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Brown v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 24, 2017

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.


          ANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge.

         This case raises a novel issue of statutory interpretation: Whether the National Capital Revitalization and Self Government Improvement Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-33, § 11201, 111 Stat. 251, 734 (1997) (codified at D.C. Code § 24-101) [hereinafter “Revitalization Act”]- which commits the “felon population sentenced pursuant to the [D.C.] Official code” to “the custody, care, subsistence, education, treatment and training” of the federal Bureau of Prisons, id. § 11202(b)-impliedly repeals the District of Columbia's obligations to provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to those individuals, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Plaintiff Stephon Brown was convicted of a felony under the D.C. Code and incarcerated, pursuant to the Revitalization Act, in a federal correctional facility for sixteen months. During that time, both the federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and the District of Columbia (the “District”) denied responsibility for providing him a FAPE. Plaintiff brought suit against the BOP and the District after his release, alleging that their actions violated the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.

         The Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey for a report and recommendation. Minute Order (Mar. 6, 2017). Both Defendants then moved to dismiss the case.[1] Dkt. 14; Dkt. 16. Presently before the Court is Magistrate Judge Harvey's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) granting the “BOP's motion in its entirety and granting in part and denying in part the District's motion.” Dkt. 25 at 2. Plaintiff and the District both filed (1) timely objections to Magistrate Judge Harvey's R&R, see Dkt. 26; Dkt. 27; (2) responses to each other's objections, see Dkt. 29; Dkt. 31; and (3) replies thereto, see Dkt. 32; Dkt. 33. The BOP also filed a response to the District's objections. See Dkt. 30 at 1 (responding to the District's claim that “the Federal government was responsible for Mr. Brown's education while he was in their custody”).

         Upon consideration of the above submissions, the Court ADOPTS in part and MODIFIES in part Magistrate Judge Harvey's thoughtful and thorough R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's recommended disposition of the case and writes separately to explain where the Court's analysis diverges from the R&R's reasoning. Accordingly, the BOP's motion to dismiss is GRANTED in its entirety, and the District's motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The relevant facts underlying Plaintiff's IDEA and Rehabilitation Act claims are recounted in greater detail in the “Background” section of the R&R. See Id. at 2-9.[2] In short, Plaintiff, a “lifelong resident” of the District, has been “eligible for special education and related services” since elementary school. Dkt. 25 at 5. In December 2014, when Plaintiff was eighteen, he was “arrested for a felony violation of the [D.C.] Code” and “sentenced to twenty-four months' incarceration on the local charge, ” which he served, pursuant to the Revitalization Act, at the “Hazelton Federal Correction Institution” in West Virginia. Id. Critical to this case, “Plaintiff never received any special education services, nor was he enrolled in any high school program during his incarceration.” Id.

         In September 2016, two months prior to his release, “Plaintiff filed a Due Process Complaint against the District of Columbia Public Schools (‘DCPS'), the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (‘OSSE'), and [the] BOP, ” claiming “that he had been denied a FAPE during the [2015-16 and 2016-17] . . . school years, while in the custody of [the] BOP, ” in violation of the IDEA. Id. at 6. The Hearing Officer dismissed “Plaintiff's administrative complaint . . . as to [the] BOP” on the ground that the IDEA only applied to state agencies. Id. at 6, 8. The officer also granted “judgment as a matter of law . . . as to claims against DCPS and OSSE” on the ground that “the IDEA does not place responsibility on State or local education agencies to provide a FAPE for individuals with disabilities incarcerated in federal correctional facilities.” Id. at 8.

         B. Procedural History

         After his release, Plaintiff initiated this action to set aside the Hearing Officer Determination. Dkt. 1 at 14 (Compl. Prayer). This Court referred the case, pursuant to Local Civil Rules 72.2 and 72.3, to Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey. Minute Order (Mar. 6, 2017). Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint in April 2017, adding a cause of action under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Dkt. 13 at 12-14 (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39-51). Both Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. Dkt. 14; Dkt. 16. Magistrate Judge Harvey issued a R&R granting the BOP's motion to dismiss in its entirety and denying the District's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's IDEA claim. Dkt. 25 at 2.

         Specifically, the R&R concluded that Plaintiff failed to state a claim under the Rehabilitation Act because he could not show that either the BOP or the District's refusal to provide him with a FAPE was in bad faith. Dkt. 25 at 29. With respect to Plaintiff's IDEA claim against the BOP, the R&R concluded that the BOP was not subject to the IDEA, notwithstanding the Revitalization Act's broad language charging the BOP with the “custody, care, subsistence, education, treatment[, ] and training” of individuals like Plaintiff, see Pub. L. No. 105-33, § 11201(b). Dkt. 25 at 14-20. The R&R, in contrast, did not dismiss Plaintiff's IDEA claim against the District. Instead, it found that the District's obligation to provide a FAPE is triggered by a child's residency, Dkt. 25 at 21, and that this obligation is not terminated when the child is in federal custody, Dkt. 25 at 22-24.

         Plaintiff objects to the R&R's dismissal of his IDEA claim against the BOP and the dismissal of his Rehabilitation Act claims against both Defendants. Dkt. 26. As to the IDEA claim, Plaintiff argues that the BOP is subject to the IDEA because it “assumed responsibility for the ‘education' of . . . individuals [like Plaintiff]” through the Revitalization Act. Id. at 3 (quoting Pub. L. No. 105-33, § 11201(b)). Plaintiff also contends that holding the District-but not the BOP-responsible for providing individuals, like Plaintiff, a FAPE replaces their “absolute right” to a FAPE under the IDEA with one “contingent” on the cooperation of the BOP, resulting in their disparate treatment. Id. at 4-5. Finally, Plaintiff avers that his Rehabilitation Act claims should not be dismissed because he adequately alleged that Defendants acted in bad faith. Id. at 6-8.

         The District objects to the R&R's denial of its motion to dismiss Plaintiff's IDEA claim on three grounds. First, the District asserts that the Revitalization Act “carve[s] out” an exception to the text of the IDEA because it provides that the “BOP-rather than the District-is responsible for the education of felony offenders of the D.C. Code sentenced as adults.” Dkt. 27 at 10. Second, the District argues that under the plain language of 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(11)(C), it is only “required to ensure that its own facilities comply with the IDEA;” here, it has no authority over the BOP. Dkt. 27 at 12; see also Id. at 19-20 (arguing that the R&R “erred by finding de facto that the District is required to force BOP to provide a FAPE to [D.C.] residents in [the] BOP's custody”). Finally, the District contends that the R&R ignores the import of two Department of Education (“DOE”) opinion letters and Fourth Circuit precedent that, in its view, compels a contrary result. Id. at 16-19.

         II. ...

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