Legal Memorandum: Review of Decisions under the IDEA

Issue: In the Third Circuit, what is the scope of review of an administrative decision under the Individuals with Disabilities Act?

Area of Law: Administrative Law, Administrative Law & Regulation (Federal and State), Education Law
Keywords: Review action; Additional evidence; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 162 F. Supp. 2d 316; 62 F.3d 520; 985 F. Supp. 498; 70 F.3d 751
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2005

In reviewing the state agency’s decision under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the district court undertakes a modified de novo review.  S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. of the City of Newark, 336 F.3d 269-70, (3d Cir. 2003).  Accord Susan N. v. Wilson Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 751, 757-58 (3d Cir. 1995); D.B., 985 F. Supp. at 498.  In doing so, the district court must give due weight to the administrative ruling, but has the discretion to decide the amount of deference to be accorded the agency ruling.  S.H., 336 F.3d at 270.  Although the court must consider the ALJ’s findings of fact, it is free to accept or reject them.  Id.  Further, the plaintiffs in a review action in the district court may submit additional evidence not considered at the administrative level, and the district court is obligated to consider it.  Susan N., 70 F.3d at 757.

Under Third Circuit law, the school district or board has the burden of proving that it has satisfied its obligation to provide a free, appropriate public education under IDEA, and it has that burden of proof in actions in district court even if it prevailed at the due-process hearing.  See Coale v. State Dep’t of Educ., 162 F. Supp. 2d 316, 324 (D. Del. 2001) (citing Carlisle Area Sch. v. Scott P., 62 F.3d 520, 533 (3d Cir. 1995)).  Thus, even if the board “wins” at the administrative level, the burden of proof […]

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