Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools

PETITIONER: Stacy Fry, et vir, as Next Friends of Minor E. F.
RESPONDENT: Napoleon Community Schools, et al.
LOCATION: Ezra Eby Elementary School

DOCKET NO.: 15-497
DECIDED BY:
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: US ()
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2016
ARGUED: Oct 31, 2016

ADVOCATES:
Neal Kumar Katyal - for defendants
Samuel R. Bagenstos - for petitioners
Roman Martinez - for United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

The Frys’ daughter, E.F., was born with cerebral palsy and was prescribed a service dog to assist with everyday tasks. Her school, which provided her with a human aide in accordance with her Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), did not allow her to bring her service dog to school. The Frys sued the school, the principal, and the school district and argued that they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and state disabilities laws. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss because the claims necessarily implicated the IDEA, which required plaintiffs to exhaust all administrative remedies before suing under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. The Frys appealed and argued that the exhaustion requirement did not apply because they were seeking damages, which is not the sort of relief the IDEA provided. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal and held that the Frys’ claims were essentially educational, which are precisely the sort of claims the IDEA was meant to address, and therefore the exhaustion requirement applied.

Question

Does the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s requirement that plaintiffs exhaust administrative remedies before suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act apply to plaintiffs seeking damages, which are not available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

Media for Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 2016 in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Case No. 15-497, Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools. Mr. Bagenstos.

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: Congress adopted the Handicapped Children's Protection Act to make clear that the IDEA is not the exclusive vehicle for protecting the rights of children with disabilities, and Congress also sought to make clear that cases brought under other Federal statutes, like the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, may proceed directly to court so long as they are not actually seeking relief that is also available under the IDEA. Under that statutory text, it is irrelevant whether the plaintiff could have sought some other form of relief that would have been available under the IDEA.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Suppose -- suppose that there is a school district and two surrounding school districts within the same Federal court jurisdiction and same circuit.

Have each been ordered to make accommodations under FAPE -- under FAPE for a dog? And then the person in the third school district just sues under the ADA.

Is there an exhaustion problem?

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

Well, I think the question would be: What is the relief that the plaintiff is seeking in that third lawsuit?

Anthony M. Kennedy:

So it just depends on what the complaint says?

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

I think it depends on the relief the Plaintiff is seeking, because that's what the statutory language says.

So the --

Anthony M. Kennedy:

But then you're saying that the artful form of the complaint suffices to subject the district court to damages that it might not -- the school district to damages that it might not otherwise have had to pay.

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

Well, a couple of points about that.

First, I don't think it's the artful form of the complaint; I think it is the relief the Plaintiff is seeking.

But, secondly, remember, this is damages being sought under a separate Federal statute that would fully apply even if exhaustion existed.

The question isn't whether the school district is going to be subjected to damages under the ADA or not.

That is something that might exist anyway. The question is whether IDEA proceedings have to first be exhausted and what Congress said about that in this statute, unlike in other Federal statutes where it said exhaustion is required whenever any remedy is available. Here, what Congress said is when the plaintiff is seeking relief that is also available under the IDEA --

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But you could -- you could have -- you could have, as Justice Kennedy suggested, gone the IDEA route.

You could have asked to accommodate the dog, and -- and if you had done that, and you were turned down, could you then switch to the ADA track, or would you have to, having started under IDEA, continue on that route?

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

Well, under Respondent's position here, I think we would have -- and under the Sixth Circuit's position certainly, we would have to follow all of the IDEA procedures through to their conclusion before filing a lawsuit under the ADA.

I -- I don't think -- I think we still would be able to file the ADA lawsuit. Now, the -- there's a difference not just in terms of relief in the lawsuit that would be filed under the ADA versus the one that would be filed under the IDEA, which is, under the IDEA, in order to get any relief, the plaintiff would have to show not just that there is a denial of a dog, but that that actually deprived the plaintiff of a free appropriate public education. Under the ADA, the -- the rights that individuals with disabilities have to bring their service dogs to public facilities are the same in all public facilities.

You have a service dog; you can bring it.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

I -- I understand you'd be making two arguments.

One is that you don't have to exhaust because you're asking for damages, and those aren't available under the IDEA.

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

Yes.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

And the second one is, you don't have to exhaust because you're not complaining about the fair and appropriate public education provision.

Are those separate arguments or do you have to satisfy both of them?

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

No.

I think they're independent arguments, Mr. Chief Justice, so I think the fact that we are seeking emotional distress damages, and those damages, as the Sixth Circuit recognized, are not available under the IDEA, is fully sufficient for us to prevail here to say that exhaustion was not required.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

So if that's the case, why -- I would suspect that the denial of what is sought under the IDEA for a fair and appropriate public education is something that could well cause emotional distress in -- in most cases.

And so is all you're saying is that you have to tack on to an IDEA claim, the claim for damages for emotional distress and then you don't have to exhaust, and so whenever a school district denies an element of an FAPE or a proposed element, they will always face two-track litigation?

Samuel R. Bagenstos:

I don't think that that's right, Your Honor, because -- because it's not the case that every time there is a denial of a free appropriate public education under the IDEA there is also going to be a violation of the ADA.