T. v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING the plaintiff's 49 Motion to Vacate Administrative Decision as Moot. See Memorandum Opinion and Order for further details. Signed by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell on September 8, 2021. (lcbah1)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Civil Action No. 17-1319 (BAH)
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
In 2017, plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit challenging, under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., a Hearing Officer
Determination (“HOD”) that rejected her contention that a 2017 individualized education
program (“IEP”) developed by defendant District of Columbia Public Schools failed, in violation
of the IDEA, to provide her son V.T. with a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). See
Am. Compl., ECF No. 14; see also J.T. v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 17-cv-1319 (BAH), 2019 WL
3501667, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 1, 2019). The Magistrate Judge to whom the case was referred
reasoned that the lawsuit no longer presented a live controversy, see Report & Recommendation
(“R&R”), ECF No. 34, and the Court agreed, dismissing the complaint as moot “because the
challenged 2017 IEP already ha[d] been modified” and thus no longer governed V.T.’s
education, J.T., 2019 WL 3501667, at *2. Subsequently, plaintiff’s motion to alter the judgment
dismissing her complaint as moot, see Pl.’s Mot. Alter J., ECF No. 40, was also denied for
substantially the same reason, see Mem. & Order, ECF No. 42. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit
affirmed the Court’s mootness determination and dismissal of the complaint. See J.T. v. Dist. of
Columbia, 983 F.3d 516, 519, 522 (D.C. Cir. 2020).
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Plaintiff now seeks relief from the final judgment in this case, pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), requesting, for the first time, that the challenged HOD be vacated.
Pl.’s Mot. Vacate Admin. Dec. as Moot, ECF No. 49; see also Pl.’s Reply Supp. Mot. Vacate
Admin. Dec. as Moot (“Pl.’s Reply”) at 4, ECF No. 51 (acknowledging that plaintiff’s “[m]otion
is, in effect, a motion under Rule 60(b)(6)”). As plaintiff has not cleared the high bar for relief
under Rule 60(b)(6), her motion is denied.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) “grants federal courts broad authority to relieve
a party from a final judgment ‘upon such terms as are just,’ provided that the motion is made
within a reasonable time and is not premised on one of the [other] grounds for relief [from a final
judgment] enumerated in clauses (b)(1) through (b)(5)” of Rule 60. Salazar ex rel. Salazar v.
Dist. of Columbia, 633 F.3d 1110, 1116 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Liljeberg v. Health Servs.
Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 863 (1988)). Relief under Rule 60(b)(6) “applies only to
‘extraordinary’ situations,” Twelve John Does v. Dist. of Columbia, 841 F.2d 1133, 1140 (D.C.
Cir. 1988) (quoting Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 202 (1950)), and “should be only
sparingly used,” id. (quoting Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc. v. Harris, 636 F.2d 572, 577 (D.C.
Cir. 1980)), demanding that “the trial judge . . . strike a ‘“delicate balance between the sanctity of
final judgments . . . and the incessant command of a court’s conscience that justice be done in
light of all the facts,”’” id. at 1138 (second omission in original) (emphasis omitted) (quoting
Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc., 636 F.2d at 577). The “‘extraordinary circumstances’”
requirement means that plaintiff “must clear a very high bar to obtain relief under Rule
60(b)(6),” Kramer v. Gates, 481 F.3d 788, 792 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (quoting Ackermann, 340 U.S. at
199), and the Rule “may not ‘be employed simply to rescue a litigant from strategic choices that
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later turn out to be improvident,’” id. (quoting Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc., 636 F.2d at 577);
see also id. (“The case law makes clear that Rule 60(b)(6) is not an opportunity for unsuccessful
litigants to take a mulligan.”).
Plaintiff has not carried her substantial burden to show “extraordinary circumstances,”
Kramer, 481 F.3d at 793, warranting relief under Rule 60(b)(6). She argues that vacatur of the
challenged HOD is appropriate here “so that no future hearing officer or court will misinterpret
the Court’s decision [dismissing the complaint as moot] as a ruling on the substantive issues in
dispute.” Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Vacate Admin. Dec. as Moot (“Pl.’s Mem.”) at 3, ECF No. 49;
see also id. (contending that vacatur is necessary “to clear the path for future relitigation of the
issues” underlying the parties’ dispute over the 2017 IEP (quoting Sands v. NLRB, 825 F.3d 778,
785 (D.C. Cir. 2016)). No basis exists for plaintiff’s fanciful speculation that a Hearing Officer
or another court could possibly construe the Court’s prior decisions as rulings on the merits of
plaintiff’s challenge to the 2017 IEP. Rather, the Court has twice made clear that plaintiff’s
complaint was dismissed only because it no longer presented a live controversy, and never
addressed the merits of plaintiff’s challenge to the 2017 IEP. See J.T., 2019 WL 3501667, at *3–
6; Mem. & Order at 1–3.
