Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov, Case No. 17–cv–01710 (APM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtAmit P. Mehta, United States District Judge
Citation315 F.Supp.3d 374
Parties MUNDO VERDE PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, Plaintiff, v. Dan SOKOLOV, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 17–cv–01710 (APM)
Decision Date08 June 2018

315 F.Supp.3d 374

MUNDO VERDE PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, Plaintiff,
v.
Dan SOKOLOV, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 17–cv–01710 (APM)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed June 8, 2018


315 F.Supp.3d 377

Lauren E. Baum, Law Offices of Lauren E. Baum, P.C., Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Aaron Josiah Finkhousen, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, Michael J. Eig, Michael J. Eig & Associates, PC, Chevy Chase, MD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

In January 2017, Dan and Liz Sokolov filed an administrative due process complaint against Mundo Verde Public Charter School and the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education, alleging, among other things, that their minor child, A.S., had been denied a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. After an administrative hearing, the Hearing Officer ruled in the Sokolovs' favor and ordered Mundo Verde to reimburse the Sokolovs for costs associated with A.S.'s enrollment in a private school for the 2016–2017 school year. Mundo Verde filed this lawsuit under the IDEA to appeal the Hearing Officer's adverse decision. And, because the Hearing Officer found Mundo Verde solely responsible for the FAPE denial, Mundo Verde named not only the Sokolovs but also the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education as defendants in this action.

After Mundo Verde filed its Complaint, however, the District of Columbia reimbursed the Sokolovs for all costs, including tuition, for the 2016–2017 school year, and continued to fund A.S.'s private-school placement during the 2017–2018 school year. Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint or, in the alternative, for entry of summary judgment, primarily on the ground that the case is now moot. The court agrees that, as a result of the District's payment of A.S.'s tuition, this matter no longer presents a live case or controversy. Accordingly, the court grants Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Mundo Verde Public Charter School ("Plaintiff" or "Mundo Verde") is a District of Columbia public charter school that has elected to be its own local education agency under the IDEA for special education purposes. Am. Compl., ECF No. 3, ¶ 3. Mundo Verde is "a school of choice where parents voluntarily enroll their children" on an annual basis. Id. Defendants Dan and Liz Sokolov's ("the Sokolovs") minor child, A.S., attended Mundo Verde for several years, including the 2015–2016 school year when A.S. was in third grade. Id. ¶¶ 4–5. While at Mundo Verde, A.S. received special education services. See id. ¶¶ 5–7; Am. Compl., Ex., Hearing Officer Determination, ECF No. 3–1 [hereinafter HOD], at 4–5.

In May 2016, the Sokolovs began expressing concerns regarding the adequacy of A.S.'s Individualized Education Program ("IEP") at Mundo Verde. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8–9. In July 2016, after obtaining an independent psychoeducational evaluation, the Sokolovs notified Mundo Verde that if it did not develop an appropriate IEP for A.S. for the 2016–2017 school year, the Sokolovs would seek funding

315 F.Supp.3d 378

for placement at the Lab School of Washington ("Lab School"), a nonpublic special education day school. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8–9, 11–12. In response, Plaintiff submitted a placement review referral to Defendant District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education ("OSSE"), the state education agency under IDEA. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff also convened an IEP meeting with the Sokolovs. Id.

Before the conclusion of the placement referral and IEP review process, the Sokolovs informed Plaintiff of their decision to enroll A.S. in the Lab School for the 2016–2017 school year. See id. ¶ 15. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff asked the Sokolovs to complete a formal withdrawal form for A.S., which they did. Id. ¶¶ 15–17; see HOD at 9. Importantly, however, once A.S. formally withdrew from Mundo Verde, Plaintiff lost access to A.S.'s special education records in its student information database, meaning that Plaintiff could no longer revise A.S.'s IEP. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18–20; HOD at 10. Moreover, after Plaintiff informed OSSE of A.S.'s withdrawal and Plaintiff's loss of access to A.S.'s records, "OSSE notified [Plaintiff] that it was closing the placement review process, precluding [Plaintiff] from convening a change in placement meeting." Am. Compl. ¶ 19.

On January 27, 2017, the Sokolovs filed an administrative due process complaint against Mundo Verde and OSSE. Id. ¶ 25. In their complaint, the Sokolovs alleged, among other things, that Mundo Verde and/or OSSE had denied A.S. the right to a FAPE under the IDEA "by failing to provide an appropriate IEP and/or placement for the 2016–2017 school year, when A.S. needed a more restrictive environment than was offered or available at Mundo Verde." See id. ¶ 26. After an administrative hearing, the Hearing Officer found in favor of the Sokolovs on this issue. See id. ¶¶ 27, 31–32. As relevant here, the Hearing Officer specifically held that Plaintiff was solely responsible for the denial of a FAPE. See id. ¶ 32; HOD at 19. According to the Hearing Officer, it was Mundo Verde's responsibility to maintain A.S.'s enrollment "rather than obtain[ ] his withdrawal as it did," and any lapses by OSSE during the withdrawal process "were not the direct or proximate cause of [A.S.] ... no longer appearing in the [school database] to permit the IEP and Change in Placement meetings to proceed." HOD at 18. At most, the Hearing Officer explained, OSSE failed to respond to Mundo Verde's inquires or prevent Mundo Verde from taking improper actions. Id. The Hearing Officer observed that while such failures could impact "the ultimate responsibility between [Mundo Verde] and OSSE," that issue was not properly before him. Id. Accordingly, the Hearing Officer concluded that "OSSE's actions and inactions" during the withdrawal process were insufficient to hold OSSE directly liable to the Sokolovs for denial of a FAPE. Id. (reasoning that the "IDEA does not create a type of respondeat superior liability, imputing liability to [state education agencies] for every local deviation from State-created standards" (citation omitted) ). As relief, the Hearing Officer ordered Mundo Verde—not OSSE—to reimburse the Sokolovs for costs paid to the Lab School, and to directly fund the remaining costs for A.S.'s placement at the Lab School, for the 2016–2017 school year. Am. Compl. ¶ 34.1

