EASTER v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on September 8, 2015. (lcegs3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
) Civ. Action No. 14-1754 (EGS)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
Plaintiff Demetri Easter (“Mr. Easter”) brings this action
against the District of Columbia (“the District”) alleging
violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). On December 5, 2014, the
District moved for partial dismissal of the complaint. On
January 22, 2015, Mr. Easter moved to amend the complaint. For
the reasons set forth below, Mr. Easter’s motion to amend the
complaint is GRANTED, and the District’s motion for partial
dismissal of the complaint is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE AS MOOT.
Mr. Easter is a 22-year-old student who has been found
eligible for special education services as a student with a
disability under the IDEA. Compl., ECF No. 1 at ¶ 9. From 2008
to 2013, Mr. Easter was committed to the D.C. Department of
Youth Rehabilitation Services (“DYRS”), the District’s juvenile
justice system. Id. at ¶ 10. Mr. Easter was released from
commitment on his 21st birthday, April 7, 2013, and has been
homeless since that time. Id.
Mr. Easter’s complaint alleges that he was denied a free
appropriate education (“FAPE”) as guaranteed by the IDEA. 1 See
generally Compl. Specifically, while Mr. Easter was committed to
Alternative Solutions for Youth (“ASY”), a secure DYRS-managed
facility, he did not receive any special education services. Id.
at ¶ 17. Mr. Easter alleges that because no Local Education
Agency is assigned responsibility for students housed at ASY, he
was denied special education services, despite his eligibility. 2
Id. Further, when Mr. Easter was released from commitment in
April of 2013, he alleges that D.C. Public Schools (“DCPS”)
failed to offer him a viable option for continuing his
education. Id. at ¶ 25. Specifically, DCPS suggested that Mr.
A FAPE includes “special education and related services . . .
provided at public expense . . . in conformity with the
[student’s] individualized education program.” 20 U.S.C. §
The IDEA operates according to a three-tiered scheme under
which the state, or in this case the District, submits a plan of
compliance to the U.S. Secretary of Education who then
administers IDEA funds. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412-1414. The state is
then responsible for distributing funds to the Local Education
Agencies who directly provide education services to students and
who must spend the funds in a manner consistent with the purpose
and substantive provisions of the IDEA. Id. at §§ 1413(a),
Easter enroll as a ninth grader at Anacostia Senior High School
even though he was nearly 22 years old. Id. Nonetheless, Mr.
Easter attempted to enroll in the ninth grade, but was turned
away due to a lack of documentation proving his residency in the
District. Id. at ¶ 22. Mr. Easter’s lack of permanent residence
prevented him from enrolling in any educational placement for
the 2013-2014 School Year. Id. at ¶ 43.
On July 8, 2013, Mr. Easter’s counsel filed a complaint with
the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (“OSSE”) on
behalf of Mr. Easter, three other named complainants, and all
similarly situated students – that is, students aged 18-22 with
special education needs who had been, or were presently,
committed to DYRS. Id. at ¶ 30. In a Letter of Decision dated
November 20, 2013, OSSE found that DCPS had not complied with
various provisions of the IDEA and accompanying regulations. 3 Id.
at ¶ 34. As a corrective action for the violations related to
Mr. Easter, the Letter of Decision directed DCPS to convene a
meeting with Mr. Easter to determine an immediate educational
Though too extensive to recount in detail here, these
violations included a failure on the part of DCPS to take
reasonable steps to promptly obtain Mr. Easter’s education
records or evaluate Mr. Easter for special education services,
and a systemic failure on the part of both DCPS and DYRS to
maintain valid and reliable education data for adult students.
Compl., ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 34, 35.
placement and to develop a plan for compensatory education
services. Id. at ¶ 36.
During a meeting held on March 12, 2014, DCPS again suggested
that Mr. Easter enroll at Anacostia Senior High School as a
ninth grader, or alternatively, that he waive special education
services and attend an accelerated program designed for older
students who were behind their same-age peers. Id. at ¶ 44. Mr.