Moreover, as repeatedly explained, “[i]rrespective of whether J.T. is right about the
[adequacy of the] 2017 IEP, V.T. is not at the same level he was [in 2017] and declaring what
accommodations V.T. needed then has no value now.” J.T., 2019 WL 3501667, at *4; Mem. &
Order at 2 (quoting J.T., 2019 WL 3501667, at *4). Accordingly, because V.T. “is not the same
student he was in 2017,” Mem. & Order at 3, the parties’ disputed issues with respect to the 2017
IEP are simply no longer relevant to the development of future IEPs for V.T. Vacatur is not
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necessary “to ‘clear the path for future religitation of the issues,” Sands, 825 F.3d at 785
(alteration in original) (quoting U.S. Bancorp Mortg. Co. v. Bonner Mall P’ship, 513 U.S. 18, 22
(1944)), because the issues presented by the 2017 IEP were unique to that IEP and to V.T.’s
then-current academic development, and thus will not and cannot be “relitigated.”
Finally, plaintiff’s suggestion that vacatur is “‘the standard form of relief’ in a mootness
situation like this one,” Pl.’s Reply at 4 (quoting N. Cal. Power Agency v. Nuclear Regulatory
Comm’n, 393 F.3d 223, 225 (D.C. Cir. 2004)), disregards that she seeks vacatur in the context of
a Rule 60(b)(6) motion. As plaintiff rightly notes, “‘[t]he established practice . . . in the federal
system . . . is to reverse or vacate the judgment below’ when a civil case becomes moot while
awaiting appellate review,” which principle “applies equally to unreviewed administrative
orders.” Sands, 825 F.3d at 785 (omissions in original) (quoting Humane Soc’y of U.S. v.
Kempthorne, 527 F.3d 181, 184 (D.C. Cir. 2008)); see also Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v.
Sokolov, 315 F. Supp. 3d 374, 384–85 (D.D.C. 2018) (vacating a HOD based on a determination
that the lawsuit challenging that HOD had become moot); Pl.’s Mem. at 2–3 (citing Sands, 825
F.3d at 785). As such, vacatur of the HOD may well have been appropriate while this lawsuit
was still being actively litigated. To obtain that remedy now, however, more than twenty-three
months after entry of final judgment in this lawsuit and after an appeal to the D.C. Circuit has
been fully litigated, plaintiff must show not only that equitable considerations weigh in favor of
vacatur, see Sands, 825 F.3d at 785 (“Because vacatur is equitable in nature, we look to notions
of fairness when deciding whether to use the remedy.”), but also that “extraordinary
circumstances” justify such relief under Rule 60(b)(6), after entry of the final judgment in this
case. Kramer, 481 F.3d at 793. Tellingly, in Mundo Verde Public Charter School, the lone case
plaintiff cites in which a moot HOD was vacated, the court vacated the HOD contemporaneously
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with its finding of mootness—not, as here, nearly two years after its determination that plaintiff’s
complaint is moot. See 315 F. Supp. 3d at 384–88.
Indeed, plaintiff had ample opportunity to request that the HOD be vacated upon a
finding that her complaint was moot, in litigating either the parties’ cross-motions for summary
judgment, see Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 26; Def.’s Cross-Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 27, their
objections to the R&R, see Pl.’s Obj. to R&R (“Pl.’s Obj.”), ECF No. 35; Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s
Obj., ECF No. 36, or plaintiff’s motion to amend the judgment, see Pl.’s Mot. Alter J. That she
did not do so, and requests vacatur of the HOD for the first time only now, strongly indicates that
relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is unwarranted. See Kramer, 481 F.3d at 792 (holding that Rule
60(b)(6) relief was inappropriate when plaintiff could have obtained, or at least sought, the
requested remedy earlier in litigation).
CONCLUSION & ORDER
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff has failed to demonstrate “extraordinary
circumstances,” Kramer, 481 F.3d at 793, warranting relief under Rule 60(b)(6). Accordingly, it
ORDERED that plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate Administrative Decision as Moot, ECF No.
49, is DENIED.
Date: September 8, 2021
This is a final and appealable order.
BERYL A. HOWELL
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