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Douglass v. District of Columbia

November 10, 2010

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") commenced 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.,*fn1 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Compl. ¶ 1, Docket No. [1]. By Memorandum Opinion and Order dated March 31, 2009 ("2009 Memorandum Opinion"), this Court granted the District's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Plaintiff's IDEA and Section 1983 claims (Count I) and denied the District's motion as to Plaintiff's remaining Section 504 claim (Count II). See Douglass v. District of Columbia, 605 F. Supp. 2d 156, 159 (D.D.C. 2009). In its 2009 Memorandum Opinion, the Court also raised sua sponte the issue of whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Section 504 claim and ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefing on this issue. See id. After reviewing the parties' supplemental briefings, the Complaint, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Section 504 claim. Therefore, the Court shall DISMISS Plaintiff's Section 504 claim and, there being no further claims remaining in this action, shall DISMISS this case in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

The IDEA provides that all children with disabilities must be provided a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"), and establishes procedural safeguards to ensure that each disabled child receives an individualized education program ("IEP") to fulfill this goal.

When the instant case was filed, Plaintiff was "a twenty-one year old learning disabled student." Compl.¶ 8. For three years, Plaintiff was enrolled in special education classes pursuant to his IEP at Ballou Senior High School, a school within the District's public school system ("DCPS"). Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff avers 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 towards his graduation credits." Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Accordingly, Plaintiff alleges that during his three years at Ballou Senior High School, he did not receive any Carnegie units that would enable him to receive a high school diploma. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff further alleges that his experience is not unique, as "[s]tudents who take special education classes in most of the DCPS high schools cannot receive Carnegie units for those classes" and, "[c]onsequently, most special education high school students do not have the option of earning a high school diploma." Id. ¶ 7.

A due process hearing was held on June 6, 2002, during which "DCPS admitted that [it] could not offer [Plaintiff] Carnegie units at the high school level because he was enrolled in special education classes." Id. ¶ 12.*fn4 Review of the HOD indicates that the complaint Plaintiff and his parent brought against DCPS alleged that Plaintiff was denied a FAPE, in violation of the IDEA, "through [DCPS'] failure to provide him a full-time special education program and placement and classes in which he can earn Carnegie credits towards a diploma upon graduation." Hearing Officer Determination ("HOD") at 3, Docket No. [31-2]. For relief, Plaintiff requested: (1) an order directing DCPS to place and fund his attendance at Accotink Academy, a full-time special education school that awards Carnegie units, for the 2002-03 school year; (2) compensatory education in the form of a sixteen week summer program at Lindamood Bell Learning Center; and (3) reservation of the right to seek additional compensatory education if necessary. Id. In addressing the merits of Plaintiff's complaint, the HOD concluded that DCPS' mandate to provide Plaintiff a FAPE required it to: (1) inform Plaintiff's parent of the apparent conflict between Plaintiff's need for special education classes and his placement on a "diploma track" that required him to take non-special education classes that offered Carnegie units; and (2) obtain a waiver releasing DCPS from its responsibility to provide Plaintiff a FAPE if Plaintiff's parent "persist[ed] on keeping her child on said 'diploma track.' " Id. at 4. Ultimately, the HOD concluded that DCPS failed to meet these requirements, and therefore awarded Plaintiff all of his requested relief. See id. at 3-5.*fn5 The HOD then informed Plaintiff that he had thirty days in which to appeal the decision. Id. at 5.

Over two years later, on June 9, 2004, Plaintiff filed the instant case. See Compl. Plaintiff's Complaint asserts a putative class action*fn6 and contains two counts. Count I alleges that the District's failure to offer Plaintiff special education classes that awarded Carnegie units denied him a FAPE. Id. ¶ 16. Count II alleges that the District discriminated against Plaintiff based solely on his disability by providing "only regular education students [with] the opportunity to earn Carnegie units and work towards a regular high school diploma." Id. ¶ 18. Through this action, Plaintiff seeks various forms of relief, including money damages and an order requiring the District to "credit Carnegie credits to all special education students who have completed high school classes." Id. ¶¶ 19-25.

The District filed its [5] Answer on August 19, 2004. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, see Docket No. [31], and the District responded with a motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), see Docket No. [32]. As parties are permitted to raise jurisdictional issues at any time, the Court held in abeyance Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and ordered the parties to brief the jurisdictional issues raised in the District's motion to dismiss. See Min. Order (Apr. 11, 2006); Min. Order (Aug. 24, 2006).

In its 2009 Memorandum Opinion, the Court construed the District's motion to dismiss as a motion for judgment on the pleadings because the District had already filed its Answer. See Douglass, 605 F. Supp. 2d at 161. The Court then granted the District's motion in regard to Count I because the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's IDEA and Section 1983 claims, as Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies or the claims were time-barred. See id. at 170. As for Plaintiff's Section 504 claim (Count II), the Court denied the District's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, but raised sua sponte whether it had subject matter jurisdiction over this claim. See id. at 168-69. Accordingly, the Court ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefing as to "whether the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act because it is time-barred or, if not time-barred, because Plaintiff failed to administratively exhaust his remedies under the IDEA." Id. at 169. Plaintiff then filed his [44] Response to Court's March 31, 2009 Order ("Pl.'s Resp."), the District filed its [45] Response to Court's March 31, 2009 Order ("Def.'s Resp.") and Plaintiff filed his [46] Reply to Defendant's Response to Court's March 31, 2009 Order ("Pl.'s Reply"). The briefing on this issue is now complete, and the matter is therefore ripe for the Court's review and resolution.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that a federal court has subject matter jurisdiction. Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C. Cir. 2007); see also Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) ("Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction . . . [and it] is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction."). Federal courts may raise the issue of their subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.

NetworkIP, LLC v. FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 120 (D.C. Cir. 2008) ("'It is axiomatic that subject matter jurisdiction may not be waived, and that courts may raise the issue sua sponte.'") (quoting Athens Cmty. Hosp., Inc. v. Schweiker, 686 F.2d 989, 992 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). "Indeed, [federal courts] must raise it, because while arguments in favor of subject matter jurisdiction can be waived by inattention or deliberate choice, [federal courts] are forbidden-as [] court[s] of limited jurisdiction-from acting beyond [their] authority, and 'no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Id. (quoting Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003)).

III. DISCUSSION

As previously mentioned, the Court's 2009 Memorandum Opinion ordered supplemental briefing as to whether the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Section 504 claim because (1) the claim is time-barred or (2) if not time-barred, because Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. ...


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