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No Exhaustion Needed for IEP Students Seeking Compensatory Damages under the ADA law: Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools

May 17, 2023Lara Wakefield

What if your child attended school for several years with an IEP and you later discovered that one of the accommodations was provided in a fraudulent way all that time? For example, let's say your child was blind and was supposed to be taught Braille, but the school never provided a certified Braille teacher. Or, what if your child was deaf and used ASL to communicate, but the interpreter the school provided did not know ASL. Eventually, graduation day comes and you are told that your child will not graduate. The schools says it's because your child can't demonstrate the expected skills due to the lack of ability to read the content or communicate the answers. Would you have the right to file a lawsuit to seek compensatory damages from the school?

As of March 21, 2023, the answer is unanimous: YES!

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) determined that in the case of Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 143 S. Ct. 859 (2023) a student with a disability does not have to exhaust the administrative due process procedures from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) before filing a lawsuit for compensatory damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other federal laws.  SCOTUS held that the statutory language of the IDEA expressly requires exhaustion through the due process hearing process for lawsuits brought under other federal laws if it seeks relief for what is available through the IDEA. It, however, does not require exhaustion for lawsuits through other federal laws that seek relief like compensatory damages which cannot be obtained through the IDEA process. SCOTUS stated its decision was consistent with Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 580 U.S. 154 (2017). In that case, SCOTUS determined that students may proceed with lawsuits without exhausting the IDEA administrative proceedings, only when the lawsuit does not seek relief for claims that essentially allege a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). SCOTUS stated that the Perez and Fry decisions align, because a student does not have to exhaust administrative due process remedies when the IDEA “cannot supply what he seeks.”  See Perez, slip op. at 6.