THIRD CIRCUIT GIVES SOME GUIDANCE ON STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS UNDER IDEA AND SECTION 504, BUT STILL LEAVES SOME ISSUES UNRESOLVED

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision addressing the issue of the statute of limitations, or the time limits for bring a case, under both Section 504 and IDEA. In P.P. v. West Chester Area School District the only clear guidance that is given is that the statute of limitations provided for in IDEA is also applicable in Section 504 cases. Section 504 does not provide any statute of limitations. The Court also indicates that the exceptions available to the statute of limitations under IDEA would also be available under Section 504.

However, the Court leaves unanswered two issues. First, the Court refused to address whether the statute of limitations under IDEA is applicable at all to cases in which the alleged improper conduct occurred prior to the addition of the time limits in IDEA, which were new to the statute as reauthorized in 2004. The other unresolved issue is whether a strict two year statute of limitations applies or whether the “two plus two” concept is applicable. One approach would limit cases to strictly looking to alleged wrongful conduct two years prior to the filing of the Due Process Complaint. The second approach allows looking back two years from the date the parents of the student knew or should have known of the alleged wrongful conduct and then allows the parents two years from that date to file the claim. Thus, in theory, under the second approach you might be able to look at a four year window in total.

The Court does not address these two remaining issues and has left them for another day.   

UPDATE ON CHANGE IN CALENDAR CASE

Back in October, I reported on a case out of Hawaii where school districts changed the school calendar to have Furlough Fridays in a money saving effort.  Parents of a number of special education students filed suit claiming the change amounted to a change in programing under IDEA, without parental consent.  While not yet ruling on the merits, the U.S. District Court has at least hinted at what the answer might be on this question.  The Court has refused to issue a preliminary injunction to stop Furlough Fridays, finding that it believes the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on their claims.  Thus, we have a hint of where the Court may be going, but a final decision may be some way off. 

EXPANDED LEAVE FOR MILITARY FAMILIES UNDER FMLA

President Obama has signed into law the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act , which provides for additional leave rights for military families under FMLA. 

First, there is a provision relating to qualifying exigency for up to twelve weeks of leave for family members of both active duty service members and national guard and reservists who are deployed to a foreign country.  Previously, the leave was only for National Guard and reservists.  Exigency leave is permitted for short-notice of deployment, military events and related activities, childcare and school, financial and legal responsibilities, counseling, rest and recuperation for five days, post-deployment activities and other activities as agreed with employer.

Second, caregiver leave has been extended to include veterans who are undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy for a serious injury or illness.  The veteran must have been in the armed forces, including the National Guard or reserves, at any time five years prior to the treatment and the condition being treated must be incurred in the line of duty or a pre-existing condition aggravated in the line of duty.  

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DOES AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2008 APPLY RETROACTIVELY?

 

In 2008, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (“ADAAA”), which expanded the protections of the ADA to include those who have an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment “whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.” In passing this bill, Congress expressly rejected several Supreme Court decisions that took a more narrow view of the ADA. The question that remains is what standard applies to cases of alleged discrimination that occurred prior to the ADAAA?

 

It appears that several courts have looked at this issue and reached different conclusions. In Rohr v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement & Power District, out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while not addressing the issue directly, the court noted that “the ADAAA sheds light on Congress’ original intent when it enacted the ADA” in 1990 and suggests it may be appropriate to read the amendments to allow for protection to a broader class of individuals, even in cases where the alleged discrimination occurred prior to the enactment of the ADAAA. However, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana reached a different conclusion in the matter of Brooks v. Kirby Risk Corp. and found that the more limited standard endorsed by the Supreme Court applies to claims prior to the ADAAA, which went into effect in January of 2009, should be applied to these types of cases. The Brooks court notes that the Seventh, Fifth, Sixth and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals have taken the view that the broader protections of the ADAAA only apply to actions of alleged discrimination after its enactment, while the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have declined to decide the issue, but at least implied they could by applied to actions prior to the effective date of the ADAAA.

 

Interestingly, if the Circuit Courts continue to split on this issue, it may be the Supreme Court, whose analysis of the ADA was expressly overturned by the ADAAA, that may get the last word on this issue. Unless, of course, Congress decides that the Supreme Court gets it wrong and decides to amend again.