216 F.3d 380 (4th Cir. 2000), 99-1609, Kirkpatrick v. Lenoir County Board of Edu

Docket Nº:99-1609.
Citation:216 F.3d 380
Party Name:MERIDITH KIRKPATRICK; SUSAN KIRKPATRICK, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, V. LENOIR COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; DOUG JAMES, DOCTOR, SUPERINTENDENT OF THE LENOIR COUNTY SCHOOLS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; J. OLIVER SMITH, CHAIRMAN OF THE LENOIR COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; LARRY JENKINS, DIRECTOR OF EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN'S PROGRAM, INDIVI
Case Date:June 20, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 380

216 F.3d 380 (4th Cir. 2000)

MERIDITH KIRKPATRICK; SUSAN KIRKPATRICK, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

V.

LENOIR COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; DOUG JAMES, DOCTOR, SUPERINTENDENT OF THE LENOIR COUNTY SCHOOLS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; J. OLIVER SMITH, CHAIRMAN OF THE LENOIR COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; LARRY JENKINS, DIRECTOR OF EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN'S PROGRAM, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

No. 99-1609.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 20, 2000

Argued: April 5, 2000.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Greenville.

Terrence W. Boyle, Chief District Judge. (CA-97-168-4-BO)

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Counsel Argued: Stacey Bice Bawtinhimer, Law Office OF Stacey B. Bawtinhimer, New Bern, North Carolina, for Appellants. Edwin Maurice Braswell, Jr., Wallace, Morris & Barwick, P.A., Kinston, North Carolina, for Appellees.

Before Widener and Traxler, Circuit Judges, and Joseph R. Goodwin, United States District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.

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Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Goodwin wrote the opinion, in which Judge Widener and Judge Traxler joined.

OPINION

Goodwin, District Judge

This appeal presents the question of whether an action brought in federal district court pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq., by a party aggrieved by a state administrative agency decision is an original civil action or an appeal. For the reasons stated herein, we find that such an action is an original civil action governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's decision.

I.

In July 1996, Susan Kirpatrick, on behalf of her daughter Meridith, filed a special education due process petition in North Carolina against the Lenoir County Board of Education ("Board") pursuant to the IDEA. She alleged that the Board violated Meridith's rights as a child with a disability by failing to provide her with a free appropriate public education as required by federal and state law. The petition sought the following: a free appropriate public education for Meridith through the development of an individualized education plan ("IEP"), reimbursement for the cost of three independent educational evaluations ("IEEs") performed by private specialists, and reimbursement for the cost of Meridith's private school tuition.

After a hearing, a Lenoir County administrative law judge ("the ALJ") agreed that Meridith was in need of specialized educational services and ordered the Board to develop an IEP for her. The ALJ, however, denied reimbursement for the IEEs and for the private school tuition. On appeal, the state review officer affirmed the ALJ's order for development of an IEP and the ALJ's denial of private school tuition reimbursement. The state review officer, however, reversed the ALJ as to the IEEs and ordered the Board to reimburse the Kirkpatricks $3,388. In that order, the state review officer also notified both parties that "[a]ny party aggrieved by this decision may institute a civil action in State or Federal court as provided by 20 U.S.C. 1415 and G.S. 115C-116 [N.C.] within 30 days after receipt of this decision."

On September 24, 1997, the last day of the thirty-day period, the Kirkpatricks filed a complaint in the Eastern District of North Carolina against the Board and defendants Dr. Doug James, J. Oliver Smith, and Larry Jenkins, who are officers of the Board. The Kirkpatricks sought reimbursement of the private school tuition costs. The Board did not file an action within the thirty day period. Instead, after receiving the Kirkpatricks' complaint, the Board filed a document styled "Answer and Appeal." That pleading sought a judgment denying the Kirkpatricks reimbursement for the IEEs.

The Kirkpatricks moved to dismiss the action filed by the Board on the ground that it was merely an untimely appeal. 1 On February 4, 1998, the district

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court denied the motion, characterizing the Board's "Answer and Appeal" as a compulsory counterclaim under Rule 13(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that relates back to the date upon which the Kirkpatricks filed the original claim. The district court then considered the merits of the claim and counterclaim. The district court ordered the development of an IEP, but denied the Kirkpatricks reimbursement for the IEEs and private schooling costs. The Kirkpatricks now appeal the district court's decision to reach the merits of the Board's claim.

The Kirkpatricks argue that the district court erred when it characterized the Board's "Answer and Appeal" as a compulsory counterclaim filed pursuant to Rule 13(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instead of characterizing it as an untimely appeal. The central issue on appeal is therefore whether an action filed in federal district court pursuant to the IDEA is an original civil action, for which a counterclaim would be permitted, or whether the action is more accurately characterized as an appeal, such that the other party would have to file an additional appeal within the prescribed period in order to preserve its claims. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that actions filed in federal court pursuant to the IDEA are original civil actions.

II.

Congress enacted the IDEA "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A); see Gadsby v. Grasmick, 109 F.3d 940, 942 (4th Cir. 1997). The IDEA requires all states receiving federal funds for education to provide to each child with a disability between the ages of three and twenty-one a free appropriate public education that is designed specifically to meet that child's needs. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A).

The IDEA provides very little by the way of substantive standards to determine whether a child is receiving a free appropriate public education. See Board of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 189 (1982). However, the statute provides specific procedural safeguards to the parents of a child with a disability. See generally 20 U.S.C. § 1415. Under the IDEA, parents who are dissatisfied with a school district's IEP may file a...

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