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OAK PARK v. ILLINOIS STATE BD. OF EDUC.

May 10, 1995

OAK PARK and RIVER FOREST HIGH SCHOOL DIST. NO. 200, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION and TODD A., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRIAN BARNETT DUFF

 On October 10, 1994, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2) ("§ 1415(e)(2)"), *fn1" Oak Park and River Forest High School District No. 200 ("District") sued the Illinois State Board of Education and Todd A. ("Todd"), seeking review of a special education administrative decision. On November 1, 1994, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the District moved for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, we deny its motion.

 I. Background

 In August 1987, Todd, who suffers from autism and mental retardation, entered the District and, for the next six years, he received his schooling there. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at PP 1-3. During those years, in an effort to ensure Todd a free appropriate education ("FAPE"), the District prepared Individual Educations Programs ("IEPs"). R. 12(m) at P 4; see R. 12(n) at P 4. The IEPs "provided mainly for Todd's vocational and living skills education." R. 12(m) at P 4; see R. 12(n) at P 4. Among other things, they specifically provided for the amount of hours per semester that Todd should receive his vocational education. R. 12(n) at 33, et seq.; see Pl. Rep. Br. at 8.

 Following the IEPs, Todd worked for various businesses such as Venture, Toys-R-Us and West Suburban Hospital. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at PP 5 and 18; Pl. Ex. A. Todd's work performance varied. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at P 9, et seq. When his performance was low, the District prepared "behavior plans" to improve it. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at P 15. At some point during the summer of 1992, however, Todd's parents expressed to the District their dissatisfaction with its handling of Todd's education. See Rs. 12 (m) and (n) at P 16.

 Between October and November 1992, a private, professional group called ARRISE assessed Todd's vocational progress. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at P 19. The group concluded that he "successfully participated in [the District's] supported employment program," but it also concluded that there were some "difficulties" Rs. 12(m) and (n) at PP 21 and 22. "Effective December 1992, the School District placed Todd with the ARRISE/DORS *fn2" vocational program for the remainder of the 1992-93 school year." R. 12(m) at P 23; see R. 12(n) at P 23.

 On July 20, 1993, Todd filed a request for a due process hearing, claiming that the District failed to provide him a FAPE and owed him compensatory education. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at P 28. On August 12, 1993, Todd turned 21. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at P 1 and 2. Shortly thereafter, the District withdrew funding for Todd's education. On December 3, 1993, at the Level I hearing, the hearing officer found for the District. Rs. 12(m) and (n) at P 30. The parents timely appealed and, on April 6, 1994, at the Level II hearing, the officer found for Todd. In turn, the District timely appealed to us.

 II. Standard of Review

 According to the IDEA, we "shall receive the record of the [state] administrative proceedings, shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party, and, basing [our] decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2). Because of that statutory language, "judicial review in IDEA cases differs substantially from judicial review of other agency actions, in which courts generally are confined to the administrative record and are held to a highly deferential standard of review." Ojai Unified School Dist. v. Jackson, 4 F.3d 1467, 1471 (9th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, U.S. , 115 S. Ct. 90, 130 L. Ed. 2d 41 (1994). Yet "'because judges are not trained educators' . . . [we] recognize[] the need to limit review of administrative decisions made under the IDEA." Dell v. Board of Education, Township High School Dist. No. 113, 32 F.3d 1053, 1058 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Board of Education of Community Consolidated School Dist. No. 21 v. Ill. State Board of Education, 938 F.2d 712, 715 (7th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1066, 112 S. Ct. 957, 117 L. Ed. 2d 124 (1992)). Harmonizing those potentially conflicting factors, we "give 'due weight' to the results of the administrative decisions." Board of Education of Murphysboro Community Unit School Dist. No. 186 v. Ill. State Board of Education, 41 F.3d 1162, 1166 (7th Cir. 1994). Still, though, we review de novo the issues of law from those decisions. See Dell, 32 F.3d at 1058.

