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Gray v. District of Columbia

March 12, 2007

BARBARA GRAY ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

Document Nos. 3, 6

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiffs, minor children and their parents, guardians and court-appointed educational advocates, bring this action to collect attorneys' fees and other costs pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"),20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). The plaintiffs seek to recover attorneys' fees and costs in excess of the $4,000 District of Columbia Appropriations Act fee cap. Pending before the court are the defendant's two motions to dismiss. The defendant argues that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under the IDEA and § 1983.*fn1 As the plaintiffs fail to allege that the defendant has a custom, policy, or practice of violating the IDEA, the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under the IDEA and § 1983. Accordingly, the court grants the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiffs are 64*fn2 minor children and their parents, guardians and court-appointed educational advocates. Eleven of the 64 children plaintiffs are wards of the District of Columbia. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 32, 76, 96, 104, 136, 148, 200, 204, 212, 264. The eleven wards of the District of Columbia are represented by court-appointed educational advocates William Houston and Ellen Douglas Dalton.*fn3 Id. According to the caption in the complaint, the court-appointed advocates bring the instant suit as next friends.

All of the plaintiffs filed requests for administrative due process hearings*fn4 to challenge actions taken by the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 73, 76, 80, 84, 88, 92, 96, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140, 144, 148, 152, 156, 160, 164, 168, 172, 176, 180, 184, 188, 192, 196, 200, 204, 208, 212, 216, 220, 224, 228, 232, 236, 240, 244, 248, 252, 256, 260, 264, 268, 272, 276, 280. The plaintiffs allege that they were prevailing parties against DCPS in the due process hearings. Id. As such, they submitted petitions for attorneys' fees to DCPS. Id. ¶¶ 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37, 41, 45, 49, 53, 57, 61, 65, 69, 74, 77, 81, 85, 89, 93, 97, 101, 105, 109, 113, 117, 121, 125, 129, 133, 137, 141, 145, 149, 153, 157, 161, 165, 169, 173, 177, 181, 185, 189, 193, 197, 201, 205, 209, 213, 217, 221, 225, 229, 233, 237, 241, 245, 249, 253, 257, 261, 265, 269, 273, 277, 281. The attorneys' fees petitions each sought reimbursement of fees and costs in excess of $4,000. Id.

Section 327 of the District of Columbia Appropriations Act of 2005 caps the District of Columbia's payment of IDEA attorneys' fees at $4,000 per action. Pub. L. No. 108-335, 118 Stat. 1322 (2004). The plaintiffs bring the instant suit to recover attorneys' fees in excess of the $4,000 statutory cap.*fn5 Id., Prayer for Relief. In total, the plaintiffs seek $199,198.74 in unpaid attorneys' fees and costs. Id. The plaintiffs bring their claims pursuant to the IDEA and § 1983. Id. ¶ 1. The amended complaint also sets forth constitutional claims. Prayer for Relief ¶¶ A, C, and D.

B. Procedural Background

The plaintiffs filed an amended two-count complaint on February 23, 2006. The first count of the amended complaint states that "an incongruity continues to exist between Section 327 of the District of Columbia Appropriations Act of 2005 and the provision of the IDEA that permits [c]courts to award attorney's fees" and that "[c]courts cannot leave it up to Congress to resolve this issue." Am. Compl. ¶ 287. The second count of the amended complaint alleges that the attorneys' fees "cap effectively limits the access of the District of Columbia's poor families to quality legal representation, which impairs their due process protections under the IDEA." Id. ¶ 288.

The defendant filed two motions to dismiss: the first motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the first complaint and the second motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the amended complaint.*fn6 The second motion incorporates the first ...


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