United States District Court, District of Columbia
Honorable Royce C. Lamberth U.S. District Court Judge
before the Court is defendants’ motion  to dismiss
as moot plaintiffs’ Rehabilitation Act claims for the
period before March 22, 2010. On June 10, 2015, the Court
granted summary judgment for defendants with respect to
plaintiffs’ Rehabilitation Act claims for the period
after March 22, 2010, finding that even if the District were
in violation of the Individual with Disabilities Education
Act, the city’s actions during this time did not
“rise to the level of bad faith or misjudgment.”
Mem. Op. 42, ECF No. 444. After this ruling, all that
remained for trial under the Rehabilitation Act were
plaintiffs’ claims for the period prior to March 22,
defendants now argue that these pre-2010 claims are moot
because in light of the defendants’ favorable ruling
for March 22, 2010 to the present, it is “impossible
for the court to grant any effectual relief whatever to [the]
prevailing party.” Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss the
“Second Claim” of the Second Am. Compl. 1, ECF
No. 510 (citing City of Erie v. Pap’s A.M.,
529 U.S. 277, 287 (2000)). The Court will now reject this
argument, finding that the “voluntary cessation”
exception to the mootness doctrine applies in this case. Upon
consideration of the motion, plaintiffs’ opposition,
defendants’ reply, and the entire record herein, the
Court will DENY defendants’ motion to dismiss as moot
what remains of plaintiffs’ Rehabilitation Act claims.
heart of this case is the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (“IDEA”) and section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiffs are residents of the District
of Columbia and former preschool-age children with various
disabilities who allege that the District failed to provide
them a “free and appropriate public education”
(“FAPE”) as is required by law. The IDEA
requires, among other things, that states accepting certain
federal government funds must provide disabled children with
a FAPE. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1); see also Mark H. v.
Lemahieu, 513 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2008) (describing
how the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act’s implementing
regulations each require states to provide a FAPE to all
disabled children). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, on
the other hand, is not limited solely to educational
settings. It provides, more broadly, that “no otherwise
qualified individual with a disability in the United States .
. . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be
excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits
of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 29
U.S.C. § 794(a); see also Mem. Op. 3, ECF No.
55. Indeed, in order to prevail on a section 504 claim,
“plaintiffs must show that ‘something more than a
mere failure to provide the ‘free and appropriate
education’ required by the [IDEA]’ has
occurred.” Mem. Op. 3–4, ECF No. 55 (quoting
Walker v. District of Columbia, 157 F.Supp.2d 11, 35
(D.D.C. 2011)). As this Court has previously ruled, section
504 requires that plaintiffs show that defendants engaged in
either “bad faith or gross misjudgment.”
Id. at 4 (citing Walker, 157 F.Supp.2d at
procedural history of this matter is lengthy and presented in
detail in the Court’s Memorandum Opinion dated June 10,
2015. See Mem. Op. 3–8, ECF No. 444. The Court
need not rehash it here, but for the purposes of the present
motion, it is important to highlight two features of the
record. First, after conducting a trial in 2011, the Court
found that the District of Columbia had violated both the
IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act and issued an array of
remedies. Id. at 5– 6. Among them was a
declaratory judgment stating:
Defendants violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for
the period January 1, 2008 to April 6, 2011 (the first day of
trial) because, in violating the IDEA, defendants failed to
exercise professional judgment in such a way as not to depart
grossly from accepted standards among educational
professionals and thus demonstrated bad faith or gross
Mem. Op. & Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law ¶
137, ECF No. 294.
ruling further extended the Court’s August 10, 2010
summary judgment ruling, which found the defendants had
violated the Rehabilitation Act “at least through and
including the year 2007.” Mem. Op. 23, ECF No. 198.
Ultimately, the opinions and orders that ruled the defendants
had violated the Rehabilitation Act were vacated by the D.C.
Circuit on class certification grounds. See DL v.
District of Columbia, 713 F.3d 120 (D.C. Cir. 2013).
after the D.C. Circuit vacated the Court’s orders and
remanded the case, the plaintiffs submitted a second amended
complaint, proposing to separate the plaintiff class into
four subclasses and reasserting their claims under the IDEA
and the Rehabilitation Act. See Second Am. Compl.
