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Benoit v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 24, 2018

JACQUES BENOIT and CAMILLE COLLETTE, Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Jacques Benoit and Camille Collette brought this suit against the District of Columbia under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to seek review of various portions of a February 18, 2018 Hearing Officer Determination concerning the education of their son E.B. As alleged in their complaint, the Hearing Officer Determination incorrectly denied relief on a number of Plaintiffs' claims. In this motion however, Plaintiffs ask for a preliminary injunction compelling Defendant's compliance with those portions of the Hearing Officer Determination on which they prevailed. While the Court is inclined to agree with Plaintiffs' substantive arguments regarding Defendant's payment obligations under the HOD, the relief requested falls outside the scope of the claims brought in the complaint. Plaintiffs have also failed to show that they will suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction. Accordingly, the Court denies the preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs are free to amend the complaint to bring a claim for enforcement of the relevant portions of the Hearing Officer Determination.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case marks the latest development in a long-running dispute between Plaintiffs Jacques Benoit and Camille Collette (“Benoit and Collette”) and Defendant the District of Columbia (“the District”) regarding the education of E.B., Benoit and Collette's son. E.B. is a 9-year old child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1. In the spring of 2012, E.B. was determined to be eligible for special education services and, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), the District developed an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) for him. See Id. ¶ 7. Between 2012 and 2014, Benoit and Collette allege that the District failed to offer school placements that could implement the IEP and refused to acknowledge E.B.'s disability. See Id. ¶¶ 8-19. And over the next three years, Benoit and Collette allege that the District developed updated IEPs in 2014, 2015, and 2016 that each significantly decreased the amount of special education services provided to E.B. See Id. ¶¶ 22, 27, 31. Benoit and Collette placed E.B. in private school at The Auburn School between 2014 and 2016 rather than go through with the District's IEPs. See Id. ¶¶ 25, 28. When E.B. was placed at the public Murch Elementary School between 2016 and 2017, they allege that he suffered significant emotional and behavioral issues. See Id. ¶ 33. After the District failed to update E.B.'s IEP at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year, Benoit and Collette returned him to The Auburn School for 2017-2018, see Id. ¶ 42, and began legal action.

         Between January and February 2018, an administrative hearing was held pursuant to the IDEA regarding E.B.'s education. Compl. ¶ 47. On February 18, 2018, the Hearing Officer issued a Hearing Officer Determination (“HOD”). Compl. ¶ 48. In the HOD, the Hearing Officer found that the District had denied E.B. a Free and Appropriate Education (“FAPE”) as required by the IDEA by failing to provide an appropriate IEP for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. See HOD Determination at 27-28, 31, Pl.'s Second Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex.1, ECF No. 8-3. After finding that Benoit and Collette had acted reasonably and placed E.B. in an appropriate private school following the District's denial of a FAPE for the 2017-2018 school year, the Hearing Officer ordered the District to reimburse Benoit and Collette for the expenses associated with enrolling E.B. at The Auburn School between the fall of 2017 and February 18, 2018. See Id. at 31. And as compensatory education for the denial of the FAPE for the 2016-2017 school year, the Hearing Officer also ordered that the District “fund [E.B.'s] continued placement at [The Auburn School] for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year.” Id. at 37. The Hearing Officer emphasized that any concerns about the lack of interaction between students at The Auburn School and typically developing peers were “offset by the undisputed fact that [E.B.] [was] receiving educational benefit at” The Auburn School. Id. at 38. On the other hand, the HOD also denied relief on a number of Benoit and Collette's claims, including claims for relief based on the District's actions in the 2015-2016 school year that the Hearing Officer determined were barred by the IDEA's statute of limitations. See Compl. ¶ 49.

         On May 9, 2018, Benoit and Collette filed this lawsuit to challenge those portions of the HOD that denied them relief. See generally Id. Benoit and Collette indicated that they were bringing “this Complaint seeking relief for denial of a Free and Appropriate Education (herein FAPE)[, ]” id. ¶ 1, and stated nine counts for violations of the IDEA that the Hearing Officer was alleged to have improperly denied relief on at the February 18, 2018 hearing, id. ¶¶ 51-69. In their request for relief, Benoit and Collette specifically asked that the Court “[f]ind that [the] Hearing Officer . . . erred” as set forth in the Complaint. Id. ¶ 69.

         In August 2018, Benoit and Collette filed two motions for a preliminary injunction, seeking 1) a “stay put” injunction pursuant to the IDEA requiring that the District fund E.B.'s continued attendance at The Auburn School during the pendency of the case, see Pl.'s First Mot. Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 7, and 2) an injunction compelling the District to comply with the terms of the HOD requiring it to fund E.B.'s placement at The Auburn School between February 18, 2018 and the end of the 2017-2018 school year, for a total of $23, 672, see Pl.'s Second Mot. Prelim. Inj. The District filed its opposition to both motions on August 24, 2018, arguing, inter alia, that the second motion was moot because the District had approved payment to The Auburn School for the remainder of the 2017-2018 tuition and the payment would be made shortly. See Def.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Prelim. Inj. at 5-6, ECF No. 10. After a hearing on August 27, 2018, the Court granted the first motion and took the second motion under advisement. See Aug. 27, 2018 Minute Order, No. 1-18-cv-01104-RC.

         On September 4, 2018, the District filed a status report where it represented that payment to The Auburn School for the remainder of the 2017-2018 tuition would be made on September 10. See Def.'s Sept. 4 Status Report, ECF No. 17. On September 11, 2018, the District filed another status report noting that a check for the payment had issued on September 10. See Def.'s Sept. 11 Status Report, ECF No. 18. However, just five days later on September 16, 2018, Benoit and Collette filed their own status report indicating that the District had only paid $10, 672 to The Auburn School on September 10, leaving $13, 000 unpaid. See Pl.'s Sept. 16 Status Report, ECF No. 19. The District confirmed as much on September 24, 2018, noting for the first time that it disputed the tuition amount claimed by Benoit and Collette and that it would not pay the remaining $13, 000. See Def.'s Sept. 24 Status report, ECF No. 20.

         On September 26, 2018, Benoit and Collette filed their reply in further support of the motion for a preliminary injunction. See Pl.'s Reply to Opp'n, ECF No. 21. On October 1, 2018, Benoit and Collette filed a supplemental memorandum to their reply, where they noted that The Auburn School had informed them that failure to pay the $13, 000 by October 31 would trigger a monthly 2.5% late fee and result in their account being sent to collection. See Supplement to Pl.'s Reply to Opp'n at 1, ECF No. 22.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “[A] preliminary injunction is an injunction to protect [the movant] from irreparable injury and to preserve the court's power to render a meaningful decision after a trial on the merits.” Select Milk Producers, Inc. v. Johanns, 400 F.3d 939, 954 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (quoting 11A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedures § 2947 (2d ed. 1992)). Preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary remedy, ” and one that is “never awarded as of right.” Winter v. Nat'l Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008).

         A plaintiff seeking preliminary injunctive relief “must establish [1] that he is likely to succeed on the merits, [2] that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, [3] that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and [4] that an injunction is in the public interest.” Aamer v. Obama, 742 F.3d 1023, 1038 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Sherley v. Sebelius, 644 F.3d 388, 392 (D.C. Cir. 2011)). When seeking such relief, “the movant has the burden to show that all four factors, taken together, weigh in favor of the injunction.” Abdullah v. Obama, 753 F.3d 193, 197 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 571 F.3d 1288, 1292 (D.C. Cir. 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         IV. ...


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