Eastern District of Pennsylvania Places Limitations On Pendency
In J.E. v. Boyertown Area School District, a September 1, 2011 decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court held that the doctrine of pendency does not apply during the time that a case is being appealed from a federal district court to a circuit court of appeals. The court first cited to a 3rd circuit case (to which Pennsylvania belongs), Ringwood Board of Education v. K.H.J., which held that pendency does apply throughout the entire judicial process including circuit court appeals. But, the court then cited to cases from the 6th circuit, D.C. circuit, and a 3rd circuit district court which held that pendency does not continue during a federal appeal and the court ultimately agreed. The court did not convincingly explain why the Ringwood case, which presumably should have been persuasive, should not be followed.
The court reasoned that if a district court has ruled on the case, there is no longer a threat of a "unilateral decision by school authorities" and, therefore, the protection of pendency is not necessary. The court adopted strict construction of the term "district court" in one provision of the IDEA to the exclusion of circuit courts. In the process, the court may have lost sight of the spirit of the law - to protect children in exactly this kind of circumstance. Children were meant to be protected from being placed in an inappropriate setting until a final decision on the case could be reached to show that the school district's actions were justified.
Here is a short excerpt from the decision:
"However, to require that the stay-put provision applies during a federal appeal could yield absurd results. Parents could continue to appeal to the Third Circuit and then the Supreme Court forcing a school district to reimburse private school tuition where multiple levels of review have found that the IEP offered to the child provides a FAPE. Further, this will discourage school officials from agreeing to provide support for private placement for fear that this leaves them required to pay until the child graduates regardless of changed circumstances because all the parents would have to do is continue to appeal."