Federal Appeals in Special Education Cases

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What is a Federal Appeal in a Special Education Case?

Following an adverse administrative decision (e.g., you lost some or all of your legal issues) in the California Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), the aggrieved party can appeal the OAH decision in federal court. 

The federal appeal is filed in the United States District Court in the appropriate jurisdiction. California has four federal districts: (1) Northern District, (2) Central District, (3) Eastern District, and (4) Southern District. For special education cases in San Diego, the federal appeal is filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. 

If one party files a federal appeal, the opposing party or parties can file a counterclaim seeking reversal of any aspect of the OAH decision with which they disagree.

When Must a Federal Appeal Be Filed?

In California, a federal appeal must be filed within 90 calendar days following the issuance of the OAH decision. Any party to the due process hearing can appeal.  

What Steps are Involved in a Federal Appeal in a Special Education Case?

There are several steps involved in a federal appeal. Below is a list of some of these steps:

  • File a complaint in the appropriate federal district
  • Notify OAH of the appeal
  • Request a copy of the administrative record from OAH
  • Serve the complaint on the opposing party or parties
  • Lodge copy of administrative record with the U.S. District Court
  • File an Answer if an opposing party files a counterclaim
  • Draft and file an Early Neutral Evaluation ("ENE") Statement with the assigned U.S. Magistrate Judge
  • Attend ENE Conference (if necessary)
  • Attend Case Management Conference (if unable to settle)
  • Discuss and agree on briefing schedule
  • Supplement the administrative record (if necessary and if the court grants your request to do so)
  • Review the record and decide what's important for your legal argument and what isn't
  • Draft and file a Motion for Summary Judgment 
  • Draft and file a Response to Opposing Party's Motion for Summary Judgment (if opposing filed a counterclaim)
  • Draft and file a Reply to Opposing Party's Response to Motion for Summary Judgement
  • Attend hearing (oral argument) if the U.S. District Court Judge requires oral argument

Can I Skip OAH and Go Straight to Federal Court?

Not if your legal action is based on the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEA"). If your action is based on the IDEA, you must exhaust your administrative remedies before advancing to federal court. 

An Experienced San Diego Special Education Attorney

When a special education case moves to federal court, the required level of legal expertise significantly increases. Litigants need to be well-versed in the local rules of federal court and the specific rules of the presiding magistrate or judge. They must also skillfully distinguish between essential and non-essential elements in the administrative record, which can span thousands of pages, and organize the facts, law, and legal arguments clearly so that the judge understands and ultimately supports their position.

Mr. Hefley has extensive experience litigating special education cases in federal court and can help position you and your case for success. With so much at stake, it's crucial not to navigate this complex process alone.

If you have questions about a special education federal appeal, schedule a free consultation today.

Can special education disputes be resolved during the summer break?

Yes, they can. There's no need to wait until the 2024-2025 school year to get your child's educational program back on track. Contact IEP Law Firm PC today to schedule a free consultation.


IEP Law Firm PC is committed to answering your questions about California special education law and helping you address any issues you may be facing.

We offer a free consultation and will gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.