The named plaintiffs, former preschool-aged children with various disabilities, filed this lawsuit against the District of Columbia in July 2005 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs alleged that the District had engaged in a pattern and practice of failing to provide special education and related services to them and other children, in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a), the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and District of Columbia law. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, reimbursement for funds expended by them to obtain education services denied them by defendants' legal violations, and "compensatory education."
In August 2006, the Court (Judge Royce Lamberth) certified a class action pursuant to Rules 23(a) and 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff class is defined as: All children who are or may be eligible for special education and related services, who live in, or are wards of, the District of Columbia, and (1) whom defendants did not identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services to when the child was between the ages of three and five years old, inclusive, or (2) whom defendants have not or will not identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services to when the child is between the ages of three and five years old, inclusive.
Toward the end of discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In August 2010, Judge Lamberth ruled upon those motions and concluded, among other things, that defendants "denied a [free appropriate public education ("FAPE")] to a large number of children aged 3 to 5 years old, in violation of § 1412(a)(1)(A) of the IDEA." However, this ruling applied only for the period 2007 and earlier, which were the only years for which data was available.
In 2011, and about a month before a scheduled bench trial that would determine defendants' remaining liability, defendants filed a Motion to Decertify the Class, arguing that plaintiffs lacked standing and could no longer satisfy the commonality or typicality requirements of Rule 23(a). In April 2011, before ruling on defendants' decertification motion, the Court held a two-day bench trial on the question of defendants' liability for the period 2008 to the present. At the end of the trial, Judge Lamberth ordered the parties to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, reserving decision for a later date.
While the decision was pending, the Supreme Court handed down Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (June 2011), holding that class action status was inappropriate in a nationwide employment discrimination case brought by female employees. Judge Lamberth nonetheless denied class decertification in an opinion issued November 16, 2011, which also found the District liable for additional IDEA violations. The District appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed on class certification, and remanded for additional consideration. The appeals court was concerned about a class made up of members with different types of claims.
Back in the trial court, Judge Lamberth denied the city's request to dismiss the case (on the grounds that the plaintiffs were now too old to have standing to sue). The Court held the plaintiffs' standing at the time they filed their complaint was sufficient, given the "inherently transitory" nature of special education litigation. Judge Lamberth certified four subclasses of plaintiffs in response to the D.C. Circuit's ruling: children who were not identified for services; children who weren't provided with a timely evaluation; children who didn't receive a timely decision about their eligibility; and children who weren't provided with a "smooth and effective" transition into preschool programs.
On October 14, 2014, both parties filed motions for summary judgment on which the court has yet to rule.Claire Lally - 11/04/2014