Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Adams v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 29, 2018

CHUNDRA ADAMS, Parent and next friend of T.J., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Chundra Adams, acting on behalf of her child T.J., brought this action alleging that the District of Columbia is violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., by failing to provide her son a free and appropriate public education. She now seeks a preliminary injunction requiring his placement at a private school. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson, having been referred the case, has issued a Report and Recommendation to deny the Motion, largely for lack of irreparable harm. Finding alternatively that Adams does not have the requisite likelihood of success on the merits for an injunction to issue, the Court will adopt the Report's conclusion and deny the Motion.

         I. Background

         The Court will not reiterate the full factual background of the case, which is set out in detail in the 35-page hearing officer determination (HOD) and the Report and Recommendation. In short, T.J. is a minor child currently enrolled in the 6th grade in the District of Columbia Public School system. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint), ¶ 7. He is eligible for special education and related services as a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Emotional Disturbance, and his reading and math skills are significantly below grade level. Id., ¶ 9; ECF No. 1-4 (Interim HOD) at 24. In 2015, T.J.'s Individualized Education Program required two hours per day of specialized instruction outside general education and one hour per day within general education, with 120 minutes per month of Behavioral Support Services. See Compl., ¶ 11. In March 2016, the IEP was increased to four hours a day of special education, with 120 minutes per month of Behavioral Support. Id., ¶ 27. After T.J. underwent a series of psychological and behavioral assessments in early 2017, his IEP team was reconvened on March 16. Determining that he required additional support, the team bumped up his Specialized Instruction Services to 20 hours per week, including 15 hours outside general education, and increased his Behavior Support to 240 minutes per month. Id., ¶ 44. The District later determined, however, that in order for T.J. to have this level of special education, all 20 hours of his Specialized Instruction would have to be outside general education. See Interim HOD at 17. On May 23, 2017, the Special Education Manager for DCPS circulated a proposed revised IEP reflecting this change and suggested holding an IEP meeting to finalize a plan providing for 20 hours outside general education and placement in a Behavior and Education Support (BES) classroom. See AR 338-354. Plaintiff, however, declined to participate in the May IEP meeting. On June 30, DCPS sent Adams a location-of-services letter for the 2017-18 school year informing her that T.J. would be placed in a BES classroom at Kramer Middle School. See AR 163.

         On May 15, however, prior to the circulation of the revised IEP and proposed BES placement, Plaintiff filed a Due Process Complaint naming DCPS as respondent. See AR 05-21. The Complaint alleged that T.J.'s 2015, 2016, and 2017 IEPs and placements denied him a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and requested that the Hearing Officer “[o]rder DCPS to fund the student's tuition and transportation at a non-public school of the parent's choosing.” AR 18. Plaintiff later identified her chosen private school as the Phillips School, which is a private special-education day school located in Maryland with an annual tuition of approximately $49, 000. See ECF 12-1 (Administrative Hearing Transcript) at 94:22. It enrolls only students with IDEA disabilities and implements a school-wide behavior system to accommodate those students with emotional and behavioral challenges. Id. at 113:12-15. Phillips currently holds a Certificate of Approval from the State Superintendent of Education, and it enrolls a number of students from DCPS. Id. at 93:2; 95:12-14. T.J. has been accepted for admission for the 2017-18 school year and would, at this point, still be able to attend Phillips for the remainder of the term. Id. at 106:10-11.

         On August 2-3, the parties participated in an administrative hearing before Hearing Officer Peter B. Vaden. See Interim HOD at 1. Plaintiff called as witnesses T.J's educational advocate, Dr. Ida Holman, who offered testimony as to his educational needs and past IEPs, as well as Laura Green from the Lindamood-Bell Reading Center, who testified as to the Center's reading program, and Sarah Headley, the Program Director at Phillips School, who discussed the offerings at Phillips and the school's ability to serve T.J.'s disabilities. See Compl., ¶ 61. DCPS called Tina Allen, a school social worker, who testified as to T.J.'s prior IEPs and the educational impacts of his disabilities; Dr. Jamie Wyche, the Special Education Manager from Aiton Elementary School, where T.J. had been previously placed; and Jacqueline Walters, the Assistant Principal of Kramer Middle School, who testified as to the special-education programs available at Kramer. Id., ¶ 62 Over the course of the two-day hearing, Officer Vaden heard testimony from both sides on T.J.'s educational and behavioral impairments, the respective special-education offerings of Phillips School and DCPS, and the alleged prior deprivations of FAPE.

         On August 18, the Hearing Officer issued his determination, finding that DCPS had violated IDEA by denying T.J. his right to a FAPE. Specifically, Officer Vaden concluded that: (1) DCPS's delay of one year in conducting an updated Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) impeded T.J.'s access to a FAPE; (2) DCPS denied T.J. a FAPE by providing him with an inappropriate IEP on March 22, 2016; (3) DCPS denied T.J. a FAPE by providing him with an inappropriate IEP on March 16, 2017; and (4) Plaintiff did not, however, demonstrate that DCPS could not provide a special-education placement capable of meeting T.J.'s needs.

