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R.S. v. District of Columbia

November 17, 2003

R.S. ET. AL., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The minor child ("R.S.") and her mother have sued the District of Columbia and the Superintendent of the D.C. Public Schools alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1415 et seq. ("IDEA"), as well as plaintiffs' due process rights, by denying R.S. a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") as required by IDEA, inadequately evaluating R.S.'s educational needs and providing inadequate services, denying R.S. a compensatory education, failing to give plaintiffs access to all of R.S.'s records, and not providing a fair hearing (Counts I - X). Plaintiffs also allege that defendants' failure to provide a FAPE violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Count I). Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and (b)(1) for failure to state a claim and lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

R.S. is a fourteen-year-old disabled child eligible for services under IDEA. (Compl. ¶ 2.) She and her mother became dissatisfied with the educational services provided to R.S. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-20.) Specifically, plaintiffs allege that R.S. was not provided occupational or physical therapy or evaluated frequently enough, and that defendants' reevaluation of R.S.'s educational needs on November 15, 2002 was inadequate because, inter alia, neither a psychologist nor a speech therapist was present, and plaintiffs were not informed of their right to request reevaluation. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10, 12-13, 16, 18, 20.)

Alleging that defendants failed to provide a FAPE, plaintiffs requested a due process hearing, which was held on June 10, 2003. ( Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) The hearing officer found for defendants, holding that R.S. was not denied a FAPE, nor did defendants violate IDEA by performing triennial evaluations of R.S.'s educational needs. ( Id. ¶ 22; Hearing Officer's Decision at 5-7 (June 24, 2003) ["HOD"].) Plaintiffs allege that the hearing was not conducted appropriately because the hearing officer considered documents not previously disclosed by defendants and that the hearing officer's decision was not rendered in a timely fashion and was unsupported by the evidence. (Compl. ¶ 23, 25.) On July 18, 2003, plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration of the HOD. (Hearing Officer's Order on Mot. for Recons. ["Hearing Off. Order"] at 3 (Aug. 4, 2003).) The hearing officer denied this motion, indicating the "regulations governing due process hearings under IDEA make no provision for motions for reconsideration." ( Id.) On August 28, 2003, plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

I. Statute of Limitations

Defendants argue dismissal is warranted because plaintiffs did not file their appeal within thirty days after the agency's decision. While plaintiffs do not dispute that their appeal did not meet the thirty-day rule, they argue that the thirty-day period was tolled because they filed a motion for reconsideration.*fn1 As both parties recognize, under Spiegler v. District of Columbia, 866 F.2d 461 (D.C. Cir. 1989), this Circuit has, for purposes of IDEA, borrowed the thirty-day appeal period for review of administrative decisions from D.C. Court of Appeals Rule 15(a).*fn2 But the question here is whether the tolling provision of D.C. Court of Appeals Rule 15(b)*fn3 should also be borrowed for purposes of determining the timeliness of an appeal from an administrative ruling in an IDEA case. This appears to be a question of first impression.

In deciding this matter, however, the Court finds guidance in the Circuit's opinion in Spiegler. As recognized there, where Congress has failed to establish a statute of limitations for a federal cause of action, "federal courts may 'borrow' one from an analogous state cause of action, provided that the state limitations period is not inconsistent with underlying federal policies." 866 F.2d at 463-64. While the Circuit recognized that other circuits have chosen the longer statute of limitations applicable to civil actions, it decided that it was more appropriate to treat an IDEA appeal as an administrative appeal, thus justifying the application of a shorter 30-day limitations period. Id. at 464, 467-68. In reaching this result, the Court was mindful that a compressed appeal period could impose hardship on parents or guardians. Id. at 467. To mitigate against this, the Court imposed a strict notice requirement on the local agency, id., as well as incorporated "the state's tolling ruling with the underlying limitations period to the extent they are consistent with federal law." Id. at 468-69. In particular, the Court observed:

We further note, in light of the remedial nature of the Act, that principles of equitable tolling may properly extend the 30-day time limit so as not to bar, in the jurisdictional sense, a Section 1415(e)(2) action otherwise properly presented to a reviewing court.

Id. at 468.

Application of these principles leads the Court to reject defendant's position here. As recognized by Spiegler, the 30-day time limit should not be applied rigidly, and since there is a tolling provision explicitly provided for in D.C. Court of Appeals Rule 15(b), it logically follows that it too should be borrowed, along with the provisions of Rule 15(a). This conclusion is bolstered by reference to the D.C. Circuit's decision in Albertson v. Fed. Communications Comm'n, 182 F.2d 397 (D.C. Cir. 1950), where the Court found in the FCC administrative context that a motion to reconsider an order dismissing an application for rehearing tolled the filing period for appeal even though the Commission's rules did not provide for a motion to reconsider. As noted by the Court, since there was no statutory prohibition to such a motion, the Commission had the authority to reconsider a decision, for

[t]he power to reconsider is inherent in the power to decide. Therefore, in the absence of any specific limitation such a motion may be filed ...


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