Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Montana. D.C. No. CV-93-00122-JDS. Jack D. Shanstrom, District Judge, Presiding.
Before: Betty B. Fletcher, Alex Kozinski and Edward Leavy, Circuit Judges Opinion by Judge Fletcher.
In this appeal, we must determine the proper statute of limitations for an action arising under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1491, challenging the decision of an administrative hearing officer following an impartial due process hearing. Because the IDEA does not specify a limitations period, we borrow the most analogous state statute of limitations unless that statute would undermine the federal policies underlying the IDEA. Concluding that the most analogous state statute of limitations is Montana's thirty-day limitations period for judicial review of administrative decisions, we adopt this statute and reverse and remand for the district court to dismiss the complaint as time-barred.
In May 1987, while in kindergarten, D.L. was identified by the Livingston School District in Livingston, Montana, as mildly speech impaired and thereby eligible for special education services as a disabled student. D.L.'s teachers subsequently noticed that he had hearing difficulties. He received a series of hearing evaluations over the next several years, partially at the School District's expense and partially at his parents' expense. Pursuant to an audiologist's recommendation, D.L. was fitted with hearing aids.
In September 1992, D.L.'s parents, Vernon and Carol Lawrence, sought reimbursement from the Livingston School District for costs incurred for D.L.'s hearing aids and evaluations. The School District denied the Lawrences' request for reimbursement and the Lawrences filed a request for an administrative due process hearing.
Following a one-day hearing, the hearing examiner ruled in favor of the Lawrences, directing the School District to reimburse the Lawrences approximately $4000 for the costs of D.L.'s evaluations and hearing aids. The hearing examiner concluded that D.L.'s hearing difficulties were significantly related to his difficulty in attaining educational benefit from his educational program. As such, the district was required to provide "related services" to ensure D.L. a "free appropriate public education" under the IDEA. The hearing examiner entered her findings, Conclusions, and order on May 26, 1993. The decision was served on the School District the next day.
On July 15, 1993, the School District filed a complaint under the IDEA in United States District Court for the District of Montana challenging the hearing officer's decision. The Lawrences moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred. The district court denied the motion. Subsequently, the court entered summary judgment in favor of the School District, reversing the hearing examiner's decision in favor of the Lawrences. The court concluded, inter alia, that although D.L. had hearing problems, he was not disabled under the IDEA and therefore not entitled to medical evaluations or hearing aids as related services. Because we reverse on statute-of-limitations grounds, we do not address the merits of the district court's summary judgment ruling.
The Lawrences contend that the Montana Administrative Procedure Act, Mont. Code Ann. § 2-4-702(2)(a),*fn1 which provides a thirty-day limitations period for judicial review of administrative decisions, should apply to the School District's IDEA action. Under this statute of limitations, the School District's complaint was untimely.
The School District contends that either Montana's sixty-day limitations period for judicial review of a decision by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mont. Code Ann. § 20-3-107(2),*fn2 or Montana's two-year limitations period for an action upon "a liability created by statute," Mont. Code Ann. § 27-2-210, should apply. Under either of these statutes of limitations, the School District's complaint was timely.
The district court did not determine the applicable statute of limitations, merely concluding that the Montana Administrative Procedure Act's thirty-day limitations period did not apply and that under any other statute of limitations, the School District's complaint was timely. The district court's ruling on the appropriate statute of limitations is a question of law ...