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Terrell v. District of Columbia

March 29, 2010

JULIUS TERRELL, 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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on the District of Columbia defendants' motion to dismiss. After careful consideration of the parties' papers, the relevant statutes and case law, and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant the motion.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Julius Terrell and Tonya Butler-Truesdale, are former student hearing officers for the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). See Compl. ¶ 5. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., requires that each state and the District of Columbia establish and maintain procedures to ensure that parents and children with disabilities have an opportunity to seek mediation and/or an impartial due process hearing to resolve disagreements over the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities. When a dispute arises over any of these issues, a party to the dispute may request a due process hearing. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415. Hearing officers preside over these hearings and issue determinations regarding the dispute. Plaintiffs were employed to perform this function under a one-year contract executed with DCPS in February 2007, which was renewable for four additional years. See Compl. ¶ 5.

The timeliness and implementation of hearing officer decisions is a significant issue in a class action pending before this Court, Blackman v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629 (D.D.C.). The parties in Blackman entered into a Consent Decree, with the Court's approval, which established certain goals and requirements for timely issuance and enforcement of hearing officer decisions and settlement agreements in special education cases. See Blackman v. District of Columbia, 454 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2006). Appended to the Consent Decree is a document entitled the Student Hearing Office Standard Operating Procedures ("SOP"), which among other things provides hiring requirements for hearing officers. See Consent Decree, Blackman v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629, Dkt. No. 1873, Ex. 2 (D.D.C. Aug. 24, 2006).

In May 2008, the District of Columbia Office of State Superintendent of Education ("OSSE") issued Solicitation Number DCGD-2008-R-02-0014 to select new hearing officers in a competitive bidding process. See Compl. ¶ 13. The solicitation did not require that the hearing officers be members of the District of Columbia Bar, that they have experience in special education or special education law, or that they have special training in handling administrative hearings, all of which had been requirements of the SOP. See id. On August 21, 2008, OSSE issued a Notice of Proposed Changes to the SOP suggesting changes consistent with the solicitation. See id. ¶ 15. The proposed changes were adopted on August 28, 2008. See id. In the summer of 2008 plaintiffs interviewed for hearing officer positions, but they were not offered contracts. See id. ¶ 14.

Plaintiffs allege that they issued numerous decisions that required DCPS to place students in private placements at a significant cost to DCPS. See Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiffs also allege that between 2007 and 2008, DCPS consistently paid them weeks after their paychecks were due. See id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff's allege that their contracts were not renewed because of the substance of their decisions and their complaints about being paid consistently late. See id. ¶¶ 7, 9, 11.

Plaintiffs assert five claims against the defendants: Count One is for violation of the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act, D.C. Code § 1-501, et seq.; Count Two is for violation of the Consent Decree entered by this Court in Blackman; Count Three is for violation of Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count Four is for violation of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act, D.C. Code § 1-615.53 et seq.; and Count Five is for interference with employment contracts (asserted solely against defendant Gail ImObersteg).*fn2

This matter previously was before the Court on plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order. On October 2, 2008, after oral argument on the motion, the Court issued an oral ruling denying the motion. See Order, Dkt. No. 6 (D.D.C. Oct. 2, 2008). The Court also previously denied a motion by plaintiffs to intervene in the Blackman case. See Memorandum Opinion and Order, Blackman v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629, Dkt. 2126 (D.D.C. Oct. 1, 2008).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests[.]'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff properly has stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). "When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)) (other citations omitted). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must offer "more than labels and conclusions" to provide "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. As the Supreme Court recently stated, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A complaint alleging facts that are "'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability,... 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (brackets omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

The Court will begin its analysis with the claims asserted by plaintiffs under federal law. With regard to plaintiffs' second claim, for violation of the Consent Decree in the Blackman case, plaintiffs have no standing to seek enforcement of Consent Decree provisions in a case to which they are not parties. A consent decree is a contract, see Segar v. Mukasey, 508 F.3d 16, 21 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and typically only parties to a contract may sue for its violation. See, e.g., SEC v. Prudential Sec., 136 F.3d 153, 159 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (third parties to a consent decree only have enforcement rights under the consent decree if they can "demonstrate that they are intended beneficiaries," which means that the parties to the contract must have "intended that a third party should receive a benefit which might be enforced in the courts") (emphasis omitted). There is no basis to conclude that plaintiffs were intended beneficiaries of the Consent Decree.

Even if plaintiffs did have standing to pursue this claim, the Court previously has determined that the solicitation does not violate the Consent Decree. As the Court stated in its decision ...


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