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Bowman v. District of Columbia

March 20, 2007

ESSIE BOWMAN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

Document No. 3

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DEFERRING RULING IN PART ON THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT*fn1;ORDERINGFURTHERBRIEFING

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiffs, minor children and their parents, guardians and court-appointed educational advocates, bring this action to collect unpaid 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"). Pending before the court is the defendant's motion for partial summary judgment. The defendant argues that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under § 1983 and that the court-appointed educational advocates are improper parties. Because the plaintiffs fail to allege that the defendant has a policy, custom, or practice of non-payment of attorneys' fees, the court grants summary judgment on their § 1983 claim.*fn2 Because it is unclear from the parties' briefs whether court-appointed educational advocates are eligible to recover attorneys' fees and costs, the court defers ruling in part and orders further briefing.

II. BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs are 19 minor children and their parents, guardians and court-appointed advocates. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24, 28, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88. Six of the 19 children plaintiffs are wards of the District of Columbia. Am. Compl., Prayer for Relief. The six wards of the District of Columbia are represented by court-appointed educational advocates William Houston and Laura Duos.*fn3 Id. ¶¶ 12, 24, 36, 52, 76, 84. According to the caption in the complaint, the court-appointed advocates bring the instant suit as next friends.

All of the plaintiffs brought administrative due process claims*fn4 against the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24, 28, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88. 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, 25, 29, 37, 41, 45, 49, 53, 57, 61, 65, 69, 73, 77, 81, 85, 89. The plaintiffs bring the instant suit because DCPS has not paid the full amounts requested by the plaintiffs.*fn5 Id., Prayer for Relief. In total, the plaintiffs seek $8,728.50 in unpaid attorneys' fees and costs. Id. The plaintiffs bring their claims pursuant to the IDEA and § 1983. Id. ¶ 1.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on February 22, 2006. The defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the § 1983 claim and on the claims brought by the court-appointed educational advocates shortly thereafter. The court now turns to the defendant's motion.

III. ANALYSIS

The defendant moves for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' § 1983 claim, arguing that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of establishing that the defendant, a municipality, has a custom or practice of violating their statutory rights. Def.'s Mot. for Partial Dismissal ("Def.'s Mot.") at 5. The defendant also moves for summary judgment on the claims brought by the the court-appointed educational advocates on the grounds that they did not have the authority to initiate the due process hearings at DCPS and hence may not pursue attorneys' fees in this court. Id. at 9. The defendant also contends that the court-appointed advocates may not simultaneously appear as plaintiffs and as counsel of record because it violates Rule 3.7 of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct ("D.C. Rule 3.7"). Id. at 12. For the reasons that follow, the court grants summary judgment as to the plaintiffs' § 1983 claim. The court also orders further briefing on the ability of court-appointed educational advocates to file IDEA actions in this court and on the applicability of D.C. Rule 3.7 to the instant action.

A. The Court Grants Summary Judgment on the § 1983 Claim

1. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at ...


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