6th Circuit Court of Appeals Issues Precedential Opinion for Families' Right to Seek Injury Relief
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Posted by: Denise Marshall
September 4, 2014 - United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issues precedential opinion favoring families' rights to seek relief for non-educational injuries and to enforce settlement agreements in the case F.H. et. al. v. Memphis City Schools. In December, 2013 Judith Gran and Catherine Merino Reisman, of the firm Freeman Carolla Reisman & Gran,LLC on behalf of COPAA filed as amici in this case of along with the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, The Arc Tennessee, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, Support and Training for Exceptional Parents, Tennessee Voices for Children, Inc., and People First of Tennessee.
Over a ten-year period, F.H. endured physical and emotional abuse from a series of aides who were not properly trained or supervised by the school district. In 2011, despite a Due Process Settlement Agreement, the abuse by F.H.’s aides continued. F.H.’s parents then filed a complaint in federal district court. The federal district court dismissed the parents‘ claims, holding that plaintiffs’ were required to exhaust their administrative remedies before bringing suit. In the 2013 Amicus Brief, COPAA argues that requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies to enforce a Settlement Agreement reached during a Resolution Session "conflicts with the plain text of the statute and undermines the purpose of the statute’s alternative dispute resolution provisions," and requiring a student with an IEP to first exhaust administrative procedures before filing a suit under the ADA and Section 504 puts students with IEPs in a less favorable position than students without IEPs to enforce federal law.
In its great decision today the court stated that the essence of the complaint is the verbal, physical, and even sexual abuse of F.H.by his aides. These factual allegations point to non-educational injuries that have no available remedy under the IDEA. §1983 claims do not arise under the IDEA, and therefore, were not released by the Settlement Agreement. Administrative exhaustion would be futile.
Circuit Judge Kethledge wrote in concurrence: "To characterize F.H.’s injuries as “educational” is to belittle them. The gravamen of his claim is not that the conduct described in his complaint might reduce his SAT scores. The gravamen of his claim, rather, is that this conduct was an attack upon F.H.’s dignity as a human being. That injury was not remediable by some change to F.H.’s “Individualized Education Plan.” Nor was it by a mere promise not to let these things happen again. The remedy for F.H.’s injury, therefore, lay not in “the IDEA’s administrative procedures[.]” S.E. v. Grant Bd. Of Educ., 544 F.3d 633, 642 (6th Cir. 2008). Instead his remedy lies in federal court, where F.H. can obtain not only compensation for his injuries, but recognition of what they actually were."
The full decision is available here.