Easter inquired about alternative programs, including the
Kingsbury HOPE program, but was told his “level of service was
too high” and that none of the DCPS programs for adult students
could accommodate his special education needs. Id. at ¶ 45. In
short, Mr. Easter could attend a program with his same-age
peers, but only if he waived his right to special education
services. Id. Unsatisfied with the District’s proposal, Mr.
Easter filed an administrative Due Process Complaint against
DCPS and OSSE on April 4, 2014. Id. at ¶ 47. Following lengthy
proceedings, the Hearing Officer provided Mr. Easter some, but
not all, of the relief he requested. 4 Id. at ¶ 55.
Mr. Easter filed a complaint in this Court on October 20,
2014. First, Mr. Easter alleges that errors committed by the
Mr. Easter sought approximately three years of compensatory
education services, but was awarded only one year. Compl., ECF
No. 1, at ¶¶ 48, 55. Additionally, Mr. Easter raised “systemic”
claims and a claim under the Rehabilitation Act, but these
claims were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at ¶ 55.
Hearing Officer adversely impacted the level of compensatory
education he was awarded. 5 Id. at 15-20. Second, Mr. Easter
alleges that the District systematically violated the IDEA by
failing to identify a Local Education Agency responsible for
students committed to ASY. Id. at 20-24. Third, Mr. Easter
alleges that the District discriminated against him because of
his disability, in violation of Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act. Id. at 24-25. Mr. Easter seeks a declaratory
judgment against DCPS and OSSE, an order that the District
provide appropriate compensatory awards to Mr. Easter, an award
of attorney’s fees and costs, and any other relief the Court
deems just and proper. Id. at 25.
On December 5, 2014, the District moved for partial dismissal
of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). Def’s. Mot., ECF No. 9. The District contends that Mr.
Easter’s “systemic” claim is not cognizable under the IDEA and
that Mr. Easter has failed to plead sufficient facts in support
of a Rehabilitation Act claim. 6 Id. at 5-8. On January 22, 2015,
Mr. Easter moved to amend his complaint. Pl’s. Mot., ECF No. 14.
Among other things, Mr. Easter argues that the Hearing Officer
erred in finding that DCPS did not have notice of his
homelessness. Compl., ECF No. 1 at ¶ 59-70.
The District does not move to dismiss Mr. Easter’s claim of
Hearing Officer error.
Without conceding that his initial complaint failed to state a
claim, Mr. Easter argues that the proposed amended complaint is
a timely, good faith effort to clarify the facts and legal
theories underlying his claims. 7 Id. at 4. In addition to the
relief sought in the original complaint, the amended complaint
also seeks injunctive relief requiring the District to take
appropriate affirmative steps to remedy the systemic violations.
Id. at 27. The District opposes the motion to amend. Def’s.
Opp., ECF No. 17.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to
file an amended complaint should be “freely give[n]. . . when
justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). Thus, although
the decision to grant a motion to amend is within the district
court’s discretion, Walker v. Pharm Research & Mfrs. of Am., 256
F.R.D. 234, 238 (D.D.C. 2009), it is an abuse of discretion for
the court to deny leave without “provid[ing] a sufficiently
compelling reason.” Robinson v. Detroit News, Inc., 211 F. Supp.
Specifically, the amended complaint divides the systemic claim
into two separate counts – one concerning the District’s failure
to monitor and enforce the IDEA to ensure all students receive
FAPE, and the second concerning the District’s failure to
identify the Local Education Agency responsible for students in
the juvenile justice system. See generally Amend. Compl., ECF
No. 14-1 at 20-25. Mr. Easter’s other claims remain
substantially similar although he provides additional facts. See
2d 101, 113-114 (D.D.C. 2002). Such reasons may include “undue
delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant,
repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously
allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of
allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment.” Foman
v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Generally, under Rule 15(a)
the non-movant bears the burden of persuasion that a motion to
amend should be denied. See Dove v. Wash. Metro. Area Trasit
Auth., 221 F.R.D. 246, 247 (D.D.C. 2004).
