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District Court Erred in Not Using the "Discovery Rule" consistent with IDEA

Tuesday, November 14, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall

COPAA submitted a Motion to file an amici curiae brief in the Fourth Circuit, T.B., J.R., by and through his Parents, T.B., S.R. and F.B. v. Prince George’s County Board of Education, et. al., on November 7, 2017.  Selene Almazan and Catherine Merino Reisman drafted and filed the brief on behalf of COPAA and Disability Rights Maryland.  Amici supports the parents and urges the Court to reverse the district court’s ruling regarding the application of the “discovery rule” in calculating the parents’ statute of limitations on child find violations under IDEA. 

With the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, Congress adopted a uniform federal statute of limitations which states: “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 formed the basis of the complaint . . . .”  20 U.S.C. §1415(f)(3)(C).  As Amici contends, the district court’s erroneous use of the “occurrence” rule (the date of the injury) instead of the “discovery rule” (when the party knew or should have known of the injury) for calculating the parents’ statute of limitations on their child find violation claims under IDEA, is inconsistent with IDEA’s statutory language and purpose.

The “discovery rule” approach is supported not only by the plain language of the statute itself, but is supported by the other circuit courts of appeals that have addressed this provision of IDEA—the Third and Ninth Circuits.  G.L. v. Ligonier Valley Sch. Dist. Auth., 802 F.3d 601 (3d Cir. 2015); Avila v. Spokane Sch. Dist. 81, 852 F.3d 936 (9th Cir. 2017).  In concluding that IDEA adopted the “discovery rule” for special education claims, the Third Circuit explained that a school district’s child find obligation is a “profound responsibility,” and “when a school district has failed in that responsibility and parents have taken appropriate and timely action under IDEA, then that child is entitled to be made whole with nothing less than a ‘complete’ remedy.”  Ligonier, 802 F.3d at 625-26.  Further, as the Ninth Circuit reasoned, “[i]f Congress intended a strict occurrence rule, there would have been no need to include the ‘knew or should have known’ language.”  Avila, 852 F.3d at 941. 

Here, while the district court claimed it applied the Ligonier “discovery rule” approach, the district court actually applied an “occurrence rule” approach to the parents’ claims stating that the parents should have known of their child find claims at the IEP meeting in November 2012 (i.e. the time of the injury).  The district court’s misapplication of the discovery rule is incorrect and misleading.  If school district personnel, with all their training and experience, failed to evaluate T.B. for special education, his parents, likewise should not be charged with knowledge of facts necessary to establish their cause of action.  Thus, as set forth by Amici, the “discovery rule” approach used by the Third and Ninth Circuit, and set forth in the statutory language itself, encourages school districts to vigorously pursue their child find obligations and ensure children with disabilities have a full and meaningful remedy as Congress intended.  


The Appellant’s brief is here and COPAA’s amici brief is here

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