University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name The National Federation of the Blind v. U.S. Department of Education ED-MD-0002
Docket / Court 1:18-cv-01568-TDC ( D. Md. )
State/Territory Maryland
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Education
Case Summary
On May 31, 2018, The National Federation of the Blind filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (Northern Division). The plaintiff brought this lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). It sued the U.S. Department of Education and the Secretary of ... read more >
On May 31, 2018, The National Federation of the Blind filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (Northern Division). The plaintiff brought this lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). It sued the U.S. Department of Education and the Secretary of Education along with the Acting Assistant Secretary, claiming that the changes to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Case Processing Manual (“2018 OCR Manual”) violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and was contrary to the mission of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). These changes in the 2018 OCR Manual included (1) new provisions to require mandatory dismissal and (2) the elimination of the appeal rights of complainants.

In effect, the newly revised 2018 OCR Manual meant that the OCR would dismiss claims of illegal discrimination if the claim was either part of "a pattern" of complaints against multiple recipients, or if the complaint placed an unreasonable burden on OCR's resources. "Pattern" was left undefined and could cover as little as two complaints. The provision was not even limited to those instances where prior complaints were meritless or where they would involve similar allegations. "Unreasonable burden" would also be judged based on unknown factors. In addition, the DOE made a third change that eliminated complainants' right to appeal OCR findings of insufficient evidence. Thus, according to the plaintiff, the new restrictions would block those who had been subjected to more than one incident of illegal discrimination, and also those entities that represent multiple individuals that cannot afford to bring claims on their own. The plaintiffs stated this was arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law, as this unilaterally eliminated the right of claimants to have their claim of discrimination investigated if it indicated a possible failure to comply with federal civil rights laws. As such, plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, and attorney’s fees. This case was assigned to Judge Theodore D. Chuang.

On December 3, 2018, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint naming the newly appointed Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. After this complaint, on August 21, 2019, Judge Chuang granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, saying that while the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded particularized injuries, the complaint did not take into account an amendment to the OCR manual that removed the language that the parties are contesting. He did grant the plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint to address the issue.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on October 3, 2019 which added a section on how the new OCR manual did not change the underlying issues from the old one, and that it does not provide for redress of formerly removed complaints. These complaints were again made under the APA.

Litigation on the case continued, but the parties jointly moved to dismiss the case on account of a settlement agreement that they came to on February 4, 2020. The settlement reopened cases that had been dismissed under the contested rules, and allowed parties that had cases dismissed for insufficient evidence under the old rules to petition the Department to have their cases reopened. The Department of Education also agreed to pay $50,000 to the plaintiffs for legal fees. The parties can move to file for further enforcement of the order until February 5, 2021; no such motion has been filed as of June 2020.

Jennifer Huseby - 09/23/2018
Ellen Aldin - 06/02/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Disability
disability, unspecified
Visual impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
Race discrimination
General
Education
Inadequate citizen complaint investigations and procedures
School/University policies
Special education
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Race
Race, unspecified
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Defendant(s) Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
Plaintiff Description The National Federation of the Blind, The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Inc.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filed 05/31/2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
1:18-cv-1568 (D. Md.)
ED-MD-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/07/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
ED-MD-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/31/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 58] (407 F.Supp.3d 524) (D. Md.)
ED-MD-0002-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/21/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 63]
ED-MD-0002-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/03/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement
ED-MD-0002-0004.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 02/04/2020
Source: Public.Resource.Org
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Judges Chuang, Theodore David (D. Mass., D. Md.) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-0002 | ED-MD-0002-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Hill, Eve Lynne (Maryland) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-0001 | ED-MD-0002-0003 | ED-MD-0002-0004 | ED-MD-0002-9000
Lierman, Brooke E. (Maryland) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-0001 | ED-MD-0002-9000
Queen, Anisha S (Maryland) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-0003 | ED-MD-0002-0004 | ED-MD-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Edney, Marsha S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-0004 | ED-MD-0002-9000
Knapp, Michael Fraser (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-9000
Moore, Tamra (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-MD-0002-9000

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