The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has put to rest the issue of how to apply the statute of limitations added to the IDEA in 2005 to claims that existed prior to its addition. In the case of Steven I v. Central Bucks School District (3d. Cir. Aug. 18, 2010), the Court explained that the statute of limitations in the IDEA applies to all claims, including those that existed prior to the addition of a statute of limitations to the IDEA in 2005.
The Court, noting the numerous conflicting opinions among the District Courts of Pennsylvania on this issue, explained that the IDEA created a statute of limitations, but then gave a seven month grace period before it went into effect to allow litigants to bring claims that would become untimely under the new statute of limitations. The Court explained that retroactive changes to a statute of limitations are permissible so long as potential plaintiffs could reasonably be expected to learn of the change in the law and act to protect their ability to bring claims. The Court found the seven month grace period under the IDEA was sufficient to do so.
As a practical matter, this means that claims based on the IDEA from prior to July 1, 2005, are essentially dead, unless one of the two exceptions to the statute of limitations in applicable. Interestingly, there remains a dispute among the District Courts in Pennsylvania as to how to apply those exceptions and that issue was not addressed in Steven I. Perhaps the next case out of the Third Circuit will clarify that issue.