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Flores v. District of Columbia

June 15, 2006

ANGELA FLORES, PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF J.F., A MINOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Angela Flores brings this action for injunctive relief under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (2000) ("IDEA"),*fn1 against the District of Columbia.*fn2 The plaintiff alleges that the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") failed to provide funding for full, appropriate, and independent educational evaluations of her minor child, J.F.,*fn3 in violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(2)(A) and an order issued by the DCPS's Office of Management Services. Compl. ¶ 28. Consequently, the plaintiff alleges that the DCPS failed to develop an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for J.F. "based on full [and] appropriate evaluations," Compl. ¶ 32, thus violating J.F.'s right to a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"), Compl. ¶¶ 34-37. Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.*fn4 For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion is denied.

I. Background

The plaintiff alleges the following facts in support of her claims. On September 10, 2003, an administrative hearing officer ordered the DCPS to conduct a bilingual psychoeducational evaluation of J.F. Pl.'s Opp. at 1. When the DCPS failed to conduct this evaluation, a subsequent Hearing Officer's Decision ("HOD") was issued on November 3, 2004, mandating that, "[a]ccording to Superintendent's Directive 530.6, DCPS shall fund independent bi-lingual psychoeducational and speech/language valuations [sic] of the student." Compl. ¶ 8. Directive 530.6 sets forth the schedule of rates at which the DCPS will reimburse guardians for various types of independent evaluations. Compl. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Opp. at 1-2.*fn5

Following the issuance of the November 3, 2004 HOD, the plaintiff's counsel at the administrative level, Carolyn Houck, attempted to secure the two independent, bilingual evaluations that the administrative hearing officer ordered the DCPS to fund for J.F. Compl. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Opp. at 2. None of the potential evaluators contacted by Houck, however, offered to provide the evaluations she sought at a rate at or below those prescribed by Directive 530.6. Compl. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Opp. at 2.*fn6 Houck then contacted the Director of Compliance of the DCPS's Division of Special Education, Jeffrey Kaplan, "to reach an agreement regarding the evaluation funding," Compl. ¶ 12, but Kaplan refused to approve funding for the evaluations at the rates solicited by Houck. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Opp. at 2.

When the DCPS did not respond to a second request by Houck for funding, Compl. ¶ 14, the plaintiff requested another administrative hearing, seeking the same remedies demanded in her present complaint, Compl. ¶ 15. Following the second hearing, the hearing officer dismissed the plaintiff's case in a HOD issued on February 7, 2005. Compl. ¶ 23. The hearing officer concluded that the November 2004 HOD did not entitle the plaintiff to evaluations at a cost above the rates authorized in Directive 530.6. Thus, the hearing officer found that the plaintiff had the option of either paying the difference between the actual cost of the independent evaluations and the maximum set by the Directive or requesting that the DCPS provide the evaluations in-house. Administrative Record ("AR") at 33. The plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration on February 22, 2005, which the hearing officer denied on March 1, 2005.*fn7 The plaintiff then filed the complaint in this action on March 31, 2005, alleging violations of the IDEA and seeking the relief described above. Compl.; Pl.'s Opp. at 3.

In her complaint, the plaintiff seeks an injunction ordering the defendant to fund independent, bilingual psychoeducational and speech-language evaluations of J.F. performed by a specified third party vendor, paid in advance, at a cost above that authorized by the defendant's current policy governing procurement of independent evaluations. Compl. at 6. The plaintiff also requests that the Court compel the DCPS to "convene a Multi-Disciplinary Team [MDT] meeting within 15 days of receipt of the evaluations to review the evaluations, revise J.F.'s IEP, determine an appropriate school placement, and determine a compensatory education plan for J.F." Compl. at 6.

