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Angela Brooks, Plaintiff v. District of Columbia

January 28, 2012

ANGELA BROOKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is defendant District of Columbia's motion for reconsideration of the Court's August 31, 2011 Order granting in part plaintiff Angela Brooks' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff initiated this lawsuit pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 ("IDEIA"),*fn1 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., on behalf of her then-minor child, R.T., seeking to compel the District of Columbia to issue a revised Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") for her daughter consistent with an August 2009 vocational evaluation. In accordance with the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, to which the parties did not file an objection, the Court granted in part the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, directing the defendant to, inter alia, determine appropriate compensatory education to rectify its failure to provide R.T. with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). The defendant now seeks reconsideration of this order, arguing that R.T. is no longer eligible to receive IDEIA services because she has graduated from high school. As explained below, the Court concludes that R.T. is eligible for, and is entitled to, compensatory education. Consequently, the defendant's motion for reconsideration is denied.

I.BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Angela Brooks and her daughter R.T. are District of Columbia residents. Answer, ECF No. 2, ¶ 4. Due to learning disabilities, R.T. was determined to be eligible for special education services. Administrative Record ("A.R."), ECF No. 7, at 6. Until June 2011, she attended the High Road Academy in a full-time special education program. See A.R. at 23. In order to develop an appropriate educational plan for R.T., a multidisciplinary team ("MDT") held a meeting on May 18, 2009, at which they determined that a vocational assessment was needed to properly evaluate R.T.'s career interests.*fn2 Id. at 6, 106-7, 109. The MDT then authorized the plaintiff to independently obtain an evaluation for her daughter at the D.C. Public School system's ("DCPS") expense. Id. at 106-7, 109.

On August 31, 2009, R.T. underwent a vocational evaluation, which noted that she was interested in becoming a gynecologist, a lawyer, a pediatric dentist, a pediatrician, or a veterinarian, as well as a hair stylist. Id. at 23-33. The vocational evaluator recommended that R.T. attend a cosmetology certification program, secure part-time employment, and enroll in a home economics/life skills course. Id. at 31. R.T.'s vocational evaluation report was transmitted to the Office of Special Education Resolution Team on October 7, 2009, and was again transmitted to the office on November 12, 2009. Id. at 110. The defendant, however, failed to review the report.

On December 22, 2009, the plaintiff filed an administrative due process complaint, arguing that the DCPS was denying R.T. a FAPE by failing to timely review R.T.'s evaluations, and by failing to review and revise her IEP. Id. at 13. On March 7, 2010, the Impartial Due Process Hearing Officer assigned to the plaintiff's administrative complaint denied the plaintiff relief. The Hearing Officer determined that although the DCPS never reviewed R.T.'s independent vocational assessment, did not review and revise R.T.'s IEP in light of the evaluation, and did not discuss or determine compensatory education, R.T.'s vocational evaluation was "invalid because it was ineffective at measuring Student's true interests, knowledge, and capacities." Id. at 9; see also id. at 4-10. The Hearing Officer therefore concluded that the failure to timely review R.T.'s evaluation did not deny her a FAPE.

On June 3, 2010, the plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court for injunctive and declaratory relief against the District of Columbia, arguing that the hearing officer erred when she denied the plaintiff's administrative complaint and asserting that the defendant was denying R.T. a FAPE because of its failure to timely review R.T.'s vocational evaluation. The parties filed motions for summary judgment based on the administrative record, ECF Nos. 8, 11, and the case was referred to Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola for report and recommendation. ECF No. 15.

On August 10, 2011, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation on the pending motions, recommending that the Court grant in part the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and deny the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Report and Recommendation of Mag. J. John M. Facciola, ECF No. 21, at 7-11 ("Magistrate's Report"). Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.3(b), the Court provided the parties 14 days to file objections to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. No objection was filed.

On August 31, 2011, having reviewed the parties' motions and the record in the case, the Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation in whole, concluding that R.T. was denied a FAPE by the defendant's failure to timely review R.T.'s vocational assessment and revise her IEP. Order dated August 31, 2011, ECF No. 22; Magistrate's Report, at 7-11. The Court agreed with the Magistrate Judge that the hearing officer incorrectly denied the plaintiff's administrative claim "based on an argument that was never raised by DCPS or [the hearing officer] prior to her issued opinion, and to which Brooks was never able to respond." Magistrate's Report, at 9. The Court further agreed that the DCPS denied R.T. an FAPE because its "failure to review the evaluation-even if it would have found it invalid and would have required a new evaluation-compromised the effectiveness of the IDEIA as applied to R.T." Id. at 15.

Accordingly, as recommended by the Magistrate Judge, the Court declared that the DCPS violated the IDEIA by failing in a timely manner to review R.T.'s vocational evaluation and revise her IEP in accordance with that evaluation. The Court further ordered the defendant to "convene, within 20 days, an IEP team meeting, and at that meeting [to] review all current evaluations of R.T. and revise her IEP as appropriate." Order dated August 31, 2011, ECF No. 22. The Court denied, however, the plaintiff's request for specific compensatory education, because, as stated by the Magistrate Judge, "[n]early two years have passed since [R.T.'s vocational] evaluation, and it [is] necessary for R.T.'s MDT to discuss her IEP and vocational evaluation in the context of her present interests and abilities." Magistrate's Report, at 7-11. The matter was remanded to the defendant in order for the defendant to "determine what appropriate compensatory education would compensate R.T. for DCPS' failure timely to review her vocational evaluation." Id.

Three weeks after the Court granted in part the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and over forty days after the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation, the defendant moved for reconsideration of the Court's order, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), arguing that because R.T. had graduated from high school on June 10, 2011, she was no longer entitled to IDEIA services and the Court could not award compensatory education to rectify the defendant's failure to provide R.T. an FAPE. Def.'s Mot. Reconsideration of Order dated August 31, 2011, ECF No. 23, at 1 ("Def.'s Mot."). In its Reply memorandum, the defendant for the first time raised the additional argument that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief because she lost standing when R.T. turned eighteen years of age on November 17, 2010. Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 25, at 5-6. As explained below, both arguments are unavailing. The defendant's motion for reconsideration is denied.

II.STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) is subject to the Court's discretion and "need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (internal quotations omitted); Lemmons v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 241 F.R.D. 15, 22 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Messina v. Krakower, 439 F.3d 755, 758 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). "[A] Rule 59(e) motion to reconsider is not simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled, nor is it a vehicle for presenting theories and arguments that could have been advanced earlier." Fresh Kist Produce, LLC v. Choi Corp., 251 F. Supp. 2d 138, 140 (D.D.C. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "While the [C]court has considerable discretion in ruling on a Rule 59(e) motion, the reconsideration and amendment of a previous order is an extraordinary measure." Id. at 140 (citing Firestone, 76 F.3d at 1208); see also Jung v. Ass'n of Am. Med. Coll., 184 Fed. ...


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