The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCULLIN
This is an action for attorney's fees under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(4)(B). Presently before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Defendant argues that this action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and in the alternative, that the Plaintiffs are not "prevailing parties" within the meaning of § 1415(e)(4)(B). Plaintiffs argue that their claim is not time-barred, and that they are "prevailing parties" under the IDEA as a matter of law.
The facts of this case are largely undisputed. Arielle Shanahan is a student enrolled in the Jamesville-Dewitt Central School District ("District"). In 1985, Arielle was identified as learning disabled and emotionally disturbed, and began receiving special education services from the District. The most important of these services is the development and implementation of Individualized Education Plans ("IEPs") pursuant to the IDEA and applicable state and federal regulations.
On September 24, 1992, the District's Committee on Special Education ("CSE") met to assess Arielle's academic progress and develop Arielle's IEP for the 1992-1993 academic year. At that meeting Arielle's parents recommended that she be placed in a residential educational facility. The CSE disagreed, and instead recommended that Arielle receive (1) resource room assistance six times per week, (2) outside counseling twice per week, (3) in-school counseling once per week, (4) family therapy once per week, and (5) consultation with a psychologist once per week. The Defendant Board of Education subsequently adopted the CSE's recommended 1992-93 IEP.
The District began scheduling CSE meetings to develop IEPs for the 1993-1994 academic year ("annual reviews") in or about December of 1992. In response to an inquiry by Mrs. Shanahan, the District's Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Cheryl A. Saidel, sent Mrs. Shanahan a letter dated January 5, 1992, in which she informed Mrs. Shanahan that the District continued to believe that Arielle did not qualify for a residential placement. In a letter dated February 22, 1993, Mrs. Shanahan responded that she thought that she and her husband had accepted the CSE's 1992-1993 IEP provisionally, and with the understanding that the CSE was going to identify potential residential placements for Arielle.
Mrs. Shanahan also sent a letter dated February 22, 1993, to the president of the Board of Education requesting an impartial hearing to challenge Arielle's 1992-93 IEP.
On February 26, 1993, Mrs. Shanahan contacted Mr. Daniel L. Mevic to represent her and her husband at the hearing.
On April 9, 1993, Mr. Mevic sent a letter to Mr. Donald E. Budman, the Defendant's counsel, informing him that he had been retained by the Shanahans to represent them at the impartial hearing and needed Arielle's student records. On May 7, 1993, Mr. Budman delivered the requested records to Mr. Mevic and also suggested that the CSE go ahead and conduct an annual review of Arielle's IEP. Mr. Budman also noted that if the District and the Shanahans reached an agreement at the annual review, they could dispense with the impartial hearing, and if they did not reach an agreement, they could present the impartial hearing officer with a more timely dispute. The Plaintiffs agreed.
In a letter dated June 21, 1993, Mr. Mevic sent Mr. Budman a lengthy letter summarizing the reports of various mental health professionals who had evaluated Arielle. The professionals were virtually unanimous in their support for a residential educational placement for Arielle. (See Complaint, Exs. I-M). Arielle's 1993-94 annual review was held on July 22, 1993. At the meeting, the Shanahans and Mr. Mevic recommended placing Arielle at the Devereux Foundation Mapleton Center, a residential educational facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The CSE initially rejected Plaintiffs' recommendation, and drafted an IEP recommending resource room five times per week, in-school counseling once per week, and outside counseling one hour per week.
However, the CSE also recommend that the District send someone to the Mapleton Center to review its services. The Shanahans, Arielle, and the High School Vice-Principal, Mr. Brinkerhoff, visited the Mapleton Center on August 2 and 3, 1993. Another CSE meeting was held on held on August 26, 1993. At this meeting, the CSE revisited Arielle's proposed 1993-94 IEP and decided to issue a new IEP recommending that Arielle be placed at the Mapleton Center.
Mrs. Shanahan requested reimbursement for Plaintiffs' costs and attorney's fees in a letter to the new director of Pupil Personnel Services, Mr. Steve Saya. Mr. Saya denied their request in a letter dated July 15, 1994. Plaintiffs commenced this action on February 10, 1995.
I. Statute of Limitations
As stated, the Defendant first argues that this action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The IDEA itself does not contain a limitations period. Moreover, the four year federal statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 1658 does not apply to Plaintiffs' claims because the IDEA was enacted prior to December 1, 1990. Thus, the Court must look to "the state law of limitations governing an analogous cause of action." Board of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478, 484, 64 L. Ed. 2d 440, 100 S. Ct. 1790 (1980).