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Davidson v. District of Columbia

September 8, 2010

KATINA DAVIDSON ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

Re Document No.: 6

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION TO SEVER;GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANTS'FIRST MOTION TO DISMISS;HOLDING IN ABEYANCE THE DEFENDANTS' SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION TO DISMISS PENDING THE SUBMISSION OF ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE BY PLAINTIFFS'COUNSEL

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiffs in this action are the parents of eighty-five disabled students who allegedly prevailed in 158 separate administrative proceedings brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. Through this action, they seek to recover attorney's fees and costs incurred during those administrative proceedings. This matter is now before the court on the defendants' motion to sever, first motion to dismiss*fn1 and supplemental motion to dismiss. In their motion to sever, the defendants seek the severance of all the claims save those brought by the first-listed plaintiff, arguing that the additional claims are unrelated and therefore improperly joined. The defendants contend in their first motion to dismiss that the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted and that the plaintiffs' claims are time-barred.*fn2 In their supplemental motion to dismiss, the defendants argue that the complaint should be dismissed because there is significant doubt as to whether plaintiffs' counsel commenced this action with the knowledge and consent of the plaintiffs.

Because there is nothing to suggest that the claims of the eighty-five plaintiffs are logically related in any way, the court grants the defendants' motion to sever and severs from the case all claims save the claim brought by Katina Davidson, the first-listed plaintiff. The court, however, declines to dismiss plaintiff Davidson's claim for untimeliness or failure to state a claim. Finally, the court holds in abeyance the defendants' supplemental motion to dismiss pending the submission of evidence that counsel commenced this action with the knowledge and consent of plaintiff Davidson.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs in this action are the parents of eighty-five disabled students entitled to receive special education and related services from the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). Compl. ¶ 4. Between 2006 and 2008, the plaintiffs commenced numerous administrative proceedings under the IDEA, asserting that the DCPS had deprived the students of a free and appropriate public education, as required by the IDEA. Id. ¶ 1 & Ex. A. The plaintiffs allege that in 158 of those proceedings, an administrative hearing officer issued a final hearing officer determination ("HOD") favorable to the student. Id. ¶ 10. Thus, the plaintiffs allege that they were the prevailing parties in those proceedings. Id. ¶ 11.

The IDEA authorizes the parents of a disabled child to recover reasonable attorney's fees when they are the "prevailing party" in proceedings brought under the statute. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). Accordingly, on July 10, 2009, the plaintiffs commenced this action to recover the attorney's fees and costs incurred in each of the 158 administrative proceedings. See generally Compl.

On November 25, 2009, the defendants filed a combined motion to sever and first motion to dismiss. See generally Defs.' 1st Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' 1st Mot."). The plaintiffs obtained consent from the defendants and leave from the court to file their opposition to the defendants' motion by February 5, 2010. See Minute Order (Dec. 4, 2009).

In December 2009, however, the court became aware that a dispute had arisen among the plaintiffs' attorneys. By way of background, during the underlying administrative proceedings, each of the plaintiffs had been represented by the law firm Tyrka and Associates LLC, headed by attorney Douglas Tyrka. Compl.¶ 8. In this action, however, the plaintiffs were represented not by Tyrka, but instead by two new attorneys, Charles Moran and Paul Chassy. See generally Compl.

On December 9, 2009, Chassy filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for the plaintiffs, alleging that his co-counsel, Moran, had made fraudulent misrepresentations to the court. See generally Chassy Mot. to Withdraw. The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Kay, who attempted to mediate the dispute. On December 15, 2009, Moran filed a "contingent consent" to Chassy's motion to withdraw, stating that the plaintiffs would consent to Chassy withdrawing from the case and continuing to receive electronic notices of activity in the case, provided that Chassy surrender all pleadings, research materials and other papers assembled for the case. See Pls.' Contingent Consent to Mot. to Withdraw.

On December 16, 2009, Chassy filed an opposition to the "contingent consent." See generally Chassy Opp'n. Chassy alleged that Tyrka had engaged Moran and Chassy without the consent of the plaintiffs to represent the interests of Tyrka rather than the plaintiffs. Id. at 3. Moreover, Chassy asserted that he "[did] not know whether [Tyrka] even communicated to [the] plaintiffs that the complaint was being filed or sought their approval that [Chassy and Moran] would be representing them."*fn3 Id. at 6.

On January 13, 2010, the defendants filed a supplemental motion to dismiss based on Chassy's assertion that the action may have been commenced without the knowledge or consent of the plaintiffs. See generally Defs.' Further Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' 2d Mot."). The defendants argue that the action must be dismissed because the IDEA authorizes the parents of disabled students -- not their attorneys themselves -- to commence an action to recover attorney's fees. See generally id.

The defendants' motion to sever, first motion to dismiss and supplemental motion to dismiss are now ripe for adjudication. The court therefore turns to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Court Grants the Defendants' ...


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