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Camden County Council on Economic Opportunity v. united States Dep't of Health & Human Services

July 7, 2008

CAMDEN COUNTY COUNCIL ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court has considered defendants' motion [15] and plaintiff's motion [20], the opposition and reply briefs, the entire record herein, and the applicable law. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion [15] will be GRANTED; plaintiff's motion [20] will be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Camden County Council on Economic Opportunity, is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1965 and incorporated in 1966 to carry out the "Great Society" programs of the Johnson Administration. Plaintiff operates a variety of programs in furtherance of its charitable purposes, including Head Start which serves about 1,300 low-income children and their families through twenty-three sites that provide "health, educational, nutritional, and other services that are determined, based on family needs assessments, to be necessary." Head Start Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9831 (2008). Within defendant United States Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), the Administration for Children and Family ("ACF") administers and oversees the Head Start program.

This case arises out of a review of plaintiff's Head Start program by or under the supervision of ACF. Such a review is required every three years. Except where expressly indicated, the following facts are not in dispute.

A. ACF's Review of Plaintiff's Head Start Program

Plaintiff is a non-profit corporation established under the laws of New Jersey and had been a Head Start grantee for the greater Camden, New Jersey area. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) ACF conducted a review of plaintiff's Head Start program in September 2005 using the Program Review Instrument for Systems Monitoring ("PRISM"). (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff then received a letter from ACF dated January 27, 2006 notifying plaintiff that it was a grantee with deficiencies as defined under 45 C.F.R. § 1304.3(a)(6)(i)(A) and 45 C.F.R. § 1304.3(a)(6)(i)(c). (Admin. R. at 226); 45 C.F.R. § 1304.3 (2008). Plaintiff was found to have failed to perform substantially in the areas of Childhood Development and Health Services as well as Program Design and Management. (Admin. R. at 226.) The Head Start Program Performance Standards, codified in 45 C.F.R. § 1304, sets forth the minimum requirements of a Head Start grantee. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 2.) The Head Start Act states that if the ACF Secretary identifies a deficiency, the grantee may be required to correct the deficiency immediately (within thirty days), within ninety days, or pursuant to a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). 42 U.S.C. § 9386a(d)(1)(B)(ii) (2007). In its letter, ACF noted twelve deficiencies and required that some be corrected immediately and the rest be resolved within ninety days. Plaintiff claims that ACF lacked the authority under its own regulations to require correction of deficiencies within ninety days absent a QIP. (Pl.'s Cross-mot. for Summ. J. at 9.) Plaintiff further argues that ACF failed to follow the statutorily required procedures in doing so. (Id.) The parties dispute whether ACF had authority to impose a ninety-day corrective action period and whether it followed the proper procedures in doing so.

B. March 2006 Follow-Up Review

The March 2006 follow-up review focused solely on the deficiencies that ACF identified as requiring correction immediately, within thirty days. (Admin. R. at 187.) ACF found that plaintiff continued to be in noncompliance with 45 C.F.R. § 1304.53(a)(10)(viii) by failing to "ensure that the outdoor premises of a site were cleaned daily and kept free of undesirable and hazardous materials and conditions." (Id. at 201.) Though ACF originally identified this issue specifically with regard to two sites, Charleston Center and Hayes Center, the follow-up revealed the existence of similar problems at a third site, Lois I Center. (Id.) When ACF revisited the sites three days later, some improvements had been made, but some hazardous and unsanitary conditions remained unresolved. (Id. at 202.) Plaintiff contends that ACF failed to provide adequate notice to plaintiff of its need to address the conditions at the Lois I Center. (Pl.'s Cross-mot. for Summ. J. at 16.) ACF and the Departmental Appeals Board ("DAB") rejected this argument, finding that the regulation clearly sets forth the expectation that all outdoor premises will be cleaned daily and free from undesirable and hazardous materials and that plaintiff "had notice of the type of conditions that the survey regarded as violating the performance standard." (Admin. R. at 15--16; Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 14.) Whether ACF properly held plaintiff responsible for a continuing deficiency at a site not specifically mentioned in the initial January 2006 report remains a disputed issue.

C. May 2006 Follow-Up Review

The May 2006 follow-up review took place ninety-one days after plaintiff's receipt of the January 2006 report. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 9.) This review revealed that plaintiff remained a grantee with deficiencies. Plaintiff failed to "ensure that all children were up-to-date on their medical and dental care within the [ninety]-day period." (Id.; Admin. R. at 187, 195.) Plaintiff had also failed to, "[i]n collaboration with each child's parent, . . . ensure that all children enrolled in the program were screened for developmental, sensory, and behavioral concerns." (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 9; Admin. R. at 196.) Finally, ACF found that plaintiff had "not fully established and maintained efficient and effective record-keeping systems to provide accurate and timely information regarding children, families, and staff." (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 10; Admin. R. at 188, 198.) Though the parties disagree as to how many records and files fell short of the prescribed performance standards, plaintiff concedes continuing deficiencies. Plaintiff primarily attacks the May 2006 follow-up review on procedural grounds, asserting that defendants may only impose a ninety-day correction period if the ACF Secretary, "taking into consideration the seriousness of the deficiency and the time reasonably required to correct the deficiency[,]" determines such a course of action to be appropriate. 45 U.S.C. § 9836a(d)(1)(B)(ii) (2007). The exact number of insufficient files and whether defendants may be afforded a presumption of reasonableness remain disputed issues.

D. ACF's Decision to Terminate Plaintiff's Head Start Grant Funding

A letter dated April 9, 2007 notified plaintiff of ACF's decision to terminate plaintiff's Head Start grant funding on the basis that plaintiff failed "to timely correct the findings determined to constitute deficiencies from the PRISM Monitoring Review conducted in September 2005." (Admin. R. at 186); See 45 C.F.R. § 1303.14(b)(4). Plaintiff timely appealed in accordance with 45 C.F.R. § 1303.14.(f)(1), and DAB granted summary disposition in favor of ACF, affirming defendants' decision to terminate plaintiff's federal financial assistance. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Summ. J. at 11; Admin. R. at 1.) Plaintiff now seeks an order from this Court granting declaratory and injunctive relief on the basis that ...


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