Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled for a parent represented by Berney & Sang in an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) case. The case is Rena C. v. Colonial School District. This is the second Third Circuit victory that Berney & Sang has secured for parents in the past few months.
The parent, Rena C., has a daughter with disabilities, A.D., who attends a private school. Colonial School District, however, is the local educational agency responsible for ensuring that A.D. receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Rena C. filed a due process complaint against Colonial seeking an order requiring Colonial to pay the private school tuition, and she ultimately obtained such an order.
Under the IDEA, when a parent prevails in a due process hearing, the school district must pay her attorney’s fees. But Colonial refused to pay a large chunk of her attorney’s fees. It argued that it didn’t have to pay any fees that she accrued after it provided her a “ten-day offer,” a settlement offer that school districts provide ten days before an IDEA due process hearing. The District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania agreed with Colonial, but on appeal, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that Colonial’s ten-day offer did not cut off Rena C.’s right to attorney’s fees because she was justified in rejecting the offer. According to the court, Rena C. was justified because Colonial did not offer to pay the attorney’s fees she had accrued through the date of the offer.
The Third Circuit’s decision is important for parents across the country. It establishes a precedent that school districts must include attorney’s fees in ten-day offers.