285 F.3d 1294 (11th Cir. 2002), 01-10192, Cory D. v Burke County School District

Docket Nº:01-10192
Citation:285 F.3d 1294
Party Name:CORY D., by and through his mother and next friend, DIANE D., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BURKE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 18, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1294

285 F.3d 1294 (11th Cir. 2002)

CORY D., by and through his mother and next friend, DIANE D., Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 01-10192

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 18, 2002

Page 1295

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia

Before BLACK, HILL and STAPLETON[x], Circuit Judges.

BLACK, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Cory D. appeals the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Appellee Burke County School District. The primary issue on appeal concerns the appropriate limitations period for appealing an educational agency's final administrative decision under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400-1491. Appellant contends Georgia's two-year personal injury limitations period should be used for actions brought under the IDEA, rather than the 30-day limitations period applicable to administrative appeals. Compare Ga. Code Ann. § 9-3-33 (personal injury statute of limitations), with Ga. Code Ann. § 50-13-19(b) (time limit for administrative appeals under the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act). Alternatively, even if a 30-day limitations period for requesting judicial review is applied to the IDEA, Appellant suggests the time to appeal an agency's final determination can be extended pursuant to Georgia's Renewal Statute, Ga. Code Ann. § 9-2-61. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the ruling of the district court.


A. Statutory Framework of the IDEA

The IDEA creates a federal grant program to assist state and local agencies in Page 1296

educating disabled children. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412. To receive funds under the IDEA, states must provide disabled children with the opportunity to receive a "free appropriate public education" by offering each student special education and related services under an individualized education program (IEP). See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1), (a)(4). To ensure children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to each IEP, the IDEA requires states to establish, and abide by, certain measures. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). Among these measures is a requirement that if parents of a disabled child disagree with their local educational agency regarding the appropriateness of the child's current IEP, and informal review procedures have failed, the parents have the right to resolve the matter in an impartial due process hearing to be conducted by the agency. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f); see also 34 C.F.R. § 300.507. Moreover, following a final administrative determination, the parents retain the right to challenge the decision of the educational agency through a civil action brought in either state or federal court. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). While such administrative and judicial review proceedings run their course, absent a contrary agreement by the parties, "the child shall remain in the then-current educational placement." See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j) (the IDEA's "stay put" provision); see also 34 C.F.R. § 300.514. The IDEA, however, imposes no time limit in which parents must exercise their right to judicial review. See generally 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i).

B. Factual Background

Appellant is a 17-year-old boy who suffers from mild mental retardation, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, seizures, and chronic depression. As such, he qualifies for special education and related services under the IDEA. See generally 20 U.S.C. § § 1411-1427. Appellant receives his services through the Burke County School District.

From 1996 through 1999, Appellant experienced repeated behavioral problems at school, including incidents of shoving and threatening fellow students and teachers. On December 2, 1999, Appellant again pushed a teacher, who had found him wandering the halls and disrupting classes during his scheduled lunch period. In accordance with the IDEA, Appellee assembled a manifestation determination team (MDT) and set a manifestation determination hearing for December 8, 1999. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(4)(A). The MDT determined Appellant's behavior was unrelated to his disability.1 The MDT's finding was then referred to Appellee's disciplinary tribunal. Based on the MDT's finding, the tribunal expelled Appellant on December 17, 1999.

Five days after Appellant's expulsion, his mother filed a request for an administrative due process hearing under the IDEA to challenge the MDT's procedures and ultimate finding. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(6). During the hearing, Appellant claimed he was not receiving the "free appropriate public education" mandated by the IDEA as a result of Appellee's actions. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1). He further claimed he should "stay put" in his then-current IEP until the appeals process was exhausted. See generally 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). On January 20, 2000, an administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld all procedures and findings of the MDT.

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On February 8, 2000, Appellant filed an action in the Superior Court of Burke County, Georgia, challenging the ALJ's decision. Three months later, however, Appellant filed a voluntary dismissal of his state court action. On August 4, 2000, nearly seven months after the ALJ's final ruling, Appellant filed the instant action in federal court. Borrowing the 30-day statute of limitations applicable under the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act (Georgia APA), Ga. Code Ann. § 50-13-19(b), the district court concluded Appellant failed to timely seek judicial review. Accordingly, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Appellee.

II. DISCUSSIONA. Statute of Limitations

When Congress fails to specify a limitations period in federal legislation, courts must borrow the statute of limitations from the most analogous state statute, provided the borrowed limitations period is not "inconsistent with underlying federal policies." See, e.g., Oneida County v. Oneida Indian Nation, 470 U.S. 226, 240, 105 S.Ct. 1245, 1254-55 (1985). Accordingly, we must (1) determine which Georgia statute is most analogous to the IDEA, and (2) ensure the applicable limitations period is not inconsistent with the IDEA's objectives.

1. Most Analogous State Statute

This Court must first decide whether a personal injury claim, advocated by Appellant, or a request for judicial review under the Georgia APA, applied by the district court, is most analogous to requests for judicial review under the IDEA. In making this determination, "'courts look to whether the scope of judicial proceedings available to a plaintiff under [each] state act is similar to the review available under [the IDEA]'." Livingston Sch. Dist. Nos. 4 & 1 v. Keenan, 82 F.3d 912, 915 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Dep't of Educ. v. Carl D., 695 F.2d 1154, 1157 (9th Cir. 1983)).

Both the Georgia APA and the IDEA provide for judicial review of agency determinations.2 Under both statutes, the reviewing court acts in a quasi-appellate manner, scrutinizing the underlying proceedings for procedural regularity and substantive validity. See, e.g., Spiegler v. District of Columbia, 866 F.2d 461, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 1989); Adler v. Educ. Dep't, 760 F.2d 454, 458 (2d Cir. 1985). Further, under both statutes, reviewing courts rely heavily on the administrative record. See Ga. Code Ann. § 50-13-19(g); 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). Although the IDEA permits the reviewing court to accept additional evidence at the request of a party, this fact does not significantly distinguish the nature of the proceedings from appellate review of agency decisions because, in both cases, the primary evidence relied upon is the administrative record itself. See Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 205, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 3050 (1982).

Additionally, both the Georgia APA and the IDEA mandate some level of deference to the findings of an agency's decision-maker. Under the Georgia APA, an agency's decision is scrutinized only for abuse of discretion. See Ga. Code Ann. § 50-13-19 (permitting reversal of agency decisions that are (1) made in excess of the agency's statutory authority; (2) based upon unlawful procedure; (3) affected by other error of law; (4) clearly erroneous on the whole record; or (5) arbitrary or capricious). Page 1298

Similarly, under the IDEA, a district court is required to respect a state hearing officer's findings when they are thoroughly and carefully made. See Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206, 102 S.Ct. at 3050-51 (stating reviewing courts must give "due weight" to the administrative proceeding). The IDEA's provision that a reviewing court base its decision on the preponderance of the evidence is, therefore, no invitation to "substitute [the court's] own notions of educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review." Id.

By contrast, an action for personal injury is an independent claim which does not involve review of administrative decisions. Thus, such an action does not involve either review of a record assembled in underlying proceedings or any level of deference to administrative...

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