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Important Takeaways: The administrative remedy exhaustion requirement of the IDEA does not prevent an individual from filing a lawsuit under the ADA if they are seeking compensatory damages.
Facts: Miguel Luna Perez attended Sturgis Public School District (the District) from ages 9 to 20. The District informed Perez that he would not be graduating and he an administrative complaint with the Department of Education alleged that the District failed to provide him a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Perez alleged the District supplied him with unqualified interpreters and misrepresented his educational progress. This issue was settled and the District agreed to provide Perez with forward-looking relief sought, including additional schooling. Perez then filed a lawsuit in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seeking compensatory damages. The District moved to dismiss the claim because the ADA requires a plaintiff seeking relief under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to exhaust IDEA’s administrative procedures. The district court agreed and dismissed the claim, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this holding.
The Supreme Court disagreed and held the IDEA’s exhaustion required does not preclude the ADA claims because Perez sought compensatory damages, and these are not something the IDEA can provide. The District argued that all administrative remedies under the IDEA have to be exhausted before a lawsuit may be filed if the lawsuit seeks relief for the same underlying harm. The Court held that the statute’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies only to suits that seek relief also available under IDEA.
What this means: The administrative remedies exhaustion requirement of the IDEA does not preclude a plaintiff from filing a lawsuit if the remedy or relief sought is something that the administrative procedures of the IDEA cannot provide. A student or parent could still file a lawsuit under the ADA if they have not exhausted all remedies of the IDEA if they are seeking compensatory damages.
Read the case here: Luna Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, Supreme Court of the United States, March 21, 2023. Read it here.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Megan, Beth, and Kevin at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.