Providing families of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, and New Jersey with exceptional legal representation in Special Education, Estate Planning, Special Needs Planning, Abuse of Vulnerable Citizens, and Disability & Elder Law.
U.S. Supreme Court Allows Student With Disabilities to Sue For Denial of Service Dog In School
On February 22, 2017, United States Supreme Court issued a major decision with regard to the rights of children with disabilities. In Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, the Court held that a young girl with severe cerebral palsy and her parents were permitted to sue a school district which refused to allow her to be accompanied by her service dog in school. The school district claimed that the child's needs were adequately served by an aide during the school day. The family then enrolled their daughter in a different school that welcomed the service dog, and brought a lawsuit for declaratory relief (a legal declaration that the school district's conduct was illegal) and monetary damages against the prior school district that refused to permit the service dog to enter their buildings. The lawsuit was originally dismissed, because the lower courts reasoned that the family was required to "exhaust" administrative due process proceedings under special education law before proceeding with their claims in court. Public agencies often demand such exhaustion of administrative remedies, and this is frequently seen as a means to discourage students with disabilities from going to court to vindicate their rights, but the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the claim that the family was required to pursue administrative hearings at great cost and delay before asking a court for redress. In ruling for the family, the Supreme Court noted that special education due process proceedings cannot offer the type of relief sought by the family in their lawsuit (monetary damages and a declaration that the denial of the service dog was illegal) and that the type of claim raised was not exclusively related to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) , but rather involved a claim that could be brought outside of a school situation (such as a denial of a service dog by a public library) and against other public agencies (such as the municipality that owns the library which denies access). Therefore, the Court reversed the lower courts and returned the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

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