IN A NOD TO JUDICIAL ECONOMY, THIRD CIRCUIT RULES THAT COUNTERCLAIMS BY SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN IDEA CASES ARE NOT LIMITED BY THE NINETY DAY TIME-LIMIT UNDER IDEA

By Timothy E. Gilsbach

When a school district goes through an IDEA Due Process Hearing and a mixed result comes back, it is sometimes difficult for the district to determine if an appeal to the Federal District Courts is appropriate or prudent. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has now made that decision just a little easier in the case of Jonathan H. v. Souderton Area School District

 

In Jonathan H. the Administrative Due Process Hearing ended with a mixed result.  The Parents waited until the 90th day after the issuance of the Hearing Officer's Decision to file their Complaint in the Federal District Court.  Put another way, the Parents waited until the last possible day to file.  The school district filed an Answer to the Complaint asserting a counterclaim in the nature of a challenge to portions of the Hearing Officer’s decision. The District Court found the counterclaim was untimely because it was not brought within 90 days of the Hearing Officer’s Decision and dismissed the same as untimely.

 

The Third Circuit overturned that decision, reasoning that a counterclaim is reactive and not an action brought under the IDEA.  Accordingly, counterclaims in IDEA cases are not limited to the 90 day time-line, but instead are controlled by the time-lines for an Answer under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  In addition, the Court explained that requiring Districts to bring an action in the form of a counterclaim would result in district’s filing as a protective measure, just in case the Parents filed, which would create unnecessary litigation.

 

The case makes things a little easier for school districts that may not wish to appeal mixed Due Process Hearing results, but do not want to waive the right to raise issues on appeal should the Parents choose to appeal.  

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