         Turning to the appropriate remedies for DCPS's violations, the Hearing Officer found that the “evidence [did] not establish that no suitable public school is available for Student.” Interim HOD at 31. He therefore declined to order DCPS to fund T.J.'s private-school placement and instead directed the District to convene T.J.'s IEP team within 15 business days of his decision to “review and revise, as appropriate, Student's IEP, in accordance [with] this decision” and to, within five days of the IEP revision, “identify to the parent a suitable school location to implement the revised IEP.” Id. Finally, Officer Vaden found that T.J. was entitled to an award of compensatory education to remedy his prior denials of FAPE. On September 7, the parties held the IEP meeting ordered in the Interim HOD, see ECF No. 4-3 (Holman Affidavit), ¶ 8, where they agreed upon T.J.'s enrollment in the 20-hour/BES program as a “stay put” placement. See ECF No. 18 (Objections) at 3 (stating that 20-hour/BES IEP proposed by DCPS in May 2017 is “the same one that student has now”). On September 12, 2017, after continuing the final decision date to allow for additional evidence on the compensatory-education award, the Hearing Officer ordered that DCPS fund 400 hours of individual reading instruction, as well as 75 hours of mentoring services by a social worker or counselor in order to compensate for the denials of FAPE identified in the Interim HOD. See ECF No. 8-1 (Final HOD) at 6.

         Subsequent to Officer Vaden's determination on the merits - i.e., the Interim HOD - Plaintiff filed this action on September 5. Adams's Complaint alleged that the Hearing Officer erred in the following ways: (1) by not “ruling separately on the placement claim”; (2) by invalidating the March 2017 IEP on procedural grounds and failing to “consider any of the substantive allegations made by the parent”; (3) by failing to address Plaintiff's assertion that delegation to the LRE team impeded Adams's participation in the placement decision; and (4) by finding that Plaintiff did not meet her burden of proving that there was no appropriate public-school option for T.J. See Compl., ¶¶ 101-139. As relief for these alleged errors, Plaintiff requested that the Court grant both declaratory and injunctive relief, including issuing an Order requiring DCPS to fund T.J.'s tuition at and transportation to the Phillips School. Id. at 33-34.

         The case was then referred to Magistrate Judge Robinson for full case management. See ECF No. 3 (Referral Order). Three days after filing her Complaint, Plaintiff filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, requesting that the Court place T.J. at the Phillips School. See ECF No. 4 (Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction). On November 8, 2017, Magistrate Judge Robinson issued a Report and Recommendation to deny Plaintiff's request for emergency relief, finding that Adams could not demonstrate irreparable harm. See ECF No. 17 (Report and Recommendation). Adams timely filed her Objections to the Report on November 20, and DCPS responded on December 4. See ECF Nos. 18 (Objections); 20 (DCPS Response). On January 9, 2018, this Court held oral argument on the Motion.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), once a magistrate judge has entered her recommended disposition, a party may file specific written objections. The district court “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see, e.g., Winston & Strawn LLP v. FDIC, 841 F.Supp.2d 225, 228 (D.D.C. 2012) (court must conduct de novo review of objections to magistrate judge's report and recommendation). The district court may then “accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         Because the Report and Recommendation addresses Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, the Court also sets forth the relevant standard for such relief. A party seeking preliminary relief must make a “clear showing that four factors, taken together, warrant relief: likely success on the merits, likely irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, a balance of the equities in its favor, and accord with the public interest.” League of Women Voters of United States v. Newby, 838 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (quoting Pursuing America's Greatness v. FEC, 831 F.3d 500, 505 (D.C. Cir. 2016)).

         Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Winter v. NRDC, 555 U.S. 7 (2008), courts weighed these factors on a “sliding scale, ” allowing “an unusually strong showing on one of the factors” to overcome a weaker showing on another. Davis v. PBGC, 571 F.3d 1288, 1291-92 (D.C. Cir. 2009); see Davenport v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 166 F.3d 356, 360-61 (D.C. Cir. 1999). This Circuit has since suggested, though not held, that Winter - which overturned the Ninth Circuit's “possibility of irreparable harm” standard - establishes that “likelihood of irreparable harm” and “likelihood of success” are “‘independent, free-standing requirement[s].'” Sherley v. Sebelius, 644 F.3d 388, 392-93 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Davis, 571 F.3d at 1296 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring)). Unresolved, too, is the related question of “whether, in cases where the other three factors strongly favor issuing an injunction, a plaintiff need only raise a ‘serious legal question' on the merits.” Aamer v. Obama, 742 F.3d 1023, 1043 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (citation omitted).

         Regardless of these areas of uncertainty, however, courts in our Circuit have squarely held that a failure to show a likelihood of success on the merits alone is sufficient to defeat the motion. See Ark. Dairy Co-op Ass'n, Inc. v. USDA, 573 F.3d 815, 832 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citing Apotex, Inc. v. FDA, 449 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). Conversely, a plaintiff's showing of likelihood of success does not end the inquiry; rather, “the movant has the burden to show that all four factors, taken together, weigh in favor of the injunction.” Davis, 571 F.3d at 1292.

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff raises four objections to the Magistrate Judge's denial of her Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. See Obj. at 1-2. She asserts that: (1) the Report and Recommendation “rested on fundamental misunderstandings of the facts and the contents of the administrative records”; (2) the Report erred by “suggest[ing] that the Court did not have the authority to grant the Preliminary Injunction”; (3) the Report failed to correctly conclude that “the IEP and placement provided to the student after the HOD was issued . . . was already proven unable to provide T.J. a FAPE at the” hearing; and (4) the Magistrate Judge failed ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.