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DL v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia

October 23, 2015

DL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants

          For DL, TAMEKA FORD, Parent and Next Friend of D.L., JB, LEAH BLAND, Parent and Next Friend of JB, FD, FREDERICK DAVY, Parent and Next Friend of FD, MONICA DAVY, Parent and Next Friend of FD, TF, ANGELIQUE MOORE, Parent and Next Friend of TF - On their own behalf and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, Plaintiffs: Bruce J. Terris, TERRIS, PRAVLIK & MILLIAN, LLP, Washington, DC; Cyrus Mehri, MEHRI & SKALET, PLLC, Washington, DC; Jane M. Liu, DRINKER BIDDLE & REATH, LLP, Washington, DC; Jeffrey S. Gutman, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, Washington, DC; Margaret A. Kohn, LAW OFFICE OF MARGARET KOHN, Washington, DC; Todd A. Gluckman, TERRIS, PRAVIK & MILLIAN, LLP, Washington, DC.

         HW, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         For HW, TIMOTHY LANTRY, ARLETTE MANKEMI, KERIANNE PIESTER, TL, RONALD WISOR, XY, BRYAN YOUNG, TAMMIKA YOUNG, Plaintiffs: Bruce J. Terris, LEAD ATTORNEY, TERRIS, PRAVLIK & MILLIAN, LLP, Washington, DC; Cyrus Mehri, MEHRI & SKALET, PLLC, Washington, DC; Jane M. Liu, DRINKER BIDDLE & REATH, LLP, Washington, DC; Todd A. Gluckman, TERRIS, PRAVIK & MILLIAN, LLP, Washington, DC.

         TIMOTHY LANTRY, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         ARLETTE MANKEMI, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         KERIANNE PIESTER, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         TL, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         RONALD WISOR, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         XY, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         BRYAN YOUNG, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         TAMMIKA YOUNG, Plaintiff, Pro se.

         For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A Municipal Corporation, Defendant: Chad Wayne Copeland, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC; Daniel Albert Rezneck, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC; Matthew Robert Blecher, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC; Robert C. Utiger, DC OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC; Samuel C. Kaplan, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL - DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

         For MICHELLE RHEE, Chancellor, DEBORAH GIST, District of Columbia State Superintendent of Education, Defendants: Chad Wayne Copeland, Matthew Robert Blecher, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC; Samuel C. Kaplan, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL - DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

Page 2

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge.

         Currently before the Court is the defendants' Motion to Decertify Subclass 1 [467]. The plaintiffs in this case are residents of the District of Columbia and former preschool-age children with various disabilities who allege that the District of Columbia (" the District" ) has failed to provide them a free and public education (" FAPE" ) in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (" IDEA" ). In November 2013, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion [389] that certified four plaintiff subclasses, the first of which the District presently claims no longer satisfies the commonality requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(2). Upon consideration of the motion, plaintiffs' opposition, defendants' reply, and the entire record herein, the Court will DENY defendants' Motion to Decertify Subclass 1.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit is rooted in the District's alleged failures to meet its affirmative obligations set out in the IDEA. Essentially, the IDEA is designed to ensure that all children with disabilities ages 3 to 21 have available to them " a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). To achieve its central goal, the IDEA imposes discrete and limited duties onto states and the District of Columbia--duties that plaintiffs claim the District has not satisfied and have come to form the basis of the divisions between the four certified subclasses.

         To make education universally available to disabled children ages 3 to 21, the IDEA and the District's laws that implement the IDEA require a series of piecemeal, though coordinated, procedures and policies. First, the District has a duty to " identify and locate every handicapped" child residing in the city. 34 C.F.R. 104.32. Next, D.C. Code and the IDEA require that the District evaluate these identified children, 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)-(c), and coordinate efforts to determine whether or not they are eligible for disability services. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)-(c), 5 D.C.M.R. 3003.1. To make the eligibility determination, the District must convene a team that includes parents and teachers to review, among other things, the results of the evaluations, in order to determine whether a given child is disabled and requires special education and related services. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). Taken together, the District's duties to identify, locate, evaluate, and provide an eligibility determination to disabled children are known as the " Child Find" obligation. See, e.g., Mem. Op. 2, ECF No. 389.

Page 3

          Once eligibility is determined, the District is required to offer special education and related services. The District must participate with parents, educators, and other professionals to draft an Individualized Education Program (" IEP" ), tailored to meet the unique needs of the disabled child, and provide the child with a FAPE. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). Lastly, in order to ensure that disabled children ages 3 to 21 are afforded a FAPE, the law serves children under the age of 3 through a program entitled the IDEA Part C. Part C requires the District to provide disabled children ages zero to three with " appropriate early intervention services" and to develop an Individual Family Service Plan. 20 U.S.C. § 1435. The law requires that children moving from Part C into preschool programs designed for three year olds receive a " smooth and effective transition" by their third birthday. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(9).

         The merits of the present lawsuit have mainly focused on whether or not the District has fulfilled these obligations; that said, the lawsuit's procedural history has been guided, at least in part, by important issues relating to class certification. After this lawsuit was filed in 2005, in August 2006 this Court certified a plaintiff class pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), defining it as:

All children who are or may be eligible for special education and related services, who live in, or are wards of, the District of Columbia, and (1) whom defendants did not identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services to when the child was between the ages of three and five years old, inclusive, or (2) whom defendants have not or will not identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services to when the child is between the ages of three and five years old, inclusive.

DL v. District of Columbia, 237 F.R.D. 319, 324 (D.D.C. 2006); see also Memorandum Order 3-4, ECF No. 389.

         With this group of children serving as the plaintiff class, the Court relied on statistical analyses and compliance metrics to find that the District's policies were inadequate to meet its obligations under the IDEA. See Mem. Op. 4-5, ECF No. 389 (citing DL v. District of Columbia, 845 F.Supp.2d 1, 10-17 (D.D.C. 2011). The Court found, in effect, that the District's failure to institute adequate Child Find practices resulted in the denial of a FAPE to a substantial number of disabled children and that the District failed to comply with its legal duty to provide a smooth and effective transition to a significant portion of disabled children. DL, 845 F.Supp.2d at 21-23. Moreover, the Court found that the District demonstrated bad faith or gross misjudgment by knowingly failing to comply with the IDEA and therefore violated section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination in programs receiving federal funding. Ultimately, the Court issued a structural injunction, which included programmatic requirements and numerical goals that would remain in effect until the District demonstrated sustained compliance. Id. at 25-34.

         After the trial but before this Court issued its final decision, the Supreme Court decided Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 180 L.Ed.2d 374 (2011), which clarified the proper interpretation of the commonality requirement for class certification under Rule 23(a)(2). In Wal-Mart, the Court held that class certification under Rule 23(a)(2) was inappropriate for a putative class of one and a half million women, all current or former employees of Wal-Mart who alleged that " the discretion exercised by their local supervisors over pay and promotion matters violate[d] Title VII by discriminating against women." 131 S.Ct. at 2546. In its ruling, the Court emphasized that the pay and promotion decisions impacting women were not dictated by a uniform corporate policy but were made by thousands of geographically-dispersed managers. The Court found that " [w]ithout some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members' claims for relief will produce a common answer to the ...


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