¶¶ 79, 110–114, 115–119. The Court
certified the four subclasses on November 8, 2013,
see Order, ECF No. 388, and on June 10, 2015, the
Court issued a summary judgment order ruling for the
defendants on the plaintiffs’ Rehabilitation Act claims
for the period after May 22, 2010. See Order 2, ECF
No. 445. Essentially, on March 22, 2010, the District issued
comprehensive policies to comply with its Child Find and FAPE
obligations. Mem. Op. 33, ECF No. 444. In doing so, the Court
found that the District was “no longer responding to
its failures with indifference and inaction,” and
therefore ruled for the defendants on summary judgment for
the period after March 22, 2010. Id. at 39. With
respect to the Rehabilitation Act, plaintiffs’ claims
for the period prior to March 22, 2010 were all that remained
for trial. Id. at 40.
current motion, the District argues that the
plaintiffs’ Rehabilitation Act claims for the period
preceding March 22, 2010 are moot because a
“declaratory judgment based on the earlier period would
have no operative effect on the parties’ rights and
relations.” Defs.’ Mot. 1, ECF No. 510. In
response, plaintiffs argue that the voluntary cessation
exception to the mootness doctrine applies and that a
declaratory judgment for that time period would otherwise
provide the plaintiffs with effective relief. See
generally Pls.’ Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot.
to Dismiss, ECF No. 516.
motion to dismiss for mootness is properly brought under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Young v.
D.C. Hous. Auth., 31 F. Supp. 3d 90, 94 (D.D.C. 2014)
(citing Flores v. District of Columbia, 437
F.Supp.2d 22, 25 n.4 (D.D.C. 2006)). The rule imposes on the
Court “an affirmative obligation to ensure that it is
acting within the scope of its jurisdictional
authority.” Id. at 94–95 (citing
Jones v. Ashcroft, 321 F.Supp.2d 1, 5 (D.D.C.
2004)). Indeed, mootness carries jurisdictional significance,
as the “case or controversy” requirement of
Article III permits courts to adjudicate only “actual,
ongoing controversies.” Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S.
305, 317 (1988). To elaborate, a case becomes moot when
“when the issues presented are no longer
‘live’ or the parties lack a legally cognizable
interest in the outcome,” Cnty. of L.A. v.
Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979) (citation omitted);
see also Pharmachemie B.V. v. Barr Labs., Inc., 276
F.3d 627, 631 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (“[A case is moot when]
events have so transpired that the decision will neither
presently affect the parties’ rights nor have a more
than speculative chance of affecting them in the
future.” (citation omitted)), or when
“intervening events makes it impossible to grant the
prevailing party effective relief.” Lemon v.
Geren, 514 F.3d 1312, 1315 (D.C. Cir. 2008);
see also Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 18
(1998) (stating that mootness deprives the Court of
jurisdiction because “there is nothing for [the court]
to remedy, even if [it] were disposed to do so”).
the mootness doctrine generally requires a case to present an
“ actual, ongoing controvers[y],” Honig v.
Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 317 (1988), an exception exists where
a party has extinguished the controversy by voluntarily
changing its allegedly unlawful conduct after the
commencement of a lawsuit. See Cnty. of L.A. v.
Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (“[V]oluntary cessation
of allegedly illegal conduct does not deprive the tribunal of
power to hear and determine the case, i.e., does not make the
case moot.”). Known as the “voluntary cessation
exception,” this rule responds to the imperative that
“federal courts  not leave a wily defendant
‘free to return to his old ways’” after a
lawsuit is terminated. Sharp v. Rosa Mexicano, D.C.,
496 F.Supp.2d 93, 98– 99 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting
Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs.,
Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000)). That said, a Court may
“nonetheless conclude that voluntary cessation has
rendered a case moot if (1) there is no reasonable
expectation that the alleged violation will recur . . . and
(2) interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably
eradicated the effects of the alleged violation.”
