Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

The National Federation of Blind v. United States Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 19, 2019

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND, THE COUNSEL OF PARENT ATTORNEYS AND ADVOCATES, INC. and NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, BETSY DEVOS, Secretary of Education, and KENNETH L. MARCUS, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs The National Federation of the Blind ("NFB"), The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., ("COPAA"), and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Inc. ("NAACP") have filed this civil action challenging the March 5, 2018 issuance of a new United States Department of Education ("DOE"), Office for Civil Rights, Case Processing Manual ("the March 2018 Manual"), which allegedly eliminated certain substantive rights of complainants that the Office for Civil Rights is designed to protect. Plaintiffs assert three causes of action for injunctive and declaratory relief under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"): that the adoption of the March 2018 Manual was (1) arbitrary and capricious, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) (2012); (2) procedurally improper, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(D); and (3) not in accordance with law, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(C). Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Upon review of the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be GRANTED, and the Amended Complaint will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         The mission of the DOE Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") is "to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation's schools." Am. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 38 (quoting https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/aboutocr.html). OCR is responsible for enforcing certain civil rights statutes including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d-2000d-7 (2012), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (2012), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal financial assistance. To fulfill its mission, OCR authorizes anyone who believes that an educational institution that receives federal financial assistance is discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age to file a complaint and have it reviewed by OCR. Certain types of complaints, including those alleging disparate impact discrimination on the basis of race, can be advanced only by the federal government.

         In 2015, OCR issued a Case Processing Manual ("the 2015 Manual") which adopted "procedures to promptly and effectively investigate and resolve complaints, compliance reviews and directed investigations to ensure compliance with the civil rights laws enforced by OCR." Am. Compl. ¶ 46 (quoting the 2015 Manual). Then, on March 5, 2018, without providing notice or opportunity to comment, DOE issued a revised manual, the March 2018 Manual, which superseded the 2015 Manual and contained new provisions requiring mandatory dismissal of certain complaints and eliminating the right of complainants to appeal determinations by OCR to the Enforcement Office Director.

         On May 31, 2018, Plaintiffs filed the instant action asserting that the changes implemented through the March 2018 Manual violated the APA. Originally, Plaintiffs challenged three rule changes: (1) the automatic dismissal of any complaint of illegal discrimination if it is part of "a pattern" of complaints by an individual complainant against multiple recipients, contained in section 108(t) of the March 2018 Manual; (2) the automatic dismissal of any complaint against multiple recipients if OCR, in its sole judgment, determines that investigating that complaint would place an "unreasonable burden" on OCR's resources, also contained in section 108(t) of the March 2018 Manual; and (3) the elimination of complainants' right to appeal OCR findings of insufficient evidence.

         At the time of the filing of the original Complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that they had suffered and continued to suffer the diversion of their resources to "identify, inform and advise their members about, and respond to Defendants' unlawful actions in adopting the challenged provisions of the [March] 2018 OCR Manual." Compl. ¶ 26, ECF No. 1. They also alleged that several of their members had filed complaints that had been dismissed or were subject to imminent dismissal pursuant to section 108(t), and that absent injunctive relief, they would continue to have to divert resources to navigating the new complaint requirements, and many of their members' complaints and appeals would be dismissed without an adequate remedy in an alternative forum.

         On August 29, 2018, before any substantive proceedings had taken place, the Court held a case management conference at the parties' request, during which the parties sought additional time to determine whether they would be able to resolve this matter outside of litigation. The request was premised, in part, on the fact that since the filing of the initial Complaint, Kenneth L. Marcus had been appointed as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights and had stated that he intended to revise the March 2018 Manual to delete section 108(t) and establish a new appeals process. On September 28, 2018, and again on November 5, 2018, the parties reported that they were engaged in productive settlement negotiations and requested a stay of all deadlines until November 19, 2018 to continue to work to resolve the case.

         Then, on November 19, 2018, the parties notified the Court that settlement discussions had broken down when Defendants informed Plaintiffs' counsel that they were no longer willing to offer any stipulation or agreement to resolve the matter and instead planned to release a revised OCR Case Processing Manual later that day, which could render Plaintiffs' requests for relief moot. Indeed, effective November 19, 2018, DOE issued the new manual ("the November 2018 Manual"), which eliminated section 108(t) and reinstated an appeals process. The next day, Plaintiffs sought leave to file an Amended Complaint and a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction to add allegations that Defendants were also using section 108(k) of the March 2018 Manual to dismiss complaints on the basis that a similar complaint filed by another individual had been previously dismissed pursuant to section 108(t).

         On November 29, 2018, the Court held another case management conference, during which the parties vigorously disputed whether the case was moot in light of the issuance of the November 2018 Manual. The Court granted Plaintiffs leave to file an Amended Complaint and a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction and also granted Defendants leave to file a Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs ultimately notified the Court that they did not intend to file a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction after all.

         On December 3, 2018, Plaintiffs filed the operative Amended Complaint. The only substantive change to the Amended Complaint was the addition of a challenge to section 108(k) of the March 2018 Manual. Section 108(k) requires the dismissal of a complaint if filed by any complainant against the same recipient, raising the same or similar allegations based on the same operative facts, that were made in an earlier complaint previously dismissed based on section 108(t). Plaintiffs challenge section 108(k) only to the extent that it perpetuates dismissals on the basis of section 108(t).

         Notably, Plaintiffs do not mention the issuance of the November 2018 Manual in their Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint also does not amend or supplement any of Plaintiffs' allegations relating to standing in light of the issuance of the November 2018 Manual. Rather, it asserts three separate but related challenges to the adoption of the March 2018 Manual, specifically, the inclusion of section 108(t) and section 108(k) to the extent it relies on section 108(t), and the deletion of a provision for appeals of OCR determinations. Count I alleges that the adoption of the March 2018 Manual was not in accordance with law, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(C). Count II alleges that the adoption of the March 2018 Manual was arbitrary and capricious, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Count III alleges that the adoption of the March 2018 Manual, including the provision rescinding the appeals process, was procedurally improper because it was issued without fulfilling the notice and comment requirements of the APA, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(D).

         DISCUSSION

         In their Motion, Defendants assert that: (1) Plaintiffs lack standing under the operative Amended Complaint; (2) Counts I and II of the Complaint are moot; (3) Plaintiffs have an adequate private remedy against the recipients of federal funding named in their OCR complaints such that the DOE is not subject to suit under the APA; and (4) the elimination of the opportunity to appeal is a rule of agency practice or procedure not subject to the APA's notice and comment requirement. The first two arguments are jurisdictional and brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1); the second two arguments are non-jurisdictional and brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Because the Court finds that ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.