In a unanimous ruling today, the Supreme Court found in favor of a special education student's right to pursue an Americans with Disabilities claim in federal court without first exhausting administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The case involved a Michigan student who is deaf, and who alleges that the school district failed to provide qualified interpreters and misrepresented his educational progress. The family settled an IDEA complaint against the school district, with the agreement of the school district to fund additional schooling and sign language instruction. The family then sought monetary damages in federal court under the ADA and which are not available under the IDEA.
The school district argued that the student was barred from pursuing his ADA claims, and the lower courts found in favor of the school district, finding that 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l) barred the claim because the statute requires a plaintiff “seeking relief that is also available under” IDEA to first exhaust IDEA's administrative procedures. By settling the case, the lower courts found, the administrative procedures were not exhausted.
However, the Supreme Court finds that, although the ADA claim is premised on the past denial of a FAPE, there is no bar to a lawsuit that seeks a remedy that is unavailable under IDEA, such as monetary damages because the exhaustion requirement referenced in Section 1415(l) applies only to lawsuits that “seek relief…also available under” IDEA. In short, the student is not required to exhaust administrative processes under IDEA that cannot result in the remedy they seek.
For more information on special education issues, please contact our office. Parker & Covert LLP has offices located in southern and northern California. We invite you to visit our website at www.ParkerCovert.com.
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