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Lloyd v. Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 18, 2019

BRIAN LLOYD, Plaintiff,
v.
INGENUITY PREP PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., an aggrieved party has “the right to bring a civil action” in federal court challenging the administrative agency's decision. The party “bringing the action” has 90 days “to bring such an action.” In his Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge found that Ingenuity's counterclaim challenging the agency's decision was untimely because it was filed more than 90 days after the administrative process ended. Given the plain language of the statute, the Court agrees and thus will adopt the Report and Recommendation.

         I.

         Brian Lloyd is the father of a student, M.L., who is protected by the IDEA. Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1. Mr. Lloyd filed a due process complaint against Ingenuity. Exhibit 1 at 2, ECF 1-1. In the final administrative decision, a hearing officer ordered Ingenuity to authorize additional hours of tutoring, complete certain evaluations of M.L., and hold a meeting to revise M.L.'s Individualized Education Program. Id. at 17-18. But the hearing officer denied Mr. Lloyd's other requested relief. Id.

         Mr. Lloyd filed this action to recover reasonable attorneys' fees under the IDEA.[1]Compl. at 1. When Ingenuity filed its answer, it also brought a counterclaim challenging the hearing officer's determination. Def.'s Answer and Counterclaim at 9, ECF No. 3. In response, Mr. Lloyd moves to dismiss Ingenuity's counterclaim as time-barred under the IDEA because it was filed more than 90 days after the hearing officer's determination. Pl.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 5. Mr. Lloyd argues that under the IDEA, a party has only 90 days to “bring [an] action” challenging the hearing officer's determination, citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(B). Id. at 3. Ingenuity opposes Mr. Lloyd's motion, arguing that the IDEA's statute of limitations does not apply because filing a counterclaim is not “bring[ing] an action.” Def.'s Mem. at 2-3, ECF No. 6.

         After full briefing, the Magistrate Judge issued his Report and Recommendation, recommending that the Court grant the Mr. Lloyd's Motion to Dismiss. Report and Recommendation (“R. & R.”), ECF No. 9. Ingenuity filed its Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, see Objs., ECF No. 10, and Mr. Lloyd responded, see Reply, ECF No. 13.

         II.

         Mr. Lloyd moves to dismiss Ingenuity's counterclaim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A party may raise a statute of limitations argument in a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “when the facts that give rise to the defense are clear from the face of the [document].” Smith-Haynie v. District of Columbia, 155 F.3d 575, 578 (D.C. Cir. 1998). The Court “may look to [the] record of another proceeding to avoid unnecessary proceedings when an undisputed fact on the public record makes it clear that [a party] does not state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Covad Comms. Co. v. Bell Atl. Corp., 407 F.3d 1220, 1222 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         After a magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation, any party may file written objections within 14 days. See LCvR 72.2(b). If a timely objection is made, then the Court will “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed finding or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         III.

         “As in any statutory construction case, we start, of course, with the statutory text, and proceed from the understanding that unless otherwise defined, statutory terms are generally interpreted in accordance with their ordinary meaning.” Sebelius v. Cloer, 569 U.S. 369, 376 (2013) (cleaned up). Under the IDEA, an aggrieved party “has the right to bring a civil action” in federal district court challenging the hearing officer's findings or decision. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). And “[t]he party bringing the action shall have 90 days from the date of the decision of the hearing officer to bring such an action.” Id. § 1415(i)(2)(B).[2] The question is whether counterclaims are included in this limitation.

         First, the word “action” is broad enough to include a counterclaim. “[T]he term ‘action' has been at times construed to include a counterclaim.” Bowles v. Murray, 68 F.Supp. 447, 448 n.2 (D.D.C. 1946); see also Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (defining “action” broadly as “[a] civil or criminal judicial proceeding”). Even the leading case that Ingenuity relies on, Jonathan H. v. Souderton Area School District, acknowledged that “[t]he word ‘action,' without more, is arguably broad enough to encompass any type of judicial proceeding, including counterclaims.” 562 F.3d 527, 529 (3d Cir. 2009). It follows that because the term “action” can include a “counterclaim, ” a party bringing an “action”-here a counterclaim-would be subject to the 90-day limitations period of section 1415(i)(2)(B).

         True, at first blush, the phrase “bringing an action” sounds like filing a lawsuit. But this phrase is the typical language of statutes of limitations. As the Supreme Court has explained, “[t]he terms of a typical statute of limitation provide that a cause of action may or must be brought within a certain period of time.” Beach v. Ocwen Fed. Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 416 (1998) (emphasis added).

         A counterclaim, seeking affirmative relief, is typically subject to the same statute of limitations as a would-be complaint, seeking the same relief. See, e.g., King v. Barbour, 240 F.Supp.3d 136, 140 (D.D.C. 2017) (dismissing a compulsory counterclaim because it was not filed within the one-year statute of limitations); see also Hurst v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 901 F.2d 836, 837 (10th Cir. 1990) (explaining that under federal limitations law “[i]t is fairly well established . . . that a counterclaim for affirmative relief . . . is subject to the operation of pertinent statutes of limitation”). This makes sense because the “essence of a counterclaim, especially one that arises from ...


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