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COPAA Urges Second Circuit to Adopt Third Circuit Ligonier Standard in Section 504 Claims

Tuesday, November 28, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall

COPAA submitted an amicus curiae brief in the Second Circuit, Bd. of Educ. of the North Rockland Central Sch. Dist. v. C.M., et al.,on November 22, 2017.  Selene Almazan, Catherine Merino Reisman and Ellen Saideman drafted the brief on behalf of COPAA, Catherine Merino Reisman filed the brief on behalf of COPAA.  The parent is represented by Marion Walsh, Littman Krooks, LLP. Amicus supports the parents and urges the Court to reverse the district court’s ruling calculating the parents’ statute of limitations to bar all the Section 504 claims, even those that occurred within the three years prior (three years is New York statute specific) to the filing of the request for a due process hearing on January 9, 2015. 

In this case, the parents’ 504 claims alleged their child with a disability was repeatedly denied FAPE under Section 504 for many years by the school district.  As the Second Circuit has repeatedly confirmed, a Section 504 claim accrues when an individual "knew or had reason to know of the injury serving as the basis for his claim.”  E.g. Harris v. City of N.Y., 186 F.3d 243, 247 (2nd Cir. 1999).  Amicus contends the district court’s erroneous use of the date the child’s parents received notice of the adverse action to calculate the statute of limitations instead of using the date that the parents "knew or should have known” (the "discovery rule”) for calculating the parents’ statute of limitations on their Section 504 claims, is inconsistent with Section 504’s broad remedial purpose.  Further, Amicus contends that the district court’s interpretation of the statute of limitations on the parents’ 504 claims is inconsistent with IDEA’s statutory language and purpose which provides guidance on calculating the "knew or should have known” date under Section 504.  


Similar to the statute of limitations set forth by the Second Circuit for Section 504 claims, 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 Amicus explains, the "discovery rule” approach set forth under IDEA 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).   


After a thorough analysis of the statutory language and congressional intent, the Third Circuit adopted the "discovery rule” for special education claims holding that "once a violation is reasonably discovered by the parent, any claim for that violation, however far back it dates, must be filed within two years of the ‘knew or should have known’ date.”  Ligonier, 802 F.3d at 620.  The Third Circuit made clear that relief was not limited to only two years, as the Ligonier decision further held that if a claim is not filed within two years of the "knew or should have known date” (i.e. "the discovery”), then, "all but the most recent two years before the filing of the complaint will be time-barred; but if it is timely filed, then, upon a finding of liability, the entire period of the violation should be remedied.”  Id. at 620-21 (emphasis added).  The Ninth Circuit agreed, reasoning, "[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, the district court placed the accrual date for when the parents "knew of should have known” of the 504 violations at May or June 2011, and therefore barred all of Section 504 claims filed on January 9, 2015 as untimely, including those that fell within the three years preceding the January 9, 2015 filing (i.e. 504 claims arising from January 9, 2012 forward).  As Amicus set forth in its brief, none of the cases discussing the statute of limitations applicable to special education cases hold that the statute of limitations bars claims that accrued after the "knew or should have known” date.  Moreover, a parent cannot know in June 2011 that the school district will violate the law in January 2012.  Therefore, just as in Ligonier and Avila, even assuming arguendo that the "knew or should have known” date is June 2011, the most recent three years of claims are still actionable.  Accordingly, Amicus urges that because the parent filed her request for impartial hearing on January 9, 2015, C.M. is at least entitled to recover for violations that occurred from January 9, 2012 through the date of filing. 

The parent’s brief is here and COPAA’s amicus brief is here

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