315 F.Supp.3d 379

Two additional events are critical here, one occurring before Plaintiff filed its initial Complaint and one occurring after. On August 21, 2017, the day before initiating this action, Mundo Verde issued a "Prior Written Notice" to the Sokolovs proposing to continue placement of A.S. at the Lab School for the 2017–2018 school year. See Pl.'s Mem. of Points & Authorities in Opp'n to Defs.' Mots. to Dismiss, ECF No. 12 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n], Ex. 1, ECF No. 12–1 [hereinafter Prior Written Notice]. Although Mundo Verde disagreed that A.S. required placement at a private special education day school, it "authorized" the Lab School "to invoice OSSE for [ ] tuition in accordance with OSSE policy and procedure." Id.

Then, on or about August 31, 2017, the District paid the Sokolovs the administratively ordered reimbursement in the amount of $51,685 for the cost of A.S.'s education at the Lab School for the entire 2016–2017 school year. See Mem. of Points & Authorities in Supp. of D.C.'s Mot. to Dismiss Compl. or, in the Alternative, for Summ. J., ECF No. 8 [hereinafter D.C. Mot.], Decl. of Yvonne Smith, ECF No. 8–2 [hereinafter Smith Decl.], ¶ 4; D.C. Mot., Ex. 2, ECF No. 8–4 [hereinafter Reimbursement Check]. The District also now funds A.S.'s tuition at the Lab School for the 2017–2018 school year. Smith Decl. ¶ 5.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this IDEA action against the Sokolovs and OSSE on August 22, 2017, see Compl., ECF No. 1, and amended its complaint the next day, see Am. Compl. In its Amended Complaint, Plaintiff appeals the adverse decision of the Hearing Officer, alleging that the Hearing Officer "erred in multiple respects." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 35; see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 36–62. Plaintiff asks the court to reverse the Hearing Officer's Determination ("HOD") and to dismiss all claims raised by the Sokolovs in their underlying due process complaint with prejudice. See id. at 12. The Sokolovs filed an answer on October 2, 2017, see Answer to Am. Compl., ECF No. 6, and later, on October 18, 2017, moved for dismissal under Rule 12 or alternatively for summary judgment under Rule 56, see Parents' Mot. to Dismiss the Compl. or, in the Alternative, for Summ. J., ECF No. 9, Mem. of Points & Authorities, ECF No. 9–1 [hereinafter Parents' Mot.]. On October 12, 2017, the District of Columbia, on behalf of OSSE, also moved for dismissal or alternatively for summary judgment. See D.C. Mot.

Defendants raise several legal arguments in their respective motions. Defendants first contend...

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6 practice notes
  • Phillips v. Spencer, No. 11-cv-02021 (EGS)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 15, 2019
    ...takes judicial notice of the representations made on MDD's website at www.marinedd.com. See Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov , 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 381 n.3 (D.D.C. 2018) ("The court may take judicial notice of representations made on Plaintiff's website.").4 NAVSEA is "the largest o......
  • Umbert v. United States, Civil Action No. 18-cv-1336 (TSC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 11, 2019
    ...the court loses subject-matter jurisdiction over a case when it becomes moot. See Mundo Verde Public Charter School v. Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 379-80 (D.D.C. 2018). "The party seeking jurisdictional dismissal must establish mootness, while the opposing party has the burden to prove th......
  • J.T. v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 17-1319 (BAH)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 1, 2019
    ...here, the denial is based on the inappropriateness of a student's IEP and school placement." Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 382 (D.D.C. 2018). The same is true of claims that allege a specific deficiency in an IEP. B.D. v. District of Columbia, 817 F.3d 792, ......
  • Mitchell v. Johnson, Civil No. 15-cv-1319 (APM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 20, 2018
    ...recurrence of the same due process violation highly unlikely, id. (citations omitted); see Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 383 (D.D.C. 2018) (finding the "'legal wrong complained of by the plaintiff' . . . unlikely to recur precisely because it is so dependent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Phillips v. Spencer, No. 11-cv-02021 (EGS)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 15, 2019
    ...takes judicial notice of the representations made on MDD's website at www.marinedd.com. See Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov , 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 381 n.3 (D.D.C. 2018) ("The court may take judicial notice of representations made on Plaintiff's website.").4 NAVSEA is "the largest o......
  • Umbert v. United States, Civil Action No. 18-cv-1336 (TSC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 11, 2019
    ...the court loses subject-matter jurisdiction over a case when it becomes moot. See Mundo Verde Public Charter School v. Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 379-80 (D.D.C. 2018). "The party seeking jurisdictional dismissal must establish mootness, while the opposing party has the burden to prove th......
  • J.T. v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 17-1319 (BAH)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 1, 2019
    ...here, the denial is based on the inappropriateness of a student's IEP and school placement." Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 382 (D.D.C. 2018). The same is true of claims that allege a specific deficiency in an IEP. B.D. v. District of Columbia, 817 F.3d 792, ......
  • Mitchell v. Johnson, Civil No. 15-cv-1319 (APM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 20, 2018
    ...recurrence of the same due process violation highly unlikely, id. (citations omitted); see Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 383 (D.D.C. 2018) (finding the "'legal wrong complained of by the plaintiff' . . . unlikely to recur precisely because it is so dependent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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