Big Decision: Statute of Limitations

Seal, United States Court of Appeals for the T...
Seal, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every once in awhile, we report on a recent decision that affects special ed law.  A major decision was issued last month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Decisions by the Third Circuit are only binding precedent in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands. In the magic world of special education law, however, (and all the lawyers cringe whenever I say that) the courts generally, but not always, tend to give more weight to pronouncements outside their geographical turf than in other areas of the law.

But I digress, in 2004, Congress added a two year statute of limitations to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, unless a state has its own statute of limitations for such claims..  There are two exceptions to the two year limitations period included in the statute.  It reads as follows:

(C)Timeline for requesting hearing.--A parent or agency shall request an impartial due process hearing within 2 years of the date the parent or agency knew or should have known about the alleged action that forms the basis of the complaint, or, if the State has an explicit time limitation for requesting such a hearing under this part, in such time as the State law allows.
(D)Exceptions to the timeline.--The timeline described in subparagraph (C) shall not apply to a parent if the parent was prevented from requesting the hearing due to--
(i) specific misrepresentations by the local educational agency that it had resolved the problem forming the basis of the complaint; or
(ii) the local educational agency's withholding of information from the parent that was required under this part to be provided to the parent. 
IDEA §615(f)(3); See 34 C.F.R. §300.511E)-(f)

Last month, the Third Circuit decided DK by Stephen K & Lisa K v. Abington School Dist   59 IDELR 271 (3d Cir 10/11/12).  This is the first circuit court to address the exceptions to the statute of limitations, and, therefore, it is a big deal.  Concerning the first exception, the Third Circuit ruled that the misrepresentation must be akin to deceit or egregious misstatement and that the school district must have knowledge that their statements are untrue or at least inconsistent with their own assessments.  In other words, the parent must show that school officials intentionally misled her or knowingly deceived her regarding  her child's progress.

Concerning the second exception, the Court emphasized that the withholding of information applies only to disclosures that are required by the statute or regulations.  Withholding of information that a school district is not specifically required to disclose does not trigger the exception.

Perhaps most importantly, the Third Circuit held that causation is required.  In other words, the parent must show that the misrepresentations or withholding  caused the parents to fail to file a timely due process complaint.

Finally, the Court rejected the parents' argument that the statute of limitations is not subject to other exceptions based upon common law equitable tolling principles.

If you are involved with due process complaints, you should read this case.  You can read the decision here.
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