The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools to answer the question of how far the “exhaustion requirement” under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”) reaches.

Under IDEA, plaintiffs are required to exhaust their state administrative remedies, such as a due process complaint, prior to filing suit for relief which is also available under IDEA. IDEA only provides complainants with relief in the form of compensatory education services, not monetary damages.

The petitioners in this case, the Frys and their child E.F., brought a claim for monetary damages for alleged violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Frys allege that their child suffered social and emotional harm due to the school district’s refusal to allow E.F. to bring a service dog to school. Their claims were dismissed by the lower courts for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by IDEA.

The trial court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that the Frys were bringing a claim for injuries which could have been remedied through IDEA’s procedures, and consequently, the Frys needed to exhaust their IDEA administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. The Sixth Circuit, along with other courts, have followed the precedence of the Seventh Circuit, which governs Illinois, from Charlie F. v. Board of Educ. of Skokie Sch. No. 68. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Frys, school districts will be open to more lawsuits.

The IDEA exhaustion requirement is a frequent issue in lawsuits brought on behalf of students with disabilities against school districts. Contact Michelle Todd and Pam Simaga regarding your special education-based lawsuits.