Losing in a due process hearing does not preclude parents from relitigating the same issues under Section 504 or the ADA.
Following the Supreme Court’s Ruling in Luna Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, the 5th Circuit has issued a decision that means when a parent loses in a due process hearing, they are not precluded from relitigating the same issues under Section 504 or the ADA in court if they are seeking relief, such as monetary damages, that are unavailable under IDEA. In the case, a hearing impaired student, sued the Northside Independent School District, arguing that the District failed to properly accommodate her hearing impairment as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the District, holding that Lartigue’s ADA claim was barred by the “exhaustion requirement” of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding dismissal was improper.
Because the claims were based upon an alleged denial of related services specified in the IEP and almost a month after filing in federal court, Lartigue and her parents filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency alleging denial of a FAPE. The Hearing Officer found in favor of the District. After the administrative proceedings concluded, the district court found that she had satisfied IDEA’s exhaustion requirement.
In court, Lartigue alleged violations of: (1) Title II of the ADA; (2) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and (3) the United States and Texas Constitutions. Lartigue did not include an IDEA claim and she sought monetary damages, a form of relief not available under the IDEA.
The District moved to dismiss Lartigue’s case, which the district court granted in part and denied in part, leaving only Lartigue’s ADA claim. The District then moved for summary judgment on Lartigue’s ADA claim, which the court denied. After the District filed a motion for reconsideration, the court granted the District’s motion and dismissed the ADA claim with prejudice. The court’s September 9, 2022, order found that the Plaintiff did not have a standalone claim under the ADA because the origin of her complaint was the denial of a FAPE. The student appealed.
The Fifth Circuit Court ruled that the district court erred when it held that Lartigue did not have a standalone claim under the ADA because the basis of her complaint was the denial of a FAPE. Under the plain text of §1415(l), “[n]othing in [the IDEA]” “restrict[s] or limit[s]” Lartigue’s ability to assert her claim “under ... the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Because the district court found that the basis of the complaint was the denial of a FAPE, Lartigue was only required to exhaust the state’s administrative remedies before filing suit in the district court.
In examining the appeal, the court summarized the current state of the law. In a suit against a public school for alleged violations of the ADA or other similar non-discrimination statutes, the court must determine whether the complaint concerns the denial of a FAPE or whether it is based on disability discrimination. If the complaint does not concern the denial of a FAPE, then the plaintiff need not exhaust their administrative remedies. On the other hand, if the complaint is predicated on a FAPE denial, then the court must determine what relief is sought. If the relief sought is not one IDEA can provide (such as monetary damages), then the plaintiff does not need to exhaust their administrative remedies. If the relief sought is of the type IDEA offers, then the plaintiff must fully exhaust the administrative processes as required by § 1415(l).
To the extent Lartigue sought a form of relief that that the IDEA did not offer, Lartigue was not required to exhaust her administrative remedies under § 1415(l) of the IDEA. Nothing in the text of § 1415(l) or Supreme Court precedent foreclosed Lartigue’s ability to pursue her standalone ADA claim even when it was “admittedly premised” on the denial of a FAPE.
Finding the district court’s order was contrary to the text of §1415(l) and foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s pronouncements in Fry and Perez, the court vacated the grant of summary judgment and remanded the case to the district court.
What the ruling means is that obtaining a favorable ruling at a due process hearing does not prevent a plaintiff from relitigating the same issues in court if they are seeking monetary damages. What this means is that to the extent possible, any settlement of a special education hearing ought to include a waiver of claims under Section 504, the ADA and Title II. Should questions arise about this case or any other concerns regarding IDEA, Section 504 or the ADA, please do not hesitate to contact Leon | Alcala, PLLC for additional guidance.
 Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 580 U.S. 154, 137 S. Ct. 743, 197 L. Ed. 2d 46 (2017)
 Luna Perez v. Sturgis Pub. Sch., 598 U.S. 142,143 S. Ct. 859, 215 L. Ed. 2d 95 (2023)