In Matthew S. v. St. Charles Community Unit School District No. 303, No. 13 CV 03106, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago dismissed a complaint brought, in part, by parents of a disabled student who had reached the age of majority.
The Plaintiffs in Matthew S. brought various claims under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”), Section 504, and the Civil Rights Act of 1871(“Section 1983”). Matthew’s parents joined the suit as plaintiffs to litigate their own rights under IDEA.
However, under IDEA and Illinois law, a parent’s rights under IDEA transfer to the child when the child turns 18. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(m); 105 ILCS 5/14-6.10. IDEA contains an exception to this transfer rule if a student of majority age has “delegated” his or her rights to his or her parents.
In the Matthew S. case, the Plaintiffs filed suit after Matthew had turned 18, but Matthew had delegated his rights over to his parents. In the first time a court has ever ruled on the issue, the court accepted the district’s argument, successfully brought by Bennett Rodick, Michelle Todd, and Pam Simaga, that a delegation of rights is only intended to govern the relationship between the student and the school for educational decisions. The court found that the delegation of rights did not apply to this litigation or give standing (i.e.,a right to sue) to the parents who were not otherwise entitled to bring suit.
The court also ruled in favor of the district in another area: The court found that Section 1983 may not be used as a vehicle to litigate claims under IDEA or Section 504 because both IDEA and Section 504 contain their own remedies. Other district courts within the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs Illinois) have disagreed making this an area of unsettled law.
A plaintiff who brings an IDEA or Section 504 claim through Section 1983, rather than bringing a direct IDEA or Section 504 claim, possibly has the advantage of seeking more forms of damages and bringing suit against more parties.
The case arose after an ISBE appointed hearing officer dismissed the parents’ request for a due process hearing (successfully defended by Jay Kraning).
Custody and delegation of rights issues continue to create complexity and confusion for school administrators. Contact Michelle Todd or Bennett Rodick with your inquiries.