9th Cir.: School District Can’t Sue State ED to Enforce 45-Day Hearing Deadline

Posted on February 24, 2011

Lake Wash. Sch. Dist. No. 414 v. Office of Superintendent of Pub. Instruction, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 3464 (9th Cir. Wash. Feb. 22, 2011)
The school district filed an action seeking to enjoin the Washington Department of Education from granting continuances greater than 45 days in any administrative proceedings conducted pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington held that the district lacked standing and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The school district appealed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The dispute began when the parents of S.G. (“Parents”) filed a due process complaint against the School District, alleging that  their child’s educational program violated the IDEA. The School District, in response, filed its own request for a due process hearing, seeking a determination that its evaluation of the child was appropriate. The Office of Administrative Hearings assigned both matters to an ALJ, who consolidated the complaints and set a prehearing conference for December 31, 2008 and a hearing for January 14, 2009.

During the prehearing conference, counsel for Parents requested a continuance of the hearing. According to the School District, counsel’s reasons for the request were her vacation in January and her unavailability in February, March, and April due to other special education hearings. The School District objected, on the grounds that the IDEA requires a decision be issued within 45 days of the expiration of the 30-day resolution period. The ALJ granted the continuance “[w]ithout justification,” the School District alleges.

In response to the continuance, the School District immediately filed an action in federal district court for a writ of prohibition and a temporary restraining order requiring the state agency to proceed with the initial 45-day timeline. The district court denied the motion  and issued a minute order notifying the School District that its case would be dismissed if the School District did not advise the court that it was seeking other relief. The School District amended its complaint, seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the agency’s practice of granting extensions without a showing of good cause violates the IDEA and federal and state regulations and (2) a permanent injunction against the State granting extensions beyond 45 days in future IDEA hearings. The State, joined by the Parents, moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of Article III standing and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

The task of the Court was to determine whether the IDEA conferred upon a school district the right to sue a state agency for its alleged noncompliance with IDEA procedures. The court found that 20 U.S.C.S. § 1415 established a private right of action for disabled children and their parents. It created no private right of action for school boards or other local educational agencies apart from contesting issues raised in the complaint filed by the parents on behalf of their child. According to the Court, a school district had no express or implied private right of civil action under the IDEA to litigate any question aside from the issues raised in the complaint filed by the parents on behalf of their child. The district lacked statutory standing to challenge the State’s compliance with the IDEA’s procedural protections because the district sought to enforce for its own ends the procedural protections intended to safeguard the rights of disabled children and their parents.

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