Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Petties v. District of Columbia

March 11, 2008

NIKITA PETTIES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
MIKEISHA BLACKMAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
JAMES JONES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

Each of these cases is before the Court for a determination of the same question: Whether the statutory cap, currently found in Section 122 of the District of Columbia Appropriations Act, on the District of Columbia's ability to pay attorneys' fees to prevailing parties in suits under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., applies to these class action lawsuits, and if so, how. This is a question of first impression. Indeed, these cases may constitute the only time that this question will ever be considered, because so far as the Court is aware, these are the only class action suits pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce rights under the IDEA, and Congress has not applied the fee cap nationwide, but only to lawyers who represent students and parents in the District of Columbia. For the following reasons, the Court concludes that under its plain and unambiguous language, the statutory fee cap does not apply in these cases in the manner that the defendants argue that it does.

I. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Each of the above-captioned matters has been pending before the undersigned for over a decade.

In Petties v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 95-0148, plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District of Columbia, the Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") and the Director of Special Education for DCPS, because DCPS had consistently failed to pay the costs of special education placements or related services to private providers, either fully or on a current or timely basis as required under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. As a result of this failure, many of the private providers threatened to terminate students' placements.

On March 17, 1995, the Court granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction in Petties, finding that "unless defendants fully and immediately fund all DCPS students currently in private special education placements and/or receiving related services from private providers and, in addition, give adequate written assurances that such payments will be made on a current basis in the future, many, if not all of those students will have those placements and/or services terminated, and there is no indication that appropriate alternative placements will be available to meet the students' individual needs." Petties v. District of Columbia, 881 F. Supp. 63, 64 (D.D.C. 1995).

On the same day the Court certified a plaintiff class in Petties under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defined as follows: all [DCPS] students currently placed in private special education schools or receiving special education and/or related services from a private third party provider, all [DCPS] students who currently are receiving related services from private providers, and all [DCPS] students who have been determined by an administrative decision or by agreement with the DCPS to be eligible to receive services from private providers (including private placements).

Petties v. District of Columbia, 881 F. Supp. at 64. On July 21, 1995, the Court modified the preliminary injunction and class certification specifically to include all DCPS students with disabilities whose private special education placements and/or related services are funded by the District of Columbia Department of Human Services. See Petties v. District of Columbia, 894 F. Supp. 465, 469 (D.D.C. 1995).

The Blackman/Jones litigation also arises from the failure of the District of Columbia Public Schools to meet its obligations to special education students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it also was filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce those rights. On July 17, 1997, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in Blackman v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629, against DCPS, the District of Columbia, the Chief Executive Officer of DCPS, and the Director of Special Education for DCPS, alleging that the defendants had failed to timely respond to students' and parents' requests for administrative due process hearings pursuant to the IDEA. Three months later, on October 16, 1997, a second suit was filed against the same defendants. This case, Curtis v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-2402, concerned defendants' failure to timely implement Hearing Officer Determinations ("HODs") and settlement agreements ("SAs") as required by the IDEA.

On October 22, 1997, the Court certified Blackman as a class action under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On May 14, 1998, the Court consolidated the Curtis and Blackman cases, denied defendants' motion to decertify the Blackman class, certified Curtis as a class, and then consolidated the two classes to create a single class with two subclasses. See Order (May 14, 1998); see also Opinion (June 3, 1998). The Blackman subclass was defined as: all persons now, and in the future, who present complaints to DCPS pursuant to Section 615(b)(6) of the IDEA and whose requests for impartial due process hearings under Section 615(f) of the IDEA and D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 5, § 3021.5 are overdue according to those provisions; and their next friends.

Order (May 14, 1998). The Curtis subclass (now referred to as the Jones subclass) was defined as:

all children, now and in the future, who are entitled to have DCPS provide them with a free appropriate public education [FAPE] and who have been denied same because DCPS either (a) has failed to fully and timely implement the determination of hearing officers, or (b) failed to fully and timely implement agreements concerning a child's identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of FAPE that DCPS has negotiated with the child's parent or educational advocate.

Id.*fn1

On June 3, 1998, the Court granted summary judgment for the Blackman/Jones plaintiffs on the issue of defendants' liability, finding there to be no genuine issue of material fact as to defendants' failure to meet their binding obligations to the class members under the IDEA. See Opinion (June 3, 1998). The Court did not at that time prescribe an immediate remedy for defendants' failure to comply with the law, and instead ordered the parties to jointly file a "proposed plan and schedule for resolution of the issue of remedy." Order and Judgment (June 3, 1998). The Court did so in recognition of the fact that because "the District simply [did] not have the resources to come into immediate compliance" with the IDEA, "a broad, class-wide preliminary injunction requiring the District to immediately comply with its statutory and regulatory obligations" would be "ineffective and impractical." Blackman v. District of Columbia, 185 F.R.D. 4, 5 (D.D.C. 1999); see Order (June 3, 1998). By 1999, however, the Court concluded that the District had ignored its obligations, even in severe cases, and, because the question of class-wide remedy would not likely be resolved imminently, it appointed Elise Baach, Esq., as a Special Master. Ms. Baach was appointed "for the limited purposes of assisting the Court in resolving the requests ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.