Special Education Law and Attorneys Fees
RECENT CASE LAW: Fifth Circuit Reviewing Parents Ability to Collect Legal Fees under IDEA
A crucial procedural safeguard to ensure that every child receives a free appropriate public education under IDEA is the ability of prevailing parents to collect legal fees. Often, this provision of IDEA means that parents who bring successful claims against school districts by means of an experienced education attorney do not need to worry about the potential high cost of the attorney’s services.
Currently, the Fifth Circuit is reviewing D.G. v. New Caney ISD (filed 2/10/15) to determine whether the language of IDEA can be interpreted to restrict the ability of prevailing parents to collect legal fees. Specifically at issue is whether a 30 or 90 day statute of limitations should apply and if the district court erred in denying a claim for attorney’s fees. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, COPAA, has filed an amicus brief in support of the Appellants. Specifically, COPAA argues that an implementation of any statute of limitations to recovery of attorney’s fees would frustrate the statutory purposes inherent in the creation of the laws which protect children with disabilities. This would restrict access to judicial remedies and ultimately result in diminished protection for disabled students. The IDEA contains no such statute of limitations within the express language of the law nor does an interpretation of the entire statutory scheme and legislative history result in the district court’s holding.
The Case is yet to be decided and is not binding authority over Pennsylvania and New Jersey courts, but a decision in favor of the School District could have possible implications when arguing for reimbursement of attorney’s fees in the Third Circuit. It is not certain whether the Third Circuit would even entertain such an argument as they have not implemented a similar statute of limitations on recovery of legal fees, but this case is an important development nonetheless in the accessibility of judicial remedies under the IDEA.