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University Legal Services, Inc. v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2019

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff University Legal Services, operating as Disability Rights DC (“DRDC”), serves as the protection and advocacy (P&A) system for the District of Columbia. (See First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 14, at 1.)[1] Two federal statutes- the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (“DD Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 15001-15115, and the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (“PAIMI Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 10801-10851-task DRDC with protecting, and advocating for, the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. These statutes specifically provide DRDC with a “federal mandate to act to protect people with disabilities in the District of Columbia, investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, provide legal advocacy for people with disabilities, and determine whether investigations . . . [are] fully and independently conducted[.]” (Id. at 2.)

         In the instant lawsuit, DRDC alleges that the District of Columbia, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in her official capacity, and Clinton Lacey, the Director of the D.C. Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (“DYRS”), in his official capacity (collectively, “Defendants”), “have violated the right of [DRDC] to promptly obtain from Defendants the complete, unredacted records relating to allegations of abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities under their supervision and/or care.” (Id. at 2, ¶¶ 2-5.) DRDC's First Amended Complaint contains two counts: Count 1 is a claim brought under the DD and PAIMI Acts based on Defendants' alleged ongoing failure to provide records to DRDC timely (see Id. at ¶¶ 45-56), and Count 2 is a claim brought under section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code (“Section 1983”) based on Defendants' alleged violation of DRDC's statutory rights as the P&A system for the District (see Id. at ¶¶ 57-65).

         Before this Court at present is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss DRDC's First Amended Complaint. (See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss First Am. Compl. (“Defs.' Mot.”), ECF No. 15.) Defendants argue that DRDC's claims are moot, due to the District's production of certain records relating to one alleged instance of abuse. (See Id. at 13- 17; see also Defs.' Reply in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. (“Defs.' Reply”), ECF No. 18, at 8- 13). Defendants also argue that DRDC's Section 1983 claim should be dismissed, because DRDC has failed to allege facts sufficient to support municipal liability. (See Defs.' Mot. at 19-25; see also Defs.' Reply at 13-18.) In the alternative, Defendants move to dismiss the Section 1983 claim (Count 2) as duplicative of Count 1 (see Defs.' Mot. at 25; see also Defs.' Reply at 18-19), and they further argue that any claims against the individual defendants should be dismissed as duplicative of the claims against the District (see Defs.' Mot. at 28-29; see also Defs.' Reply at 20-21).

         For the reasons explained below, this Court concludes that DRDC's claims are not moot because they are based on an allegedly ongoing policy of the District. However, because DRDC has not pleaded facts that can plausibly support municipal liability under any theory, Count 2 must be dismissed; and DRDC's claims against the individual defendants will be dismissed as duplicative of its claims against the District. Accordingly, Defendants' motion will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART: the Court will DISMISS without prejudice DRDC's Section 1983 claim in Count 2 and DRDC's claims against the individual defendants, while DRDC's Count 1 claim against the District will be permitted to proceed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Protection And Advocacy Systems Pursuant To The DD And PAIMI Acts

         The DD Act provides states with federal funding “to improve community services, such as medical care and job training, for individuals with developmental disabilities.” Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 250 (2011) (citation omitted). A parallel statute, the PAIMI Act, provides funding for similar protections for the mentally ill. See Id. (citation omitted). Both the DD and PAIMI Acts are based upon congressional findings that individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses are uniquely susceptible to discrimination, neglect, and abuse, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 15001(a)(4), (5) (DD Act); id. §§ 10801(a)(1), (3) (PAIMI Act), and that preexisting state systems for monitoring and supporting these individuals were inadequate, see Id. §§ 15001(a)(6), (11) (DD Act); id. § 10801(a)(4) (PAIMI Act).

         As a condition of receiving federal funding under the DD and PAIMI Acts, a state must establish a system “to protect and advocate the rights of individuals” with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses, which is commonly referred to as a “P&A system.” Id. § 15043(a)(1) (DD Act); id. § 10803(2)(A) (PAIMI Act). The DD and Paimi Acts further require that state P&A systems have comprehensive investigatory powers. See Ctr. For Legal Advocacy v. Hammons, 323 F.3d 1262, 1270 (10th Cir. 2003) (describing the statutorily mandated records access as “quite broad”); see also Ala. Disabilities Advocacy Program v. J.S. Tarwater Developmental Ctr., 97 F.3d 492, 497 (11th Cir. 1996). These broad powers include “the authority to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect . . . if the incidents are reported to the system or if there is probable cause to believe that the incidents occurred[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 15043(a)(2)(B) (DD Act); id. § 10805(a)(1)(A) (PAIMI Act). Moreover, consistent with certain statutory requirements, P&A systems must be granted access to “all records” of individuals who may have been abused, see Id. § 15043(a)(2)(I)(iii)(II) (DD Act); § 10805(a)(4)(B)(iii) (PAIMI Act), as well as “other records that are relevant to conducting an investigation, ” id. § 15043(a)(2)(J)(i). To this end, the PAIMI Act's implementing regulations require that access to records be “extended promptly.” 42 C.F.R. § 51.41(a).[2] Likewise, the DD Act specifies that covered entities must grant access to records “within three business days” of the request. 42 U.S.C. § 15043(a)(2)(J)(i); 45 C.F.R. § 1326.25(c)(2).[3]

         In addition to investigatory powers, P&A systems also have the statutory authority to vindicate the purposes of the DD and PAIMI Acts by “pursu[ing] administrative, legal, and other appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of individuals with mental illness, ” 42 U.S.C. § 10805(a)(1)(B), or developmental disabilities, id. § 15043(a)(2)(A)(i).

