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Holmes-Ramsey v. Dist. of Columbia

November 2, 2010


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


Plaintiff Ebony Holmes-Ramsey ("Plaintiff") brings this action behalf of her minor daughter, A.B., pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.,*fn1 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act ("McKinney Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 11431 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Compl. at 2, Docket No. [1]. Plaintiff names as Defendants to this action the District of Columbia, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty in his official capacity, and District of Columbia Chancellor of Public Schools Michelle Rhee*fn2 in her official capacity (collectively "Defendants"). This case comes to the Court on appeal from a May 1, 2010 Hearing Officer Determination ("HOD") regarding Plaintiff's due process complaint against the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). Compl. Facts ¶¶ 20, 49.*fn3

Currently before the Court is Defendants' [6] Motion for Partial Dismissal of Complaint, in which Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to state a claim under Section 504 and Section 1983 and fails to state a claim against Mayor Fenty and Interim Chancellor Henderson. After reviewing the Complaint, the parties' filings regarding the pending motion, as well as the relevant statutes, regulations, and case law, the Court shall GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal of Complaint. Specifically, the Court shall GRANT Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Section 504 claim and Defendants' motion to dismiss Mayor Fenty and Interim Chancellor Henderson as defendants. In regard to Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim, the Court shall GRANT Defendants' motion to dismiss insofar as the claim alleges that the hearing officer erred in concluding that he did not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's McKinney Act claim. The Court shall DENY, however, Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim insofar as the Complaint states a McKinney Act violation independent of the hearing officer's jurisdictional decision.


A. The IDEA Statutory and Regulatory Framework

Although Plaintiff asserts claims under multiple statutes, the IDEA is of particular importance in this case. The purpose of the IDEA is "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education ["FAPE"] that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs . . . . " 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). "Implicit" in the IDEA's guarantee "is the requirement that the education to which access is provided be sufficient to confer some educational benefit upon the handicapped child." Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982). As a condition of receiving funding under the IDEA, school districts are required to adopt procedures to ensure appropriate educational placement of disabled students. See 20 U.S.C. § 1413. A student's eligibility for a FAPE is determined by the results of testing and evaluating the student, and the findings of a "multidisciplinary team" or "individualized education program" ("IEP") team. Id. § 1414. An IEP team consists of the parents and teachers of the disabled student, as well as other educational specialists, who meet and confer in a collaborative process to determine how best to accommodate the needs of the student and provide a FAPE. See id. § 1414(d)(1)(B).

An IEP is created to meet the special educational needs of each disabled student. See id. § 1414(d)(2)(A). The IEP must be formulated in accordance with the terms of the IDEA and "should be reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade." Rowley, 458 U.S. at 204. The IDEA requires IEPs to include statements of present functional performance, measurable annual goals, how the goals will be measured, and "the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services . . . to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child." 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(I). "If no suitable public school is available, the school system must pay the costs of sending the child to an appropriate private school." Reid v. District of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 519 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (citation and alterations omitted).

The IDEA guarantees parents of disabled children the opportunity to participate in the evaluation and placement process. See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1414(f), 1415(b)(1). Parents who object to their child's "identification, evaluation, or educational placement" are entitled to an impartial due process hearing, see id. §§ 1415(b)(6),(f)(1), at which they have a "right to be accompanied and advised by counsel" and a "right to present evidence and confront, cross-examine, and compel the attendance of witnesses," id. § 1415(h). In the District of Columbia, a qualified impartial hearing officer conducts the due process hearing in accordance with the Act. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5-E, § 3030.

B. Factual and Procedural Background*fn4

As of the filing of the Complaint, A.B., a four-year-old, had been diagnosed with, inter alia, Attention Deficit Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder, Borderline Intellectual Functioning, and Receptive/Expressive Language Disorder. Compl. Facts ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges that DCPS violated its obligation under the IDEA to "locate, identify, evaluate and develop an IEP for all students eligible for special education by their third birthday" because DCPS failed to screen A.B. for special education services until nearly one year after A.B.'s third birthday. Id. ¶ 4; see also id. ¶¶ 3, 7. Consequently, A.B. attended Edward C. Mazique Parent and Child Center, a facility that did not provide special education services, during the 2008-2009 school year. Id. ¶ 5.

A.B. was first evaluated by DCPS on September 21, 2009. Id. ¶ 8. As a result of this evaluation, DCPS found that A.B. was not eligible for speech and language services. See id. Subsequently, on October 7, 2009, DCPS convened an IEP meeting for A.B. and drafted an IEP that specified A.B. was to receive ten hours of special education per week at Raymond Elementary School, A.B.'s neighborhood school at that time. See id. ¶¶ 10-11. At the IEP meeting, Plaintiff expressed concerns with A.B.'s placement in Raymond Elementary. Id. ¶ 11. Specifically, Plaintiff informed DCPS that she and A.B. were currently living in transitional housing, that they would have to vacate this housing near the middle of the school year, and that Plaintiff was concerned that after they moved, A.B. would have endure the disruption of being transferred to a different school in the middle of the school year. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. In response to these concerns, Plaintiff alleges that "DCPS did not offer to provide [Plaintiff] with transportation, or a different placement, nor did DCPS offer [Plaintiff] any of the services [Plaintiff] was entitled to under the McKinney-Vento Act. DCPS only told [Plaintiff] to contact DCPS if [Plaintiff] moved." Id. ¶ 12.

To avoid transferring A.B. from Raymond Elementary in the middle of the 2009-2010 school year, Plaintiff decided to keep A.B. enrolled at Edward C. Mazique Parent and Child Center for another year. Id. ¶ 15. Thus, similar to the year before, A.B. did not receive special education services during the 2009-2010 school year. Id.

On March 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed a due process complaint, alleging that DCPS (1) failed to timely identify, evaluate, and locate A.B.; (2) failed to identify all of A.B.'s disabilities; (3) failed to develop an appropriate IEP for A.B. for the 2009-2010 school year; and (4) failed to provide A.B. proper placement for the 2009-2010 school year, including failing to meet its obligations under the McKinney Act. Id. ¶ 20. With respect to relief, Plaintiff requested that the hearing officer find that DCPS denied A.B. a FAPE and order DCPS to provide compensatory education, as well as place and fund A.B.'s placement at a full-time non-public therapeutic special education program. Id.

Before the due process hearing began on April 21, 2010, the hearing officer requested briefing as to whether he had jurisdiction over Plaintiff's McKinney Act claim. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. At the due process hearing, DCPS stipulated that it violated the IDEA by failing to locate, identify, and evaluate A.B. by her third birthday, as well as by failing to develop an IEP for A.B. until fourteen months after her third birthday. See id. ¶50. On May 1, 2010, the hearing officer issued the HOD, in which he found that DCPS' delay in developing an IEP for A.B. denied her a FAPE. See id. ¶¶ 49-50. For relief, the HOD ordered that DCPS fund pre-academic tutoring for A.B., as well as A.B.'s attendance at a therapeutic summer camp. See id. ¶¶ 49-50. The HOD denied, however, Plaintiff's remaining ...

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