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Laster v. Dist. of Columbia

July 17, 2006

BETTY LASTER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

Document No. 14

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") case comes before the court on the defendants' motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).*fn1 The plaintiffs, handicapped children and their parents and guardians, filed a motion for a stay put injunction to prevent the defendants, the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"), from unilaterally modifying the students' current school placement.*fn2 Because the defendants' proposed placements modified the students' Individualized Education Plans ("IEP"),*fn3 the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a stay put injunction. The defendants now move the court for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Because the court applied the correct legal standard in analyzing the plaintiffs' motion for a stay put injunction, because the court entered the stay put injunction after the defendants received adequate notice, and because the stay put injunction does not violate the defendants' statutory rights, the court denies the motion to relieve the defendants from the judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The instant motion relates to two of the plaintiffs, T.L. and A.J.P., both special education students in the District of Columbia.*fn4 Mem. Op. (Sept. 28, 2006) ("Mem. Op.") at 2. T.L. is sixteen years old and brings suit through his grandmother and legal guardian, Betty Laster. Id. T.L.'s May 2004 IEP concluded that T.L. should attend Kingsbury Day School ("KDS") because he "requires small group instruction, individualized education and integrated related services." Id . On July 28, 2005, Laster and various school officials met to discuss T.L's IEP for the 2005-2006 school year. Id. At this meeting, DCPS changed "T.L's classification from 'learning disabled' to a primary classification of 'learning disabled' with a secondary classification of 'emotionally disturbed.'" Id . Because of the change in T.L.'s classification, KDS refused to admit him. Pls.' Mot. for Stay Put Inj. at 3. DCPS notified Laster that it was placing T.L. at the D.C. Alternative Learning Academy ("DCALA") as an alternative to KDS. Mem. Op. at 7. Laster informed DCPS that she disagreed with T.L's placement at DCALA. Id . On September 9, 2005, Laster filed an administrative due process complaint challenging the IEP and T.L.'s placement at DCALA. Id .

A.J.P. is four years old and brings suit through his mother, Leslie T. Jackson. Mem. Op. at 3. In August 2004, A.J.P.'s IEP for the 2004-2005 school year stated that he should attend the "inclusion nursery school program" at Stoddert Elementary School. Id . Stoddert Elementary School, however, no longer offers its inclusion program. Id . On August 10, 2005, DCPS issued a new IEP placing A.J.P. in the citywide autism program at Barnard Elementary School. Id . The IEP also changed A.J.P.'s classification from developmentally delayed to autistic. Id . Jackson disputes the classification change and the new placement at Barnard Elementary School. Id . As a result, she filed an administrative due process complaint on September 13, 2005. Id .

B. Procedural Background

After filing administrative due process complaints, the plaintiffs filed a civil suit alleging violations of their stay put rights on September 22, 2005. Mem. Op. at 4. In conjunction with their civil suit filings, the plaintiffs requested stay put injunctions to prevent the defendants from modifying the students' current IEP placements. Id . On September 23, 2005, the court ordered an expedited briefing schedule. Id . The court subsequently determined that the alternative placement facilities proposed by the defendants were not substantially similar to the children's current schools. Id . Because the defendants are required to find a substantially similar placement when an IEP placement becomes unavailable, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a stay put injunction on September 26, 2005. Id . In addition to granting the motion for an injunction, the court ordered the parties to meet on September 29, 2005 to discuss potential stay put placements, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement. On October 14, 2006, the defendants filed a motion for relief from judgment. The court now turns to that motion.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)

In its discretion, the court may relieve a party from an otherwise final judgment pursuant to any one of six reasons set forth in Rule 60(b). F ED. R. C IV. P. 60(b); Lepkowski v. Dep't of Treasury, 804 F.2d 1310, 1311-12 (D.C. Cir. 1986). First, the court may grant relief from a judgment involving "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." F ED. R. C IV. P. 60(b). Such relief under Rule 60(b) turns on equitable factors, notably whether any neglect was excusable. Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Ass'n Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 392 (1993). Second, the court may grant relief where there is "newly discovered evidence" that the moving party could not have discovered through its exercise of due diligence. F ED. R. C IV. P. 60(b). Third, the court may set aside a final judgment for fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct by an adverse party. Id .; Mayfair Extension, Inc. v. Magee, 241 F.2d 453, 454 (D.C. Cir. 1957). Specifically, the movant must show that "such 'fraud' prevented him from fully and fairly presenting his case," and that "the fraud is attributable to the party or, at least, to counsel." Richardson v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 150 F.R.D. 1, 7 (D.D.C. 1993) (Sporkin, J.) (citations omitted). Fourth, the court may grant relief where the judgment is "void." F ED. R. C IV. P. 60(b). A judgment may be void if the court lacked personal or subject-matter jurisdiction in the case, acted in a manner inconsistent with due process, or proceeded beyond the powers granted to it by law. Eberhardt v. Integrated Design & Constr., Inc., 167 F.3d 861, 871 (4th Cir. 1999). Fifth, the court may grant relief if the "judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed . . . or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application." F ED. ...


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