Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court, in an unanimous opinion written by Justice Kagan, issued guidance to lower courts trying to sort out technicalities in a clash between the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Rehabilitation Act.
This case began with the Fry’s five-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, being denied her request to bring her goldendoodle, Wonder, to kindergarten, after a brief trial period with the dog at school. The local school district decided that the child’s human aide could do everything her goldendoodle could do, thus barring Wonder.
After filing a discrimination suit based on ADA or Rehabilitation Act violations, the lower courts decided that the Frys’ claim was barred, because they did not first go through the administrative process outlined in IDEA. Yesterday’s ruling overturned that decision, holding that when the claim is, at its essence, an ADA or Rehabilitation Act violation, there is no requirement to go through the IDEA administrative process first and that no remedy that could be granted through an administrative adjudication under IDEA in this case. The Court noted that IDEA only applied when the essence of the student’s claim was denial of a free appropriate public education, which was not alleged by the Frys.
The Court gave some guidance about sorting out the difference between the claims by telling courts to ask two hypothetical questions: First, could the plaintiff have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility that was not a school — say, a public theater or library? And second, could an adult at the school—say, an employee or visitor — have pressed essentially the same grievance? If those questions can be answered in the affirmative, today’s ruling posited, then a complaint that does not expressly allege the denial of a FAPE is also unlikely to be truly about that subject. Kagan’s opinion further noted: “In deciding whether the ‘gravamen’ of a plaintiff’s complaint is the denial of a FAPE courts should also look at the history of the entire dispute. If a plaintiff has at some point begun administrative proceedings under the IDEA ‘before switching midstream,’ that ‘initial choice’ ‘may suggest that she is indeed seeking relief for the denial of a FAPE.’ “
For more information about this case, please click here to see the ScotusBlog post.
Originally published on 2/23/217 on www.apsrc.net, Legal Briefs, accessed on 10/27/17