School Law

Issues: Claim for violation of 42 USC § 1983 under the Fourteenth Amendment; Whether the plaintiffs' claims against the defendant-school district arose under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)(20 USC § 1400 et seq.); Padilla v. School Dist. No. 1 (10th Cir.); Whether the plaintiffs were required to exhaust the IDEA's administrative remedies; § 1415(l); Sagan v. Sumner Cnty. Bd. of Educ. (MD TN); Covington v. Knox Cnty. Sch. Sys.; Whether administrative exhaustion was required as to plaintiffs' claim of breach of a settlement agreement; § 1415(f)(1)(B)(iii); Memphis City Schools (MCS)

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit

Case Name: F.H. v. Memphis City Schs.

e-Journal Number: 58010

Judge(s): Tarnow, Moore, and Kethledge; Concurrence – Kethledge

 

The district court erred by dismissing plaintiffs' § 1983 and breach of contract claims, which arose from allegations that the defendant-school district's (MCS) aides physically, sexually, and verbally abused the plaintiff-child, because the § 1983 claims did not arise under the IDEA. In an issue of first impression, the court also held that the claim for breach of a settlement agreement need not be exhausted before filing suit. The district court erroneously ruled that all claims of abuse and neglect accruing before the parties' Settlement Agreement were barred by the agreement and that all claims accruing after the agreement required administrative exhaustion under the IDEA, and dismissed plaintiffs' claims. In the Settlement Agreement reached after the due-process hearing, plaintiffs "agreed to release all claims 'arising under the IDEA and concomitant provisions of STATE law enacted in compliance therewith, including, but not limited to, any matter or claim which was, or could have been, asserted in the Due Process Proceeding.'" However, in the amended complaint, plaintiffs claimed that MCS "engaged in a policy or custom of failing adequately to train or supervise F.H.'s aides and other employees and that MCS knew of or should have known of the abusive behavior towards F.H., including numerous acts of verbal and physical abuse." Plaintiffs' factual allegations "clearly point to physical, non-disciplinary, and non-educational injuries, which cannot be redressed by any remedy available under the IDEA." Thus, their § 1983 claims did "not 'aris[e] under the IDEA,' and were not released by the Settlement Agreement." The district court also erred by finding that they "should have exhausted their § 1983 claims through the IDEA administrative process before bringing them in federal court." They alleged that "F.H. was verbally, physically, and even sexually abused by his aides. These injuries are non-educational in nature and cannot be remedied through the administrative process. Moreover, requiring exhaustion" of plaintiffs' § 1983 claims "would create an additional administrative barrier not present for non-disabled children[,]" and would be "futile" because F.H. has already graduated. In an issue of first impression, the court considered "whether a claim of breach of a settlement agreement must be exhausted prior to filing suit[,]" and held that "the language of the Settlement Agreement, as well as the 2004 amendments to the IDEA, clearly provide that the Settlement agreement is enforceable in the courts, and therefore, that the breach of contract claim does not require administrative exhaustion." Reversed and remanded.

 

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