Sixth Circuit Holds IDEA Settlement Bars ADA Claim
The Sixth Circuit’s decision in Perez v Sturgis Public Schools, ___ F3d ___ (2021) is interesting but counterintuitive. Perez, issued on June 25, 2021, holds that the pre-hearing settlement of an IDEA claim bars a related ADA claim and, by extension, any other disability claim that may be related to the settled IDEA claim.
The facts were as follows. The parent of a deaf student filed a special education due process complaint after the school district informed her the student, who was deaf, would not receive a regular high school diploma but, instead, a certificate of completion. The parent included an ADA claim in her due process complaint, which the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Then, just before the hearing, the parent settled the IDEA claim and the due process complaint was dismissed.
Subsequently, the parent filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting the ADA claim the ALJ had dismissed and seeking money damages, a remedy not available under the IDEA. The trial court dismissed the ADA claim and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.
There were two bases for the Sixth Circuit’s decision. First, the provision of IDEA that requires a parent to exhaust IDEA’s administrative remedies before asserting an IDEA or related claim in court. The Court specifically rejected the parent’s argument that exhaustion of her ADA claim was futile because the ALJ lacked jurisdiction over that claim, as evidenced by the fact the ALJ dismissed it. The Court noted the IDEA’s that exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement did not include a “futility” exception and, accordingly, the Court had no authority to read such an exception into the law. The second basis for the Court’s decision was the Supreme Court’s decision in Fry v Napolean Cmty. Schs., 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017), which establishes the standard for the types of disability claims to which IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies.
Perez overrules several Sixth Circuit decisions reading a futility exception in IDEA’s exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement. It will be interesting to see whether it is appealed and, if not, how it will be applied going forward.