accotink the outstanding monies. See Acc. Report at 4.
D. December 2002 Disputed Invoices
On January 5, 2003, Accotink submitted to DCPS its December 2002 invoices. On January 23, 2003, DCPS disputed one invoice for services relating to services in the Therapeutic School. Accotink objected on January 28, 2003. Then, on January 31, 2003, Accotink received a second letter from DCPS, dated January 23, 2003, that challenged the December Alternative Learning Center invoice. On February 3, 2003 Accotink objected to this second letter, asserting that it was untimely and lacked supporting documentation. On February 4, 2003, DCPS ...