Young v. D.C. Hous. Auth., 31 F. Supp. 3d 90, 96
(D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Cnty. of L.A. v. Davis, 440
U.S. 625, 631 (1979)). Importantly, demonstrating the first
prong, that “the challenged conduct cannot reasonably
be expected to start up again,” is a “heavy
burden.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw
Envtl. Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000)); see
also Id. at 170 (“Thus, the standard for
determining whether a case has been mooted by the
defendants’ voluntary conduct is stringent: A case
might become moot if subsequent events make it absolutely
clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not
reasonably be expected to recur.” (emphasis added)).
stated, in addition to the requirement that there be an
actual ongoing controversy, a case is moot if the Court is
not in a position to provide the prevailing party “any
effectual relief whatever.” City of Erie v.
Pap’s A.M., 529 U.S. 277, 287 (2000). For the
purposes of mootness analysis, “‘any effective
relief whatever’ is expansively defined.”
Ctr. for Food Safety v. Salazar, 900 F.Supp.2d 1, 5
(D.D.C. 2012) (citing City of Erie v. Pap’s
A.M., 529 U.S. 277, 287 (2000)).
these two requirements are often discussed separately, they
are related. As such, when considering the mootness
doctrine’s requirement that a court be in the position
to provide effectual relief, it is important to consider that
requirement’s relationship to the voluntary cessation
exception and to the mootness doctrine more broadly. As the
Supreme Court has put it:
The underlying concern is that, when the challenged conduct
ceases such that there is no reasonable expectation that the
wrong will be repeated, then it becomes impossible for the
court to grant any effectual relief whatever to [the]
prevailing party. In that case, any opinion as to the
legality of the challenged action would be advisory.
City of Erie, 529 U.S. at 287 (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted).
Court’s view, the words “when the challenged
conduct ceases such that there is no reasonable expectation
that the wrong will be repeated” invoke the voluntary
cessation exception. See also Campbell-Ewald Co. v.
Gomez, 136 S. Ct. 663, 683–84 (2016) (Alito, J.,
dissenting) (discussing how the voluntary cessation exception
ties into the requirement for effectual relief, stating:
“In the language of our mootness cases, [cases
involving voluntary cessation] would not be moot
because a court could still grant the plaintiff
‘effectual relief’-namely, the relief sought in
the first place” (citing Knox v. Serv. Emps.
Int’l Union, Local 1000, 132 S. Ct. 2277, 2287
(2012) (emphasis in original)). Therefore, this Court
interprets City of Erie to mean that if a party
claims that a court is unable to provide effectual relief
because that party has ceased its allegedly unlawful
conduct, then the party must show it has satisfied the two
necessary conditions that block the application of the
voluntary cessation exception. That is, to prevail on such an
argument, the defendant must demonstrate “there is no
reasonable expectation that the alleged violation will recur
. . . and interim relief or events have completely and
irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged
violation.” Cnty. of L.A. v. Davis, 440 U.S.
625, 631 (1979).
Court finds that because the District voluntary changed its
behavior after the commencement of this lawsuit, mootness
questions regarding the plaintiffs’ outstanding
Rehabilitation Act claims must be analyzed under the
voluntary cessation exception. Further, the Court finds these
claims are not moot because defendants have not met the first
prong of their burden to show that there could be “no
reasonable expectation that the alleged violation will
recur.” Cnty. of L.A. v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625,
the Court finds that a declaratory judgment stating the
District had violated the Rehabilitation Act for the period
preceding March 22, 2010 is an effective remedy because it
could be used to provide the basis for future litigation.
Indeed, issuing a declaratory judgment that related to
pre-2010 conduct today would be just as effective as it was
in 2011, when the Court issued its first declaratory
judgment. See Mem. Op. & Findings of Fact and
Conclusions of Law ¶ 137, ECF No. 294. What follows is a
summary of the parties’ briefs and the Court’s
Defendants’ motion to dismiss for mootness and the
their motion, the defendants argue the voluntary cessation
exception does not apply in this case and that the
Rehabilitation claims are moot because “it is
impossible for the court to grant any effectual relief
whatever to the prevailing party.” Defs.’ Mot. to
Dismiss 1, ECF No. 510 (citing City of Erie v.
Pap’s A.M., 529 U.S. 277, 287 (2000)). The
District focuses on the Court’s ruling to grant summary
judgment to the District on the plaintiffs’
Rehabilitation Act claim for the period of March 22, 2010 to
the present. See Mem. Op. 39–42, ECF No. 444.
Specifically, the District argues that in light of this