Supremes Limit IDEA’s Exhaustion Requirement – Unanimous Ruling in Favor of Disabled Student’s ADA Claim
On Monday, the Supreme Court addressed the IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement in a notable Special Education case that finally settled the issue, which has long been contested by the courts and attorneys who practice special education law. The new case: Miguel Luna Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools et al., case number 21-887
In a significant reversal of lower court decisions, this week Justice Neil Gorsuch released the Court’s unanimous 9-0 decision siding with a deaf student (Miguel Perez) who’d brought an ADA action against his school district seeking monetary relief for the school’s failure to provide him reasonable special needs services. Before bringing his ADA lawsuit, the student attended school in Michigan (Sturgis Public Schools), where he’d been enrolled for many years. Due to his profound hearing impairment, he needed the sort of individualized special education services mandated by the IDEA to have any realistic hope of real success in learning his school lessons and mastering the coursework.
Instead, the student maintains that his school failed to provide the necessary and practical help needed to overcome his hearing impairment. Denied graduation in the end by his school – notwithstanding the many years of “progress” reported by the school, the now ex-student/plaintiff brought an action against the school district for its failure to provide him with even the essential and primary services due by law to such hearing impaired student, and requiring the in-class presence of a credentialed, on-campus interpreter in the child’s school for help in understanding his teacher’s spoken words.
Before the case reached the high court, the ADA action filed by the frustrated student seeking redress against the school district was dismissed. Two lower federal courts – both the District and Circuit Courts – accepted the argument of the the school district that the exhaustion requirement found within provisions of the IDEA acted to preclude the student from maintaining any further action against the school by his failure to have exhausted possible relief through the IDEA. The 10-page unanimous, written by J. Gorsuch, however, served to upend this and many other school districts’ blanket use of such defense. Instead, the USSC ruled that the IDEA requirement of administrative exhaustion did not preclude an action for relief when that relief, as in the present case, is one not available under the IDEA: Money!