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D.P. v. Washington Leadership Academy Public Charter School

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 22, 2019

D.P., by and through his mother, Plaintiff,


          James E. Boasberg, United States District Judge.

         A disabled student at Defendant Washington Leadership Academy Public Charter School, Plaintiff D.P. was expelled in the fall of 2017 for possessing marijuana and placed at a special-education school for the balance of the academic year. When he attempted to re-enroll for the 2018-19 school year, WLA denied his request, leading him to file a due-process complaint pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. After the Hearing Officer upheld the school's decision, D.P. brought this suit through his mother, alleging a violation of IDEA as well as assorted constitutional provisions and the federal Rehabilitation Act. Now moving to dismiss, WLA contends that the Hearing Officer did not err and that the other causes of action are deficient on their face. Agreeing, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. Background

         Viewing the facts alleged in the Complaint as true, as is required at this stage of litigation, the Court begins with D.P., who is now 17 and in the 11th grade. See Compl., ¶ 5. He has “been determined eligible for special education and related services pursuant to IDEA with a disability classification of multiple disabilities including specific learning disability and emotional disability.” Id., ¶ 6. During the 2017-18 school year, D.P. “was enrolled at [WLA], a public charter school in the District of Columbia that served as [his] local educational agency [for purposes of IDEA].” Id., ¶ 22.

         In August 2017, D.P. “was accused of being in the possession of marijuana on school premises.” Id., ¶¶ 24-25. Following a preliminary suspension hearing, the school's Discipline Committee, after holding another hearing, found the charges to be verified and expelled him. Id., ¶¶ 29-30. A subsequent “manifestation determination review meeting was held and the entire team, including the parent, agreed that [D.P.'s] behavior was not a manifestation of [his] disability.” Id., ¶ 31. D.P. was then placed in an “interim alternative education setting for the remainder of the school year.” Id., ¶ 37 (internal quotation marks omitted). His mother's appeal of the expulsion resulted in WLA's Board of Trustees' affirming the decision in October. Id., ¶ 38. She then filed a due-process complaint challenging the interim placement, which led to WLA's being directed to provide D.P. a different placement. Id., ¶¶ 41-42. He thereafter attended a non-public special-education day school. Id., ¶ 80.

         As the new school year approached, D.P.'s mother unsuccessfully sought to re-enroll him at WLA for 2018-19, precipitating another due-process complaint. Id., ¶¶ 82-83. The Hearing Officer this time sided with WLA, holding that the school was not prohibited from barring D.P. from re-enrollment given his expulsion the previous year. Id., ¶ 90. D.P. is thus currently enrolled at a different public charter school, which he and his mother like less. Id., ¶ 93.

         In bringing this action, Plaintiff's claims are not entirely clear. In his preliminary statement, he alleges “the continuing violations of Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments . . . and reasonable attorneys' fees pursuant to . . . IDEA.” Id., ¶ 1. Yet, his causes of action never mention the first and third constitutional violations and instead allege a denial of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), presumably under IDEA; a Fifth Amendment violation in relation to the expulsion hearing; and a violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act. WLA now moves to dismiss all claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must dismiss a claim for relief when the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks omitted). Though a plaintiff may survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         III. Analysis

         Although D.P. announces in his Preliminary Statement of his Complaint that he is asserting claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment, those constitutional provisions never appear in his actual causes of action, nor does he ever allege facts that would support them. In addition, when WLA pointed this out in its Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff never responded in his Opposition. The Court, accordingly, will view these claims, if they ever truly existed, as abandoned. That leaves counts under IDEA, the Fifth Amendment, and the Rehabilitation Act, which the Court will address in turn.

         A. IDEA

         D.P. first alleges that WLA “failed to offer [him] a FAPE by refusing to allow the student to re-enroll.” Compl., ¶ 96. The Court begins with some IDEA basics. The purpose of the Act is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs.” 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). “Implicit” in IDEA's guarantee “is the requirement that the education to which access is provided be sufficient to confer some educational benefit upon the handicapped child.” Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982). As a condition of receiving funding under IDEA, school districts are required to adopt procedures to ensure appropriate educational placement of students with disabilities. See 20 U.S.C. § 1413.

         Parents who object to their child's “identification, evaluation, or educational placement” are entitled to an impartial due-process hearing, see §§ 1415(b)(6), (f)(1), at which they have a “right to be accompanied and advised by counsel” and a “right to present evidence and confront, cross-examine, and compel the attendance of witnesses.” § 1415(h). In the District, a qualified, impartial Hearing Officer conducts the due-process hearing in accordance with the Act. See 5-E D.C. Mun. Regs. § 3030. Parents “aggrieved by” a Hearing Officer's findings and decision may bring a civil action in either state or federal court. See ยง 1415(i)(2); 5-E D.C. Mun. Regs. ...

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