A deaf student filed a due process hearing against his school district and after settling his...
A deaf student filed a due process hearing against his school district and after settling his administrative complaint with Michigan Department of Education, the student sued the school district under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) seeking compensatory damages, monetary damages for his suffering. The United States District Court recommended granting district’s motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”). The student appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the dismissal.
The Supreme Court granted Certiorari (agreeing to review the case) and issued its decision in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, the Court agreed with the Perez’s argument that because Perez’s current claim under the ADA sought only monetary damages, unavailable under IDEA, he was not required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to seeking relief in court.
The Court rejected the school district’s position that IDEA requires a plaintiff to exhaust his administrative remedies before he may pursue a lawsuit under another federal law if that suit is for the same underlying harm IDEA exists to address.
The Court determined that Perez’s position was more consistent with the statute’s terms.
“The statute’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies only to suits that ‘see[k] relief … available under’ IDEA, and that condition was not met in situations where a plaintiff brings a suit under another federal law for compensatory damages-a form of relief everyone agreed IDEA does not provide.”.
What Does this Decision Mean for School Districts??
This case is consistent with Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 580 U.S. 154, 137 S.Ct. 743, 197 L.Ed.2d 46 (2017) which held that the exhaustion requirement does not apply unless the plaintiff “seeks relief for the denial of” a free and appropriate public education “because that is the only ‘relief’ ” IDEA’s administrative processes can supply.” (citations omitted).
Parents may have increased motivation to proceed with litigation under the ADA, even after they have settled their IDEA claims and some will attempt to bypass the administrative hearing and go straight to court, arguing their relief is different from the relief afforded under IDEA.
Although a due process hearing only involves claims under IDEA, districts must now consider whether a settlement of claims under IDEA should also include waiver language regarding other federal statutes that may create exposure to the district that are not resolved by settlement of the special education case. Traditionally, attorneys representing students have resisted waivers beyond issues that are within the jurisdiction of a special education hearing officer, so it is anticipated that settlement negotiations will become more difficult if the release of claims includes Section 504 and the ADA, which are not within the jurisdiction of a special education hearing officer.
For further information or for any assistance on this case or any other matters relating to special education, Section 504 or the ADA, please contact Leon Alcala PLLC.
Author: Hans P. Graff