In October 1989, while Lance C. was still attending Roycemore, Ms. Wolinsky enrolled him in the Chicago School District ("District") as a non-attending student for the purpose of evaluating his learning disabilities. On March 7, 1990, following the completion of that evaluation, the District held a conference to determine Lance C.'s eligibility for special education. At the conference, the District developed an Individual Educational Program ("IEP") which provided for Lance C.'s placement in a learning disabilities resource program with other disabled students.
Ms. Wolinsky, however, did not enroll Lance C. as an active student in the District, and in April 1991 she initiated a Level I due process hearing, as provided for by the Illinois School Code, for the purpose of seeking tutorial, learning disability, and transportation services. On October 15, 1991, the Level I hearing officer refused to grant Ms. Wolinsky's requested services because she had not made Lance C. available for an updated evaluation of his educational needs. Less than two weeks later, Ms. Wolinsky appealed the Level I decision and requested tutorial services and at least partial reimbursement for Lance C.'s tuition at Roycemore. On January 10, 1992, the Level II hearing officer decided Lance C. was entitled to home tutorial services to aid him in completing homework assignments from Roycemore and in coping with his disabilities.
In this action, the Board seeks judicial review of the Level II decision. It is entitled to such review under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ("the IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., which provides that, in order for public school districts to receive federal financial assistance, they must assure all disabled children between the ages of three and twenty-one a free appropriate public education ("FAPE").
The IDEA requires certain procedural safeguards regarding the provision of FAPE to disabled students. Those procedures are provided in the Level I and II hearings and through judicial review. The Board contends that it is only required under the IDEA to place Lance C. in a learning disabilities resource program and that the Level II hearing officer's decision to require tutorial service is neither supported by the Illinois School Code nor the IDEA.
Seeking additional disabilities services and compensatory damages, defendants have counterclaimed against the Board, the Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, and the Illinois State Board of Education and its superintendent under the IDEA, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 754), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Illinois School Code -- Counts I through IV respectively. The Illinois School Code, among other things, sets out guidelines to determine a disabled student's need for tutorial services, and § 504 (like the IDEA) requires the Board to provide FAPE to disabled children within the city's boundaries.
Counter-defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings on the counterclaim based on statute of limitations and mootness grounds. Specifically, they contend that a claim under the IDEA must be brought within 120 days of the Level II decision, and that a claim under the Rehabilitation Act must be brought within two years of discovery of the alleged injury. Here, the counterclaim was brought almost seven months after the Level II decision and more than two years after the Board recommended placement in a learning disabilities resource program. Moreover, counter-defendants argue that the counterclaim is moot because it is based on an outdated IEP.
Statute of Limitations for Count I -- A Claim Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The IDEA does not specify a statute of limitations. "When Congress has not established a time limit for a federal cause of action, the settled practice has been to adopt a local time limitation if it is not inconsistent with federal law or policy to do so." Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266-67, 85 L. Ed. 2d 254, 105 S. Ct. 1938 (1985). "Borrowing" a state statute of limitations involves a two-pronged analysis: first, does Illinois have an analogous statute of limitations; and second, would that limitations period be consistent with the IDEA's policies and goals. See Elizabeth K. v. Warrick Cty. Sch. Corp., 795 F. Supp. 881, 885-86 (S.D. Ind. 1992). Counter-defendants urge the court to adopt the 120-day deadline for appealing state administrative decisions. Specifically, § 14-8.02(k) of the Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/14-8.02(k) (S.H.A. 1993), sets forth a 120-day period in which to appeal a Level II decision regarding the educational placement of a student. Counter-claimants suggest the two year Illinois statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits.
The IDEA counterclaim is more analogous to the review of a state administrative decision regarding educational placement than to a personal injury claim. Section 14-8.02 of the Illinois School Code directly implements the due process requirements of the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1415, by providing for the availability of Level I and II hearings and state judicial review. The standard of review of a Level II decision in state court is similar to the standard of review outlined in the IDEA. Compare 105 ILCS 5/14-8.02(k) with 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2); see Spiegler v. District of Columbia, 275 U.S. App. D.C. 260, 866 F.2d 461, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (an appeal of a state administrative decision is analogous to judicial review under the IDEA despite somewhat different standards of review in state and federal courts); Elizabeth K., 795 F. Supp. at 885-86 (same). It is thus appropriate that the same limitations period is applied to a federal court appeal of a Level II decision as is applied to a similar state court appeal.
The 120-day limitations period advances the IDEA's policy of assuring that the representatives of handicapped children promptly assert the children's educational rights. Failure to act promptly could significantly impair a child's educational progress. According to the legislative history of the Education for the Handicapped Act, which was amended by the IDEA,
delay in resolving matters regarding the education program of a handicapped child is extremely detrimental to his development . . . . In view of the urgent need for prompt resolution of questions involving [his education] it is expected that all hearings and reviews conducted pursuant to these provisions will be commenced and disposed of as quickly as practicable . . . .