Court of Appeals February Session: Arguments of Interest for February 8, 2017

The Court of Appeals’ February Session continues on Wednesday, February 8th with three cases on the docket (the Court of Appeals’ case summaries can be found here). The Court will address the following issues: (1) whether a criminal defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel where his attorney failed to cross-examine the only witness to the alleged sexual abuse about the witness’s statement to police that “he had not seen anything specific” and failed to seek a limiting instruction concerning a prior allegation of sexual abuse of the same victim; (2) whether a school district has the right to seek judicial review of the New York State Department of Education’s enforcement of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and (3) whether it was harmless error for a trial court to allow the prosecution to cross-examine a criminal defendant on a prior juvenile delinquency adjudication, which prompted the defendant to decline to testify on his own behalf.

No. 21 Matter of East Ramapo Central School District v King 

In this case under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the East Ramapo Central School District sought to challenge a determination of the New York State Department of Education that it violated the IDEA by routinely placing students with disabilities in private schools and the Kiryas Joel Union Free School District to accommodate parental demands that the students be placed in Yiddish bilingual educational programs. The IDEA requires that students with disabilities receive a free public education in the “least restrictive environment” suitable for them, and NYSED determined that the East Ramapo CSD’s placements were more restrictive than necessary and that there was no demonstrated need for the placements. NYSED also determined that the school district violated the IDEA by allowing a single District representative to overrule the findings of the school’s Committee on Special Education, which had recommended public school placements for the students.

East Ramapo CSD commenced this CPLR Article 78 proceeding to challenge NYSED’s enforcement action, and Supreme Court denied the petition on the merits, finding that the administrative determination was not arbitrary and capricious or contrary to law. The Appellate Division, Third Department affirmed the dismissal of the proceeding, but did so on different grounds. Instead of passing on the merits of the school district’s challenge to the findings of IDEA violations, the Court held that the school district had no right of action to challenge NYSED’s IDEA enforcement action. The IDEA, the Court held, expressly confers a private right of action to challenge alleged violations only on a specific class of persons–aggrieved parents and students–and reserves enforcement authority to the federal Secretary of Education and the states–here, NYSED. The IDEA does not confer any right of action or enforcement authority to the local school district, the Court held, and to imply one through CPLR Article 78 where Congress has already designated the proper parties to challenge an IDEA enforcement determination would impermissible transfer enforcement authority to the courts.

On appeal, East Ramapo CSD argues that in the absence of traditional CPLR Article 78 review, a public school district would be deprived of any judicial review of NYSED’s IDEA enforcement actions, even those that can be shown to be arbitrary and capricious or contrary to law. The school district argues that the IDEA’s conferral of a private right of action on aggrieved parents and students in no way limits the school district’s own right under state law to seek review of NYSED’s administrative determination in a CPLR Article 78 proceeding because Congress, by enacting the IDEA, did not intend to preempt Article 78 review.

The Appellate Division, Third Department’s decision can be found here.

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