Where the court grants the Plaintiff’s motion for leave to
file an amended complaint, the amended complaint supersedes the
prior operative complaint. Nat’l Mortg. Co. v. Navarro, 220
F.R.D. 102, 106 (D.D.C. 2006)(citing Washer v. Bullit Cnty., 110
U.S. 558, 562 (1884)). Any pending motions to dismiss the prior
operative complaint may be dismissed without prejudice as moot.
Nat’l Mortg. Co., 220 F.R.D. at 106; Johnson v. District of
Columbia, No. 13-CIV-1445, 2015 WL 4396698, at *2 (D.D.C. July
7, 2015)(citing Turner v. Knight, 192 F. Supp. 2d 391, 397 (D.
A. Mr. Easter’s Amended Complaint is Timely and in Good
Mr. Easter argues that the amended complaint is a timely and
good faith effort to clarify the facts and legal theories
underlying his claims and that the amended complaint does not
radically alter the scope and nature of his claims for relief. 8
Pl.’s Mot., ECF No. 14 at 6-7. He argues that the District will
not be unduly prejudiced by the filing of an amended complaint
and that the amended complaint is not futile because it states a
plausible claim for relief. Id. at 7-8. The District argues that
granting leave to amend is futile because Mr. Easter’s systemic
claims and Rehabilitation Act claim, as alleged in the amended
complaint, fail to cure deficiencies in his original complaint.
Def.’s Opp., ECF No. 17 at 4. 9
“An amendment is futile if the proposed claim would not
survive a motion to dismiss.” Smith v. Café Asia, 598 F. Supp.
2d 45, 48 (D.D.C. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). For
Mr. Easter first argues that he is entitled to file an amended
complaint “as a matter of course” pursuant to Federal Rule
15(a)(1). See Pl.’s Mot., ECF No. 14 at 1, 5-6. After the 2009
Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, however,
this is no longer correct. The amended rule now provides for
amendment “as a matter of course” within “21 days after service
of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion
under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f) whichever is earlier.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B). The District filed a motion to dismiss
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on December 5, 2014 and Mr. Easter did
not file a motion to amend his complaint until January 22, 2015
– that is, 48 days later. Accordingly, the applicable provision
is Rule 15(a)(2) which provides that “[i]n all other cases, a
party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party’s
written consent or the court’s leave.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
The District does not argue that it would be unduly prejudiced
by the filing of an amended complaint or that Mr. Easter has
acted in bad faith, or with dilatory motive, in moving to amend.
practical purposes, review for futility is identical to review
of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Driscoll v. George
Washington Uni., 42 F. Supp. 3d 52, 57 (D.D.C. 2012). A claim
survives a motion to dismiss if it pleads “enough facts to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Co.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Foman, 371 U.S.
at 182 (“If the underlying facts or circumstances relied on by a
plaintiff may be a proper subject for relief, he ought to be
afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits.”).
1. Mr. Easter’s “Systemic” Claims
The District argues Mr. Easter’s “systemic” claims are futile
because they fail to identify an appropriate claim for relief.
Def’s. Opp., ECF No. 17 at 5. Mr. Easter counters that his
allegations concerning the District’s failure to monitor the
Local Education Agencies and failure to identify a Local
Education Agency for students committed to ASY clearly establish
an IDEA violation. Pl.’s Mot., ECF No. 18 at 2-3.
Courts have recognized “systemic” claims under the IDEA where
the plaintiff has alleged a “pattern and practice” of systematic
IDEA violations unable to be addressed through the Due Process
Hearing procedures. See Quatroche v. East Lyme Bd. of Educ., 604
F. Supp. 2d 403, 411 (D. Conn. 2009) (citing Mrs. W. v. Tirozzi,
832 F.2d 748, 757 (2nd Cir. 1987)). A claim is “systemic” where
the complaint “implicates the integrity of the IDEA’s dispute
resolution procedures themselves, or requires restructuring of
the education system itself in order to comply with the dictates
of the [IDEA].” Mrs. M. v. Bridgeport Board of Educ., 96 F.