At a scheduling conference on August 2, 2005, the Court recommended that the DCPS perform the two evaluations of J.F. itself. Def.'s Mem. at 4; Pl.'s Opp. at 3. Counsel for both parties agreed, Def.'s Mem. at 4, and the DCPS completed the two evaluations on August 5 and August 9, 2005, Def.'s Mem. at 4, Pl.'s Opp. at 3. After the evaluations were completed, the DCPS invited the plaintiff to attend a MDT meeting at which J.F.'s IEP would be reevaluated in light of the evaluations it had conducted. Def.'s Mem. at 4. The MDT meeting was conducted on September 6, 2005. Def.'s Reply at 1 n.1, Ex. 1; Pl.'s Surreply at 1, Ex. 1. While the plaintiff concedes that the MDT meeting took place on September 6 and that the MDT reviewed J.F.'s new evaluations, developed a new IEP for J.F., and determined a school placement for J.F. at that time, Pl.'s Surreply at 1, the plaintiff contends that no compensatory education plan was developed at the MDT meeting, Pl.'s Surreply at 1, Ex. 1.

In support of its motion to dismiss, the defendant asserts that the plaintiff's case has been rendered moot because all of the relief demanded in the complaint has now been provided.

Def.'s Mem. at 5-6; Def.'s Reply at 2. Specifically, the defendant contends that both of the specific requests made in the plaintiff's prayer for relief-"the completion of J.F.'s evaluations and the convening of an MDT meeting,"*fn8 Def.'s Reply at 2-have already been satisfied. Def.'s Mem. at 6; Def.'s Reply at 2. The plaintiff argues in response that all the relief sought in her complaint has not been satisfied.*fn9 Specifically, the plaintiff asserts that no compensatory education plan was developed for J.F. at the MDT meeting, despite such a plan being among the specific relief sought in the complaint.*fn10 Pl.'s Surreply at 1. Because the Court may still grant such relief, the plaintiff contends that this case is not yet moot. Id.

II. Standard of Review

Motions to dismiss on grounds of mootness are properly brought under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn11 Abu Ali v. Gonzales, 387 F. Supp. 2d 16, 17 (D.D.C. 2005); Fund for Animals v. Mainella, 335 F. Supp. 2d 19, 22 (D.D.C. 2004) (Walton, J.). Once a defendant has moved to dismiss a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), "the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the factual predicates of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Erby v. United States, 424 F. Supp. 2d 180, 181 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)); see also Al-Owhali v. Ashcroft, 279 F. Supp. 2d 13, 21 (D.D.C. 2003) (Walton, J.) ("Throughout the Court's jurisdictional inquiry, it is plaintiff's burden to establish that the Court has jurisdiction.").*fn12 "The [C]court, in turn, has an affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority, which includes the obligation to consider the possibility of mootness." Abu Ali, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 17 (internal quotations omitted); accord Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001).

A court ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss "may consider documents outside the pleadings to assure itself that it has jurisdiction." Al-Owhali, 279 F. Supp. 2d at 17; see also Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir.1987) ("In 12(b)(1) proceedings, it has been long accepted that the judiciary may make appropriate inquiry beyond the pleadings to satisfy itself on [sic] authority to entertain the case." (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)). The level of scrutiny with which the Court examines the allegations in the complaint that support a finding of jurisdiction, however, depends upon whether the motion to dismiss asserts a facial or factual challenge to the court's jurisdiction. See I.T. Consultants, Inc. v. Pakistan, 351 F.3d 1184, 1188 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

Facial challenges, such as motions to dismiss for lack of standing at the pleading stage, "attack[] the factual allegations of the complaint that are contained on the face of the complaint." Al-Owhali, 279 F. Supp. 2d at 20. "If a defendant mounts a facial challenge to the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's jurisdictional allegations, the court must accept as true the allegations in the complaint and consider the factual allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Erby, 424 F. Supp. 2d at 181; see also I.T. Consultants, 351 F.3d at 1188. The court may look beyond the allegations contained in the complaint to decide a facial challenge, "as long as it still accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true." Abu Ali, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 18; see also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005) ("At the pleading stage . . . . [w]hile the district court may consider ...


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