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Crockett v. Mayor of District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 25, 2017

JAWANZAH CROCKETT, Plaintiff,
v.
MAYOR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jawanzah Crockett, proceeding pro se, brings this action against the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”); various school administrators, managers, and teachers; and the Mayor of the District of Columbia. The case focuses on a series of events occurring over the course of Crockett's tenure as a student at Wilson Senior High School (“Wilson H.S.”). DCPS determined that Crockett was entitled to special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and he eventually received an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). Crockett alleges, however, that Defendants failed to accommodate his disability; that Wilson H.S. did not properly implement the IEP; that he was otherwise denied the Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) to which he was entitled; that DCPS unlawfully disclosed portions of his protected educational records; and that Defendants inaccurately reported his attendance and grades. Based on these factual allegations, he asserts claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.; the IDEA; the D.C. Student Grievance Procedures, D.C Mun. Regs. tit. 5B, § 2405; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; the D.C. Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq.; and an array of common law torts.

         In an equally multifaceted response, Defendants move to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, raising a host of defenses. Their central argument is that Crockett brought a similar action in D.C. Superior Court in June 2015; that he was unsuccessful there; and that he is now barred by the doctrines of claim and issue preclusion from litigating his case before this Court. In addition to that argument, Defendants contend that Crockett's current lawsuit should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA; that his complaint fails to state a claim of negligence or neglect of duty; that his remaining tort claims are barred by a one-year statute of limitations; that DCPS is non sui juris and thus not subject to suit; and that the complaint fails to include any factual allegations directed at the Mayor.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court will GRANT in part and DENY in part Defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Crockett began attending Wilson H.S. in the fall of 2011. Dkt. 1 at 3 (Compl. ¶ 15). He struggled during that first year, and his mother asked that he be tested to determine eligibility for special education services. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16). An accommodations plan drafted under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, led to improved performance in his sophomore year. Id. Still, miscommunications and disagreements about the plan hampered its implementation, and Crockett's mother continued to push for further evaluation of her son. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-24). Eventually, DCPS conceded that Crockett was entitled to an IEP under the IDEA. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 21-22). On April 7, 2014, during the spring of Crockett's junior year, Wilson H.S. finally produced the IEP, id. (Compl. ¶ 22), but, according to Crockett, the school almost immediately fell into noncompliance, id. (Compl. ¶ 27).

         Before challenging that noncompliance, however, Crockett's mother filed a different due process complaint with the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (“OSSE”), challenging DCPS's failure to offer Crockett an IEP earlier in his time at Wilson H.S. See Dkt. 12-8 (First OSSE Hearing Report). The OSSE hearing officer concluded in December 2014 that DCPS had failed to provide Crockett a FAPE from October 11, 2012, to April 7, 2014-that is, for much of his high school career. Id. at 3, 8-11. As compensatory education, the OSSE hearing officer ordered DCPS to provide Crockett 200 hours of independent tutoring, 20 hours of behavior counseling, and reimbursement for prior tutoring expenses. Id. at 10. Crockett has not called into question DCPS's compliance with that award.

         During the 2014-2015 school year, Crockett was initially placed into a self-contained classroom (one containing only students receiving special education services) for math, as contemplated by his IEP. Dkt. 12-7 at 5 (Second OSSE Hearing Report). Because he was substantially more advanced than other students in the self-contained classroom, Crockett's special education teacher recommended that he be returned to the general education classroom for math. Id. At his mother's request, that switch was made. Id. Crockett then passed both math classes he took his senior year. Id.

         By contrast, Crockett struggled in Spanish. Despite his mother's repeated efforts to coordinate with his teachers to make sure all of his assignments were turned in, he ultimately failed that class. Id. Crockett contends that this failing grade was the product of a host of missteps by Defendants, including failing to provide adequate support and accommodations, “denying [his] parent access to teachers to assist in organizing . . . and keeping track of [his] assignments, ” Dkt. 1 at 13 (Compl. ¶ 87), misrepresenting the number of assignments that had yet to be completed, id. at 8-9 (Compl. ¶¶ 48-57); id. at 15-16 (Compl. ¶ 103), and falsifying attendance records, id. at 17-18 (Compl. ¶¶ 112, 118-25). Because he failed Spanish, Crockett was unable to graduate with his class, and was required to repeat the course over the summer. Dkt. 12-7 at 5.