         B. Factual And Procedural Background [4]

         DRDC has served as the designated P&A program for the District of Columbia since 1996. (See FAC at ¶ 1.) At some point in July of 2017, DRDC received complaints that, over a period of several months, DYRS staff physically abused and neglected “C.G., ” a child who had been committed to DYRS custody and was detained at the Youth Services Center in Washington, D.C. (See Id. at ¶¶ 17-19.) On August 2, 2017, DRDC made the first of a series of specific, repeated requests to DYRS for records related to the alleged abuse of C.G. (See Id. at ¶¶ 20-22.) From August to October of 2017, DYRS provided some-but not all-of the requested records. (See Id. at ¶¶ 23-33.)

         On February 9, 2018, DRDC filed a complaint in this Court, along with a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking the outstanding records regarding C.G. (See Compl., ECF No. 1; Mot. for a Prelim. Injunction, ECF No. 3; see also FAC at ¶ 41.) Two weeks later, on February 23, 2018, Defendants produced records regarding C.G., and they supplemented this production on March 2, 2018. (See FAC at ¶¶ 42-43.) On March 8, 2018, the parties appeared for a status conference, during which DRDC withdrew its motion for a preliminary injunction in light of Defendants' document productions. (See Min. Entry of Mar. 8, 2018.) The Court expressed some concerns about possible mootness and DRDC's failure to plead the pattern and practice claim that DRDC's counsel seemed to assert. (See generally Tr. of Mar. 8, 2018 Status Conference.)

         On March 22, 2018, DRDC filed a First Amended Complaint, which lamented “Defendants' repeated failure to comply with [DRDC's] requests for access to records in the time set forth under the PAIMI Act and DD Act[.]” (See FAC at 2.) To demonstrate this alleged failure, DRDC added allegations concerning three additional incidents and claimed that they were indicative of Defendants' years-long “policy and/or practice of failing to provide timely responses” to DRDC's requests. (See FAC at ¶¶ 34-35.) Specifically, in addition to DYRS's failure to provide C.G.'s records timely in 2017, DRDC alleged that: (1) in 2014, DYRS refused to provide records related to a DRDC investigation into a report that a child was physically assaulted, and DYRS required DRDC to seek a court order for access to the records (see Id. at ¶¶ 36- 37); (2) in the summer of 2013, the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency demanded that DRDC submit a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request in response to a records request related to a DRDC investigation into a child abused at a psychiatric hospital (see Id. at ¶ 38); and in 2017, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education asserted that DRDC needed to submit a FOIA request to obtain records about alleged abuse of a child in an out-of-state facility (see Id. at ¶¶ 39-40).

         Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss that is presently before the Court on April 12, 2018 (see Defs.' Mot.), and this Court held a hearing on Defendants' motion on February 12, 2019 (see Feb. 12, 2019 Hr'g Tr. (“Tr.”)). In briefing and through oral argument, Defendants maintain that the entire case is moot in light of the District's production of C.G.'s records, and thus is subject to dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (See Defs.' Mot. at 13-19; Defs.' Reply at 8-13.) Defendants also argue that DRDC has not plausibly alleged municipal liability as required to sustain a Section 1983 claim against Defendants, and that, therefore, Count 2 must be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (See Defs.' Mot. at 19-25; Defs.' Reply at 13-18.) In the alternative, Defendants contend that Count 2 should be dismissed as duplicative of Count 1. (See Defs.' Mot. at 25; Defs.' Reply at 18-19.) Defendants also ask the Court to dismiss all of the official capacity claims against the two individual defendants- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and DYRS Director Clinton Lacey-which Defendants view as entirely duplicative of the claims against the District. (See Defs.' Mot. at 28-29; Defs.' Reply at 20-21.)


         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Motions To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         “The doctrines of standing, mootness, and ripeness are ‘[t]hree inter-related' doctrines of justiciability that determine the ‘constitutional boundaries' of a court's jurisdiction.” Jeong Seon Han v. Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 102 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Worth v. Jackson, 451 F.3d 854, 855, 857 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). A determination that a claim is moot means that “the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the claim, and must dismiss it.” Id. at 103. Accordingly, a challenge to a complaint based on mootness is properly raised under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which allows defendants to challenge claims for “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); see, e.g., Jeong Seon Han, 223 F.Supp.3d at 102-03, 110 (reviewing motion to dismiss on mootness grounds under Rule 12(b)(1)); Friends of Animals v. Salazar, 670 F.Supp.2d 7, 10-11 (D.D.C. 2009) (same). And, while it is ordinarily the burden of a plaintiff to prove that a court has subject-matter jurisdiction, when mootness is at issue, “[t]he initial ‘heavy burden' of establishing mootness lies with the party asserting a case is moot[.]” Honeywell Int'l, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 628 F.3d 568, 576 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). The party opposing mootness bears the burden of proving that an exception to the doctrine applies. See id.

         In determining whether to dismiss a claim as moot under Rule 12(b)(1), “the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and afford the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Jeong Seon Han, 223 F.Supp.3d at 103 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, courts apply “closer scrutiny” to factual allegations in a Rule 12(b)(1) analysis than in a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, because federal courts have an independent, ...

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