 III. Discussion

 A. The Statute of Limitations Issue

 The District argues that "the applicable statute of limitations precludes [Todd's] claims prior to the 1992-93 school year." Pl. Br. at 5. "Although no court has expressly addressed the appropriate limitation for due process hearing requests in Illinois, the Seventh Circuit . . . rule[d] that the 120-day limitation period specified in Section 14-802(j) of the Illinois School Code . . . applies to both complaints for judicial review and attorneys' fees." Id. (citing Dell v. Board of Education Township High School Dist. 113, 32 F.3d 1053 (7th Cir. 1994)). The District argues that "the Dell reasoning supports the imposition of the same 120-day statute of limitation[s] for the initiation of a due process hearing." Id. at 6. Consequently, because Todd "did not file a due process hearing request until July 20, 1993[,] [he] is precluded from contesting any school year other than the 1992-93 school year." Id.

 Todd responds that "the District's argument reflects a misreading of Dell and a disregard of federal case law." Def. Br. at 5. "Courts have specifically rejected the application of state statutes of limitations governing appeals of due process decision[s] to initial hearing requests." Id. (citing Murphy v. Timberlane School Dist., 22 F.3d 1186 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, U.S. , 115 S. Ct. 484, 130 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1994)). Todd argues that we should also reject the application and, following Murphy, apply Illinois' five year catch-all statute of limitations. See 735 ILCS 5/13-205. Applying that statute, Todd may contest any school year back to 1988-89. Consequently, because Todd contests nothing before that school year, he is not time-barred.

 1. What is the Nature of Todd's Request?

 To determine which state statute is most analogous, we first consider the nature of Todd's request. In Murphy, the court compared the nature of a request under § 1415(b)(2) to an appeal under 1415(e)(2). Because the Murphy court's comparison is so cogent, we reproduce it in full:

 
First, in contradistinction to the 'typical' IDEA action, this case does not concern the appropriate limitation to be applied to an appeal from a state administrative ruling to a federal district court under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2), but to the initiation of a request for an 'impartial due process' administrative hearing under 20 U.S.C. 1415(b)(2) in the first instance. Second, we believe that several factors which militate in favor of borrowing an abbreviated limitation period for application in the context of an appeal from an administrative ruling under section 1415(e)(2) are inapposite in the present context. For instance, where a party seeks administrative review in order to resolve an ongoing IEP impasse, the need for a speedy resolution securing the eligible child's IDEA entitlement at the earliest possible time must be considered a dominant IDEA policy objective. The present action, on the other hand, concerns a claim for compensatory education based exclusively on a course of conduct already concluded, and thus does not implicate an equivalent need for urgent administrative intervention. Furthermore, whereas the limitation borrowed in this case will govern whether the Murphy's compensatory education claim can ever be considered by any tribunal in the first instance, in a section 1415(e)(2) proceeding the district court normally functions something like an appellate court reviewing a state agency decision on the merits. Consequently, the statute of limitations defense interposed by [the school] would not merely preclude a judicial "second look" at an adverse administrative ruling, but foreclose any ruling, administrative or judicial, on [the school's] legal responsibility for the otherwise irretrievable two-year IDEA education entitlement denied Kevin.
 
Thus, the broad equitable considerations and finality concerns generated by the present action -- where absent a compensatory education award there can be no "next year" for the disabled individual no longer eligible for free public education -- are not ordinarily involved in an appeal to the district court under section 1415(e)(2).

 Id. at 1191-2.

 For the reasons discussed in Murphy, which reasons we adopt, the nature of a request under § 1415(b)(2) is different from the nature of an appeal under § 1415(e)(2). Here, the District challenges the timeliness of Todd's initial request for an due process hearing under § 1415(b)(2). That challenge makes this case unlike the typical IDEA action. In other words, that challenge makes this case unlike Dell. Therefore, the District's argument that Dell controls is unpersuasive. Yet if not Dell, what?

 2. What Statute Is Most Analogous to § 1415(b)(2)?

 Under Illinois law, two limitations periods emerge as candidates. First, there is the five-year catch-all statute, which, in part, provides:

 
Actions on unwritten contracts, express or implied, or on awards of arbitration, or to recover damages for an injury done to property, real or personal, or to recover the possession of personal property or damages for the detention or conversion thereof, and all civil actions not other wise provided ...

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