         After receiving notice of his failing grade in Spanish, Crockett took two actions. First, he lodged another due process complaint with OSSE. See Dkt. 12-7. The complaint alleged that his mother had not been timely provided with his most recent IEP and that the school's decision to return him to the math general education classroom at his mother's request had not relieved the school of its obligation to provide him with additional educational services in math. See id. at 4- 5. Although those claims had nothing to do with his Spanish grade, Crockett sought compensatory education in the form of Spanish tutoring, funding for the Spanish summer school course he was taking to graduate, and enrollment in a college preparatory course. Id. at 9. A due process hearing was held on July 23, 2015. Id. at 2. On August 7, 2015, the OSSE hearing officer rejected Crockett's first claim, but ruled that Wilson H.S.'s failure to provide Crockett with the additional math support contemplated by his IEP violated the IDEA. Id. at 6-8. The hearing officer found the proposed relief inappropriate, however, because it did not “correlate[]” with that omission. Id. at 9. As a result, the hearing officer instead ordered that Crockett receive “20 hours of independent behavior counseling.” Id. at 10.

         Second, Crockett brought suit against DCPS, Wilson H.S., and various school administrators and teachers in D.C. Superior Court, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to compel Wilson H.S. to allow him to “pick up [his] cap and gown, participate in graduation rehearsal and graduate on June 13 with [his] class.” Dkt. 12-2 at 1 (Superior Court Complaint). Crockett's complaint did not identify a particular cause of action, but it did allege that the defendants in that action had failed to provide him with “accommodations” and had failed to act in a timely manner on “grade disputes” that he had raised. Id. The complaint left little doubt, moreover, that Crockett's allegations were focused- at least in large part-on his failing grade in Spanish. Id.

         A hearing on Crockett's motion for a temporary restraining order was convened the day prior to the Wilson H.S. graduation, and that motion was denied. The Superior Court held:

[P]laintiff has not established that he would be irreparably damaged by not being permitted to participate in the graduation ceremony on June 13, 2015, nor that he would likely prevail at trial, nor that he would be more damaged than would be defendant, nor that the public good would be injured by withholding injunctive relief.

Dkt. 12-3. Three days later, the Superior Court denied Crockett's motion for a preliminary injunction for those same reasons. See Dkt. 12-4.

         The defendants in that case then filed a motion to dismiss, which the Superior Court granted on August 25, 2015. See Dkt. 12-5. Although the complaint had not expressly identified a cause of action, the Superior Court construed it to “arise[]” under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6)(A), the provision of the IDEA that provides for administrative due process hearings like those Crockett won in December 2014 and August 2015. Id. at 4. As the Superior Court explained, the IDEA sets forth “carefully tailored administrative and judicial mechanism[s]” to challenge the failure of a school system to provide a child with a FAPE. Id. at 6 (quoting Bonar v. Ambach, 771 F.2d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1985)). In particular, the child's parents must first pursue a due process hearing conducted by either the state educational agency or by the local educational agency. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f); see also Dkt. 12-5 at 5. Under D.C. law, the initial due process hearing is conducted by the state educational agency, [1] Dkt. 12-5 at 5, and its decision is treated as final agency action for purposes of the IDEA, see 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(1)(A). It is only after obtaining such a final agency decision, however, that the IDEA authorizes an aggrieved party to bring a civil action in state or federal court. Id. § 1415(i)(2)(A); see also Dkt. 12-5 at 5. In light of this regulatory structure, the Superior Court held that Crockett had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the IDEA because neither he nor a parent pursued a due process hearing respecting the claims he sought to raise in the Superior Court action. Dkt. 12-5 at 5-6. As a result, the court lacked “subject matter jurisdiction.” Id.

         Crockett then appealed the Superior Court's decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Nine months later, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as moot. Dkt. 13-1 at 1-2. In a summary order, the court explained that Crockett sought only injunctive relief-that is, an order requiring that he be allowed to graduate with his class-and because the graduation ceremony had already taken place, there was “no relief that [the] court [could] provide.” Id. at 1. Crockett did not request that the D.C. Court of Appeals vacate the Superior Court's decision, and the Court of Appeals did not order vacatur sua sponte.

         Less than three weeks after the D.C. Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal, Crockett filed the present action. Dkt. 1. Five of the defendants in this case were also named in the earlier suit: DCPS, Wilson H.S.'s assistant principal for special education, the school's acting principal, Crockett's Spanish teacher, and his special education case manager. Compare Dkt. 12-1 at 1, with Dkt. 1 at 2-3. To this list, the present suit adds six new defendants: the DCPS “Instructional Superintendent managing Cluster VIII schools, ” a second Spanish instructor at Wilson H.S., Wilson H.S.'s “assistant principal for 2015 summer school and attendance supervisor, ” an attendance counselor at Wilson H.S., an AP English teacher at the school, and the Mayor of the District of Columbia.[2] Dkt. 1 at 1-3. Unlike his prior suit, which sought only injunctive relief, this case seeks only damages. Dkt. 1 at 21-22.

         II. ...


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