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B.R., A Minor v. District of Columbia et al

August 12, 2011

B.R., A MINOR, BY HER MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, ULYSSA REMPSON, PLAINTIFFS
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.*FN1



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

: Re Document Nos.: 51, 52, 53, 54

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS'SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT;GRANTING DCPS'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT;DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS'MOTION FOR RELIEF UPON CLARIFICATION;GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiffs are B.R., a student who has learning disabilities, and her mother. They commenced this action alleging that the defendants -- a public charter school in the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS")*fn2 -- failed to provide B.R. with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") as required under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et. seq.

On September 29, 2010, the court granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs and denied DCPS's cross-motion for summary judgment. The court also ordered the parties to submit further supplemental briefing regarding whether DCPS could be held liable for the alleged IDEA violations committed by the public charter school. The parties have now filed such supplemental filings. Additionally, following a remand to an administrative hearing officer, the plaintiffs filed a motion requesting that the court clarify whether its previous partial grant of summary judgment also entitled the plaintiffs to compensation for DCPS's failure to provide extended school year services for the 2005-2006 school year. Lastly, in a separate motion, the plaintiffs also request attorney's fees.

Because, as a matter of law, DCPS cannot be held liable for the public charter school's alleged failure to evaluate B.R., the court denies the plaintiffs' supplemental motion for summary judgment and grants DCPS's supplemental cross-motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to address whether the plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for extended school year services, the court denies the plaintiffs' request for relief upon clarification. Finally, as the plaintiffs have prevailed in their lawsuit, the court grants in part the plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees but reduces the award by 50% to account for certain meritless claims that the plaintiffs clearly should never have asserted.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background*fn3

B.R. attended SEED, a public charter school in the District of Columbia, from the beginning of seventh grade until May 2006, just weeks before the end of her eighth grade school year. Admin. R. at 89; Compl. ¶ 7.*fn4 As early as October 2004, B.R. was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and was briefly hospitalized. Admin R. at 132.From September 2004 to January 2005, B.R. was disciplined twenty times by school officials for behavioral issues. Id.

In May 2005, SEED developed B.R.'s initial Individualized Education Plan ("IEP").*fn5

Compl. ¶ 7. In December 2005, SEED prepared a revised IEP, which provided that B.R. spend "100%" of her time "NOT in a regular education setting" and receive two hours of social and emotional counseling per week, as well as extended school year services*fn6 following the 2005-2006 academic year. Admin. R. at 81, 89.

In February 2006, after receiving notice of B.R.'s proposed placement at Hart Middle School ("Hart"), a DCPS school, the plaintiffs filed an administrative due process complaint against SEED and DCPS challenging the appropriateness of that placement. Compl. ¶ 10;Admin. R. at 79-80. In May 2006, a hearing officer issued a hearing officer determination ("May 2006 HOD") concluding that Hart "can meet [B.R.'s] behavior and social emotional needs and implement her IEP." Admin. R. at 504. The hearing officer ordered that B.R. be placed at Hart, where she completed the remainder of the 2005-2006 school year. Id.

DCPS did not convene an IEP team meeting at the end of the 2005-2006 school year to determine an appropriate placement for B.R. for the 2006-2007 school year. Compl. ¶ 11. On August 1, 2006, B.R.'s mother sent DCPS a letter (the "August 2006 letter") stating that B.R. had not received an educational placement for the 2006-2007 school year, and after receiving no response from DCPS, B.R.'s mother unilaterally placed B.R. at High Road School, a private school. Id. ¶ 12.*fn7

In September 2006, the plaintiffs filed a second administrative complaint against SEED and DCPS, alleging that they had failed to provide B.R. with a FAPE. Id. ¶ 13; Admin. R. at 12-13. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged DCPS had failed to (1) timely identify B.R. as a child in need of special services, (2) provide B.R. with an appropriate IEP, special education and related services, (3) convene a placement meeting and make a placement decision for the 2006-2007 school year and (4) provide a FAPE for the past three years. Admin. R. at 12-13.

In the subsequent hearing officer determination ("December 2006 HOD"), the hearing officer refused to determine whether B.R. had been deprived of a FAPE while enrolled at Hart because the May 2006 HOD had already "found [that] Hart MS [was] an appropriate educational placement for the student" during the 2005-2006 school year. Id. at 7. The hearing officer determined not only that "DCPS made a FAPE available" to B.R. for the 2006-2007 school year, but also that B.R.'s mother was not entitled to private school tuition reimbursement because the August 2006 letter failed to specify that "the [p]arent expected DCPS to pay for the cost of the student's education" at the private school and the administrative complaint did not specify reimbursement as relief. Id.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiffs commenced this action in March 2007, alleging violations of the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See generally Compl. With respect to the alleged IDEA violations, the plaintiffs claimed that SEED and DCPS failed to provide B.R. with a FAPE and "appropriate special education and related services," including appropriate evaluations. Id. ¶¶ 17-27. In addition to seeking compensatory education for B.R. from DCPS and SEED due to their denial of her FAPE, the plaintiffs also sought tuition reimbursement from DCPS for B.R.'s placement at High Road for the 2006-2007 school year. Id. at ¶ 36.

In August 2007, DCPS filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' ยง 1983 and Rehabilitation Act claims. See generally DCPS Mot. to Dismiss. The court granted DCPS's motion and dismissed both ...


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