Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools: Supreme Court Narrows IDEA Exhaustion Requirement

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
Law FirmShipman & Goodwin LLP
Subject MatterEmployment and HR, Consumer Protection, Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Discrimination, Disability & Sexual Harassment, Education, Trials & Appeals & Compensation
AuthorMs Andreana R. Bellach and Peter J. Maher
Published date11 April 2023

On March 21, 2023, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 143 S. Ct. 859 (2023) that a student with a disability does not have to exhaust the administrative due process procedures of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") before filing a lawsuit seeking compensatory damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other federal anti-discrimination laws. In reversing the lower court decisions, the Court held that the statutory language of the IDEA expressly requires exhaustion through the due process hearing process for lawsuits brought under other federal laws that seek relief that is available under the IDEA, but does not require exhaustion for lawsuits brought under other federal laws that seek relief that is not available under the IDEA, such as compensatory damages. The Court further explained that its decision was consistent with its earlier ruling in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 580 U.S. 154 (2017), in which the Court held that students may proceed with lawsuits without exhausting the IDEA administrative proceedings if the lawsuit does not seek relief for claims that essentially allege a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The Court in Perez explained that its holding aligns with the Fry decision, 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.

The Underlying Administrative IDEA Complaint

Mr. Perez, who is deaf and attended the Sturgis Public Schools from ages 9 through 20, and his family filed a due process complaint against the Sturgis Public Schools, alleging a failure to provide Mr. Perez with FAPE. Mr. Perez and his family alleged that the school district failed to provide him with appropriate educational services and supports, such as sign language and an appropriately trained aide. The due process complaint also alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act, ADA and state anti-discrimination laws. The parties entered into a settlement agreement that resolved the IDEA claims.

The ADA and State Anti-Discrimination Lawsuit

After entering into the settlement agreement to resolve the IDEA due process complaint, Mr. Perez filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations of the ADA and state anti-discrimination laws and sought compensatory damages. Mr. Perez alleged that the school district discriminated against him by not providing him with the...

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