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Lawrence Township Board of Education v. State

August 2, 2005

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY. D.C. Civil No. 03-cv-04073. District Judge: The Honorable Stanley R. Chesler.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued: June 29, 2005

Before: ROTH, RENDELL, and BARRY, Circuit Judges

OPINION

E.E.,*fn1 a child whose family resides in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, suffers from diabetes and autism. The parties agree that E.E. is "disabled" as that term is defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-82. E.E.'s parents registered her with the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities ("DDD"), a division of the State Department of Human Services. The DDD is charged with providing specialized services "directed toward the alleviation of a developmental disability or toward the social, personal, physical or economic habilitation or rehabilitation of a person with a developmental disability." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:6D-25.

At the time the complaint was filed, E.E. was a day student at the Eden Institute, a school which specializes in addressing the needs of autistic children. Among other problems, E.E.'s condition causes her to engage in self-injurious behavior. Although this behavior could be controlled while E.E. was at the Institute, it could not be controlled at home, and E.E. was, therefore, a danger to herself when outside the closely monitored environment of the school. In order to address this situation, E.E.'s parents and the Lawrence Township School District Board of Education ("Lawrence Township") agreed that E.E. should be placed in a residential facility where she can receive proper care at all times, and specifically agreed that she should be placed at Allies, Inc., a facility in Hamilton, New Jersey. We were advised at oral argument that she is now there.

E.E.'s parents requested that DDD fund this placement, but, for reasons not relevant here, DDD refused. Instead, E.E. was placed on a DDD waiting list of persons eligible for residential placement, and, as of September 26, 2002, E.E. was number 231 on that list. Lawrence Township, which is financing E.E.'s placement, a placement for which it paid $235,367 for the 2003-2004 school year, filed this action, alleging that, under the IDEA, the State of New Jersey was obligated to assume the cost of the placement.*fn2 The District Court concluded that Lawrence Township does not have a private right of action under the IDEA, and granted New Jersey's motion to dismiss. This appeal followed.

I.

The IDEA authorizes federal funding for state and local agencies to provide for the educational needs of disabled children. Every state educational agency ("SEA") or local educational agency ("LEA") which receives funding under the IDEA must provide disabled children with a "free appropriate public education." ("FAPE"). See 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(1) (2003). Federal funding under the IDEA is "contingent on state compliance with its array of substantive and procedural requirements." Beth V. v. Carroll, 87 F.3d 80, 82 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1412). In New Jersey, the LEAs, including Lawrence Township, are vested with the responsibility for providing and administering a FAPE, in accordance with the requirements of the IDEA. See N.J Admin. Code § 6A:14-1.1(d).

At issue here are some of the procedural safeguards set forth in the IDEA. As an initial matter, we note that certain provisions of the IDEA were altered by legislation in December, 2004, effective July 1, 2005. See Pub. L. 108-446, Title I, § 101, 118 Stat. 2647. Nonetheless, amendments to the IDEA have prospective application only, and neither party argues that the new amendments should apply to this case. Therefore, the provisions in effect at the time the complaint was filed in 2003 will be applied here. See Tucker v. Calloway County Bd. of Ed., 136 F.3d 495, 501 (6th Cir. 1998) (citing Fowler v. Unified School District No. 259, 128 F.3d 1431, 1436 (10th Cir. 1997)); Heather S. v. Wisconsin, 125 F.3d 1045, 1062 (7th Cir. 1997).

Among those provisions is section 1412 of the IDEA, which states, in relevant part, that "[t]he state educational agency is responsible for ensuring that...the requirements of this subchapter are met." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(11)(A)(i) (2003). Section 1415(b) provides, in relevant part, that "the procedures required by this section shall include...an opportunity to present complaints with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6) (2003). Section 1415(i)(2) provides that any " party aggrieved" may bring a civil action in federal district court or state court.

Relying upon these provisions, Lawrence Township argues that the funding for E.E.'s placement at Allies is "a matter relating to. . .the provision of" E.E.'s FAPE, and, therefore, falls within the framework of section 1415(b)(6). Moreover, because the states are ultimately responsible for fulfilling the requirements of the IDEA, the Township argues that it has the right to bring an action under the IDEA to force New Jersey to fund E.E.'s placement.*fn3 New ...


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