Richardson v. Omaha
There may be an IDEA related case in front of the Supreme Court. Stay tuned to SpedLawBlog for the latest on IDEA related actions at the High Court.
Given the sheer volume of cases at the Circuit Courts on attorney’s fees, it is maybe about time to have the Supreme Court rule on one of the aspects of fees claims.
Will the Supreme Court rule on a fee claims case?
From the Petitioners (Parents) Brief:
QUESTION PRESENTED (from the Parents Brief)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., offers states federal funds for committing to provide a “free appropriate public education” for every child with a disability. Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. RE- 1, 137 S. Ct. 988, 993–94 (2017). To enforce that guarantee, parents may initiate a “due process hearing” before a state or local IDEA hearing officer. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1)(A), (g). And if they are still “aggrieved” after exhausting administrative procedures, they may seek judicial review within 90 days, unless state law provides a different limitations period. Id. § 1415(i)(2)(A), (B).
The IDEA also provides a separate cause of action for attorneys’ fees for parents who prevail in those administrative proceedings. Id. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). But the IDEA contains no limitations period for prevailing parents’ attorneys’ fees actions.
Given Congress’ silence, the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits borrow years-long state statutes of limitations, because they analogize fees actions to independent lawsuits separate from the underlying merits of the IDEA administrative proceedings. The Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits, in contrast, borrow far shorter periods designed for judicial review of IDEA administrative merits decisions, because they find fees actions merely ancillary to the underlying educational dispute.
The question presented is: What type of state statute of limitations should courts borrow for attorneys’ fees actions under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I)?
QUESTION PRESENTED (from the school district brief)
Petitioners Chad and Tonya Richardson filed a due process complaint with the Arkansas Department of Education alleging that their child, “L,” was denied a free appropriate public education in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Although the hearing officer found for petitioners in part, petitioners sought review of that decision in federal district court as an “aggrieved party” under the IDEA. But petitioners never served their complaint on the defendants, and the suit was therefore dismissed.
Petitioners then filed this action. Because the statute of limitations for challenging the hearing officer’s decision had since elapsed, petitioners abandoned the claim that they were an aggrieved party and instead sought attorneys’ fees as a “prevailing party” before the hearing officer. The district court dismissed this claim as untimely and the Eighth Circuit affirmed, borrowing Arkansas’s 90-day statute of limitations for “civil action[s] . . . pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” Ark. Code § 6-41-216(g).
Petitioners now ask this Court to grant certiorari to consider whether their claim for attorneys’ fees was timely. They do not dispute that the Eighth Circuit correctly borrowed the applicable statute of limitations from Arkansas law. Instead, they contend that the court borrowed the wrong statute of limitations. According to petitioners, an action for attorneys’fees under the IDEA is more closely analogous to a personal injury action under Arkansas Code § 16-56-105, which has a three-year statute of limitations, than a civil action pursuant to the IDEA under Arkansas Code § 6-41-216, which has a 90-day statute of limitations.
On January 11, 2021 the Acting Solicitor General is invited to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States. However, the Court’s request for the solicitor general’s input does not necessarily mean that it will agree to hear the case
Issue: Whether, for attorneys’ fees actions under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, courts should borrow years-long state statutes of limitations because fees actions are analogous to independent lawsuits separate from the underlying merits of the IDEA administrative proceedings, or, in contrast, courts should borrow far shorter periods designed for judicial review of IDEA administrative merits decisions because fees actions are merely ancillary to the underlying educational dispute.
For more information, please see the brief filed by the attorneys for the parents.
Respondents (school district) brief: