On June 28, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an order accepting an appeal out of Michigan in the case Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, No. 15-497, order granting cert, (June 28, 2016), that presents the issue whether parents must exhaust the administrative due process procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before filing a lawsuit for money damages for disability-based discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In that case, a young student with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy requested to have a service dog attend her public school with her. Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Schs, 788 F.3d 622 (6th Cir. 2015), cert granted, (U.S. June 28, 2016). Through an individualized education program (IEP) meeting, the school district refused to allow the service dog to accompany the student at school based on its position that the student’s IEP already provided for a one-on-one paraprofessional who could meet the student’s needs and provide the services the service dog could provide. After the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) found that the district’s refusal to allow the service dog violated the ADA, the district ultimately agreed to allow the dog, but the parents chose to enroll the student in another school. The parents then filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging disability-based discrimination in violation of Section 504 and the ADA.
Both the federal district court and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the parents were required to have exhausted the administrative due process procedures under the IDEA before filing a lawsuit alleging violations of Section 504 and the ADA because the IDEA requires exhaustion of those procedures even when parents bring Section 504 or ADA claims seeking relief that is also available under the IDEA. The courts rejected the parents’ argument that the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement did not apply because their discrimination claims did not allege a denial of FAPE. Instead, the courts held that the service dog issue implicated the student’s education and, therefore, the exhaustion requirement applied.
The Supreme Court will hear argument in this case in its next term and a decision in the case is expected by the end of June of 2017.