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Douglass v. Dist. of Columbia

March 31, 2009

HERBERT DOUGLASS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Herbert Douglass ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Defendant District of Columbia (the "District") pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq. Compl. ¶ 1. The District has moved for dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rules") 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims under the IDEA and Section 1983 and that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under the IDEA or the Rehabilitation Act.*fn1 Upon a searching review of the Complaint, the relevant statutes, regulations and case law, the Court shall GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART the District's motion. Specifically, the Court GRANTS the District's motion as to Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint, concluding that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the IDEA and Section 1983, but DENIES the District's motion as to Count II of Plaintiff's Complaint, concluding that Plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim under the Rehabilitation Act. In addition, although neither party has raised the issue of the Court's subject matter jurisdiction as to Plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act, as set forth in Count II of the Complaint, the Court raises the issue sua sponte and shall require the parties to submit supplemental briefing addressing the discrete question of the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining claim under the Rehabilitation Act, for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Complaint

The IDEA provides that all children with disabilities will be provided a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"), and provides for procedural safeguards to ensure that disabled children receive individualized education programs ("IEP") to fulfill the Act's goals. As set forth in the Complaint, Plaintiff, at the time the lawsuit was filed, was "a twenty-one year old learning disabled student." Id. ¶ 8.*fn2 Plaintiff was a student at Ballou Senior High School, a school within the District of Columbia's public school system ("DCPS"), for three years, during which time he was enrolled in special education classes pursuant to his IEP. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff complains that, although his IEP specified that he was to be on the "high school diploma track," he was never informed by the District that "the special education classes he was attending were not eligible for Carnegie credits*fn3 and would not count toward his graduation credits." Id. ¶¶ 10-11. In other words, despite the fact that his IEP required Plaintiff to be on the "high school diploma track," Plaintiff had failed to earn any Carnegie units, as is necessary in order to be eligible for a high school diploma, during his three years of attendance at Ballou Senior High School. Id. ¶ 10.

A due process hearing was subsequently held, during which "DCPS admitted that they could not offer [him] Carnegie units at the high school level because he was enrolled in special education classes." Id. ¶ 12.*fn4 "Consequently, [Plaintiff] was placed at Accotink Academy, a full-time therapeutic private placement which offers Carnegie units for special education high school students." Id. "Because [Plaintiff] was eighteen when he enrolled in Accotink Academy, he was forced to sign a three year attendance contract with Accotink promising to remain at Accotink for a minimum of three years to complete his high school diploma." Id. ¶ 14. Thus, according to Plaintiff, "[a]t eighteen years of age [he] was forced to start his high school education over from the beginning in order to receive a high school diploma." Id. ¶ 13.

Plaintiff's Complaint sets forth two counts.*fn5 Count I alleges that the District's failure to offer Plaintiff special education classes that award Carnegie units denied him a FAPE. Id. ¶ 16. Count II alleges that the District, by providing "only regular education students [with] the opportunity to earn Carnegie units and work towards a regular high school diploma," discriminated against Plaintiff on the sole basis of his disability. Id. ¶ 18. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asks the Court to "[d]eclare that Defendants have violated Plaintiff's rights under [the] IDEA." Id. ¶ 20.*fn6 In addition, Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory education and monetary damages. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.*fn7

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff initially filed the above-captioned lawsuit on June 9, 2004. See Compl. The District thereafter filed an answer. See Docket No. [5]. The parties proceeded to engage in discovery, at the conclusion of which the Court set a schedule for dispositive motions. See 10/31/05 Min. Order. Pursuant to that schedule, Plaintiff filed his motion for summary judgment on December 6, 2005. See Docket No. [31]. The District responded by filing the instant motion seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). See Def.'s MTD, Docket No. [32]. The District explained that it was only after Plaintiff filed his motion for summary judgment that it became clear to the District that this Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Complaint. See Docket No. [34]. The Court, acknowledging that a defendant is permitted to raise jurisdictional issues at any time, required the parties to brief the jurisdictional issues raised in the District's motion and held-in-abeyance Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment pending the Court's ruling on the District's motion. See 4/11/06 Min. Order. Accordingly, Plaintiff filed his opposition to the District's motion, see Pl.'s Opp'n, Docket No. [35], and the District its reply, see Def.'s Reply, Docket No. [36]. Briefing is therefore complete and the District's motion is now ripe for the Court's review and resolution.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

As an initial matter, although the District's motion is captioned as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b), it is actually a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). Rule 12(b) states that a motion making any of the defenses enumerated therein "shall be made before pleading if a further pleading is permitted." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b). Because the District has already filed an answer to the Plaintiff's Complaint, the District's motion to dismiss is not timely under Rule 12(b). Courts, however, routinely treat motions to dismiss that are filed after a responsive pleading as a motion for judgment on the pleadings. See, e.g., Lenox Hill Hosp. v. Shalala, 131 F. Supp. 2d 136, 139-40 (D.D.C. 2000) (treating Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss filed after answer as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c)); see also Bowman v. District of Columbia, 562 F. Supp. 2d 30, 32 (D.D.C. 2008) (same). Indeed, the "same standard applies to motions made under either" Rule 12(b) or Rule 12(c), such that "any distinction between them is merely semantic." Bowman, 562 F. Supp. 2d at 32 (quoting 2 FED. PRAC. 3d § 12.38, 12-101); see also Sanders v. District of Columbia, __ F. Supp. 2d __, 2009 WL 486198, (D.D.C. Feb. 27, 2009) ("The standard for review for motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules is essentially the same as that for motions to dismiss under Rule12(b)(6)."). Accordingly, the Court shall treat the District's motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("After the pleadings are closed . . . a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.").

As noted above, the standards for reviewing the District's motion are the same under either Rule 12(b) or 12(c). Accordingly, in reviewing the District's allegations that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Complaint-whether under Rule 12(b) or Rule 12(c)-the Court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint, and the plaintiff should receive the benefit of all favorable inferences that can be drawn from the alleged facts. See Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). However, a "'plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ahscroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13-14 (D.D.C. 2001) (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350). "Although 'the District Court may in appropriate cases dispose of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction [] on the complaint standing alone,' 'where necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.'" Coalition for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)); see also Koutny v. Martin, 530 F. Supp. 2d 84, 87 (D.D.C. 2007) (in resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a court "may also consider 'undisputed facts evidenced in the record'") (internal citations omitted). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction. Grand Lodge, 185 F. Supp. 2d at 13 (a court has an "affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority"); see also Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998).

Similarly, in evaluating the allegations that a plaintiff fails to state a claim-under either Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c)-the court must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. In re United Mine Workers of Am. Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F. Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994). While the court must construe the complaint in the plaintiff's favor, it "need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Moreover, the court is not bound to accept the legal conclusions of the non-moving party. See Taylor v. FDIC, 132 F.3d 753, 762 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The court is limited to considering facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached to or incorporated in the complaint, matters of ...


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