The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed ready to side with a deaf student who is seeking financial compensation from a Michigan school district that failed to provide him with a qualified sign-language interpreter.From oral argument in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools:
The student, Miguel Perez, alleges that the school district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Lower courts threw out his lawsuit, ruling that a different federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, required him to “exhaust” his claims against the district – that is, fully pursue them in administrative proceedings before going to federal court. During over an hour of debate on Wednesday, however, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to allow Perez’s lawsuit to go forward.
Representing Perez, lawyer Roman Martinez stressed that for over 12 years, the Sturgis Public Schools “neglected Miguel, denied him an education, and lied to his parents about the progress he was allegedly making in school.” That “shameful conduct,” Martinez said, “permanently stunted Miguel’s ability to communicate with the outside world.”
Perez initially brought claims under both the ADA and the IDEA through state administrative channels. An administrative judge threw out the ADA claim on the ground that he lacked authority to hear it, and Perez reached a settlement with the school district on the IDEA claim. Perez then tried to revive the ADA claim in federal court.
The school district now argues that Perez’s IDEA settlement “extinguishes” Perez’s right to seek financial compensation under the ADA, Martinez said. “But Congress,” he continued, “didn’t punish kids for saying yes to favorable IDEA settlements.”
Representing the Sturgis Public Schools, lawyer Shay Dvoretzky countered that the primary purpose of the IDEA is to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled. The IDEA’s exhaustion requirement, Dvoretzky insisted, simply channels all claims through the administrative procedures first, rather than allowing parents to go straight to court.
JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, I don't know that your view of how school districts are going to operate is always going to be true. As between the two, it strikes me that actually it's the parents that have the greater incentive to get the education fixed for their child.MR. DVORETZKY: I think that sometimes that --JUSTICE KAGAN: This isn't litigation being run by a lot of rapacious lawyers, you know. This is litigation being run by parents who are trying to do right by their kids.