Supp. 2d 124, 133 n. 12 (D. Conn. 2000); see also Blunt v. Lower
Meiron School Dist., 559 F. Supp. 2d 548, 558 (E.D. Pa. 2008)
(recognizing an exception to the IDEA’s administrative
exhaustion requirement where the plaintiff has alleged “systemic
legal deficiencies” unable to be remedied through administrative
Mr. Easter has sufficiently stated a systemic violation of the
IDEA by alleging that the District failed to identify a Local
Education Agency responsible for students at ASY. This failure,
he alleges, meant that he was not offered special education
services while committed to ASY. This is precisely the type of
issue that cannot be addressed on a student-by-student basis
during Due Process Hearings, but is better addressed by seeking
injunctive relief in federal court, as Mr. Easter does here.
Accordingly, Ms. Easter’s systemic claims are not futile.
2. Mr. Easter’s Rehabilitation Act Claim
The District argues that Mr. Easter’s Rehabilitation Act claim
is futile because he fails to allege that he was discriminated
against solely based on his disability, or that OSSE and DCPS
acted with bad faith or gross misjudgment. Def’s. Opp., ECF No.
17 at 6-7. Mr. Easter maintains that his allegations clearly
establish the nexus between his disability and the District’s
failure to provide him FAPE. Pl.’s Rep., ECF No. 18 at 5.
Further, Mr. Easter argues that he has pled sufficient facts to
raise a reasonable inference that the District exercised gross
misjudgment in that the District (1) failed to offer adult
education to someone with his special education needs, and (2)
suggested he waive his right to FAPE in order to attend school
with his same-age peers. Id.
To sustain a Rehabilitation Act claim, a plaintiff must show
that the discrimination or exclusion was caused “solely by
reason of” his or her disability. Alston v. District of
Columbia, 561 F. Supp. 2d 29, 38 (D.D.C. 2008)(citing Lunceford
v. D.C. Bd. of Educ., 745 F.2d 1577, 1580 (D.C. Cir. 1984)).
Further, liability will not be imposed so long as the officials
involved exercised “professional judgment, in such a way as to
not depart grossly from accepted standards among education
professionals.” Walker v. District of Columbia, 969 F. Supp.
794, 797 (D.D.C. 1997).
The allegations in the amended complaint support a
Rehabilitation Act claim. While adult students who do not have
disabilities may attend alternative programs with their same-age
peers, Mr. Easter was denied a free appropriate education at an
alternative program because he required more special education
services than any program for adult students could provide. In
other words, Mr. Easter alleges he was denied the same services
as other adult students solely because of his disability.
Further, Mr. Easter alleges that he was given the choice between
waiving his right to special education in order to attend school
with his same-age peers or attending a traditional high school
as a ninth grader. A reasonable fact finder may conclude that
such a choice was grossly out of line with accepted educational
standards. Allowing amendment of Mr. Easter’s Rehabilitation Act
claim is therefore not futile, and Mr. Easter’s motion to amend
the complaint is granted.
B. The District’s Motion to Dismiss is Moot
Leave to amend the complaint having been granted, Mr. Easter’s
amended complaint supersedes the original complaint and becomes
the operative complaint. See Nat’l Mortg. Co., 220 F.R.D. at
106. The District’s pending motion to dismiss refers to the
original complaint. Where leave to amend the complaint has been
granted, all pending motions pertaining to the prior operative
complaint may be denied without prejudice as moot. Id.; Johnson,
2015 WL 4396698, at *5. Accordingly, the District’s motion to
dismiss the original complaint is denied without prejudice as
For the foregoing reasons, Mr. Easter’s motion for leave to
file an amended complaint is GRANTED, and the District’s motion
for partial dismissal of the original complaint is DENIED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE AS MOOT. An appropriate order accompanies this
Emmet G. Sullivan
United States District Judge
September 8, 2015
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