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Unanimous Supreme Court Victory for Children With Disabilities

March 21, 2023
Unanimous 9-0 ruling will ensure that children with disabilities who were denied a free and appropriate public school education can pursue all available remedies under federal anti-discrimination law.

On March 21, 2023, the US Supreme Court ruled for our client in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, an important case concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Court’s unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, holds that a plaintiff is not required to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative processes when the plaintiff is seeking remedies under other statutes that the IDEA does not authorize — in this case, money damages under the ADA. 

Our client, Miguel Luna Perez, is deaf. For 12 years, Miguel was denied reasonable accommodations (including a sign-language interpreter) by Sturgis Public Schools and the Sturgis Public Schools Board of Education. As a result, Miguel was unable to learn or communicate with others, dramatically limiting his employment prospects and earning capacity.

Both the ADA and the IDEA protect children with disabilities. Miguel brought an IDEA administrative claim, which he settled with Sturgis for all the relief available to him under the IDEA. He then filed a separate ADA claim seeking money damages, a remedy the IDEA does not provide. The lower courts held that Miguel’s ADA case could not proceed because the settlement of his IDEA claim meant that he had not properly exhausted his IDEA remedies. The Supreme Court’s decision makes clear that the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement does not apply when a plaintiff files a claim under a different statute and seeks relief that is not available under the IDEA. The ruling ensures that Miguel will be able to pursue his claim for damages under the ADA, notwithstanding the IDEA settlement (Read more about the case and Latham’s arguments here).

“We are thrilled with today’s decision. The Court’s ruling vindicates the rights of children with disabilities to obtain full relief when they suffer discrimination. Miguel and his family look forward to pursuing their legal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said partner Roman Martinez, who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

The Latham team included associates Nick Rosellini and Lia Cattaneo, as well as former associates Caroline Flynn and James Tomberlin.  In addition, the Law Office of Ellen Marjorie Saideman, the National Association of the Deaf, and Disability Rights Michigan served as co-counsel.