Alston v. District of Columbia

Decision Date19 June 2008
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 07-0682 (RMU).
Citation561 F.Supp.2d 29
PartiesChanda ALSTON et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Karen D. Alvarez, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Veronica A. Porter, Office of Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.



RICARDO M. URBINA, District Judge.


Before the court is the defendants' partial motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs in this case are a student with disabilities, C.A., and her mother.1 They allege that the District of Columbia ("the District"), its Superintendent of Schools, Clifford Janey,2 and seven current and former officials of the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") denied C.A. a free appropriate public education ("FAPE")3 and in so doing discriminated and retaliated against her because of her disabilities. Because the anti-discrimination provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, as well as the entirety of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., do not allow for individual capacity suits, the court dismisses the claims against the individual defendants based on those statutes. Because the plaintiff has not alleged a custom or policy of denying disabled students their educational rights, and because other federal statutes provide comprehensive remedial schemes, the court dismisses the claims against the District and the individual defendants brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court denies all other parts of the defendants' motion.

A. Factual Background

C.A. is now at least fifteen years old and brings this suit through her mother, Chanda Alston. See Compl. ¶ 1. The following facts are as alleged by the plaintiff in her complaint. C.A. has multiple disabilities that impair her ability to learn and has been on an Individualized Education Program ("IEP")4 since 1998. Id. ¶¶ 1, 14. From 1998 to 2001, C.A. attended the Kennedy-Krieger School in Baltimore without incident. See id. ¶¶ 17-18. In September 2001, a DCPS Hearing Officer5 decided that C.A. should be placed in a residential program6 where she would live and receive care and services at the same facility. Id. ¶ 18. C.A.'s placement during the 2001-02 school year is unclear. See id. ¶¶ 18-20. In 2002; her IEP team placed C.A. at the Grafton School, a private facility in Rockville, Maryland. Id. ¶ 20.

Near the end of the 2002-03 school year, her IEP team decided to add a day instructional program at Cabin John Middle School in Montgomery County where she would receive more specialized educational services. Id. ¶ 21. That is, she was to continue to reside at the Grafton School but would attend specialized instruction at Cabin John during the day. See id. In the summer of 2003, instead of paying Montgomery County for C.A.'s additional special education services, the defendants "issued a notice of placement, changing [C.A.'s] disability classification, and placing her in a D.C. public school program for the mentally retarded at Kramer MS." Id. ¶ 22. But, in August 2003, a Hearing Officer upheld the IEP team's addition of the day program, as the plaintiff requested, and held that the defendants had submitted fabricated documents and lied in the Due Process Hearing in an effort to undermine the IEP team's decision. Id. ¶ 23. Although they continued to pay for C.A.'s placement at Grafton, the defendants failed to pay Montgomery County for the day program until the spring of 2005, so C.A. did not attend Cabin John MS during the 2003-04 school year and most of the 2004-05 school year. Id. ¶ 24. In the summer of 2005, the defendants again refused to authorize payment for the Cabin John placement for the upcoming school year, and this court ordered "stay put" relief7 in September of that year so that C.A. could attend Cabin John in addition to Grafton while a Due Process Hearing took place. Id. ¶¶ 26-30. In November 2005, the Hearing Officer upheld C.A.'s placement at Grafton and Cabin John. Id. ¶ 33.

At the end of 2005, Grafton School announced that it would be closing its Rockville campus. Id. ¶ 35. The campus closed in mid-February of 2006. Id. ¶ 38. Shortly before the school closed, C.A. suffered hallucinations. Id. ¶ 37. With the closure of Grafton, C.A. lost "the residential structure that psychological and psychiatric evaluators had found [she] required" and her condition worsened to the point that she was hospitalized in March in the psychiatric ward of Children's Hospital. Id. ¶¶ 36, 39. By May, the defendants had not made any arrangements to place C.A. at another residential facility, and the plaintiff filed another Due Process Complaint and another suit asking this court for injunctive relief requiring the defendants to place C.A. in another residential facility immediately. Id. ¶¶ 41, 43. While the case was pending, the defendants held two dispute resolution meetings and again proposed the public school program for mentally retarded students at Kramer Middle School, which the plaintiff turned down. Id. ¶ 42. In July 2006, this court granted stay put relief and ordered the defendants to place C.A. by August of that year. Id. ¶ 44.

In response to this ruling, the defendants submitted her application to "only a handful of schools" and failed to include the appropriate evaluations with some of those applications.8 Id. ¶ 45. After DCPS failed to place C.A. by the August 7 deadline, the plaintiff herself sent an application to The Woods, a residential facility in Pennsylvania, which agreed in late October to accept C.A., pending payment authorization by DCPS. Id. C.A. finally enrolled at The Woods on November 28, 2006. See id. ¶ 52.

To settle the plaintiff's May 2006 Due Process Complaint, the District held hearings in July 2006 and January 2007. Id. In July, the Hearing Officer held that he was not able to order "interim educational services" for C.A. Id. In January, he held that although the District had not followed her IEP from February to November of 2006, it had not denied C.A. a FAPE. Id. He also denied the requests for "compensatory services." Id.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiff filed her complaint on April 17, 2007. She alleges at least nine causes of action under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq.; the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.; the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and the D.C. Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. CODE § 2-1402. Compl. ¶¶ 65-110. She seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, exemplary and compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and a reversal of the Hearing Officer's January 2007 decision. Id. at 41. The defendants moved for partial dismissal on December 19, 2007. The plaintiff filed an opposition on January 15, 2008, and the defendants filed a reply on February 8, 2008. The court now turns to the defendants' motion.

A. Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of`a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C.Cir.2002). The complaint need only set forth a short and plain statement of the claim, giving the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040 (D.C.Cir. 2003) (citing FED.R.CIV.P. 8(a)(2) and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). "Such simplified notice pleading is made possible by the liberal opportunity for discovery and the other pre-trial procedures established by the Rules to disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense to define more narrowly the disputed facts and issues." Conley, 355 U.S. at 47-48, 78 S.Ct. 99 (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of his prima facie case in the complaint, Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002), or "plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory," Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C.Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Yet, the plaintiff must allege "any set of facts consistent with the allegations." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (abrogating the oftquoted language from Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, instructing courts not to dismiss for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that "no set of facts in support of his claim [] would entitle him to relief); Aktieselskabet AF 21.November 2001 v. Fame Jeans, Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n. 4 (D.C.Cir.2008) (affirming that "a complaint needs some information about the circumstances giving rise to the claims"). While these facts must "possess enough heft to `sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations." Id. at 1964, 1966. In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations — including mixed questions of law and fact — as true and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiffs favor. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 67 (D.C.Cir.2003); Holy Land Found, for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C.Cir.2003); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. While many well-pleaded complaints are conclusory, the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 40 (D.C.Cir.2004); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242.

B. The Court Dismisses the Claims Against the Individual Defendants Under the IDEA

The defendants argue that personal capacity suits are not allowed...

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