Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying class certification in this suit alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12131-12134, and the court's grant of judgment on the pleadings as to Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) and Disability Law Center (DLC), holding that PPAL and DLC lacked standing to pursue the claims in the complaint. S.S., a student at the Springfield Public Day School (SPDS), brought this suit on his own behalf and on behalf of a class of all student with a mental health disability who were or had been enrolled at SPDS, alleging that the City of Springfield, Massachusetts, and Springfield Public Schools violated Title II by segregating students with mental health disabilities in SPDS, a separate and inferior school. Associations PPAL and DLC joined S.S. as plaintiffs. The district court denied class certification. The court then ruled that the associations had standing but dismissed their claims for failure to exhaust. The First Circuit held (1) class certification was correctly denied; and (2) the associations lacked standing to bring this suit. View "Parent/Professional Advocacy League v. City of Springfield" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint in part and otherwise vacated the judgment, holding that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst violated Plaintiff's federal constitutional right to due process in suspending him for five months without prior notice or a fair hearing but did not violate his rights in expelling him after providing a fair expulsion hearing. After the university suspended and then expelled Plaintiff, Plaintiff brought this action seeking compensatory damages, declaratory relief, and an injunction preventing the university from enforcing the expulsion. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The First Circuit (1) affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims challenging the adequacy of his expulsion hearing, Plaintiff's section 1983 claims for money damages against the university officials acting in their official capacities, and Plaintiff's Title IX claim; but (2) vacated for the entry of nominal monetary damages the dismissal of Plaintiff's section 1983 claims challenging the constitutionality of the manner in which the university suspended Plaintiff without prior notice or an adequate hearing. The Court then remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Haidak v. University of Massachusetts-Amherst" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the Fay School, Inc. and Fay's Head of School as to Appellants' complaint alleging unlawful retaliation for demands for an accommodation for a certain condition of G., a twelve-year-old minor, holding that the district court correctly denied Appellants' claims. G., a former student of the Fay School, and her parents (collectively, Appellants) brought this suit against Fay after the school refused to remove wireless internet from its classrooms to accommodate G.'s alleged electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), a sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. Appellants alleged, among other claims, unlawful retaliation for an accommodation for G.'s condition, in violation of Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 49 U.S.C. 12203(a), breach of contract, and misrepresentation. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) damages are not an available remedy for a Title V retaliation claim premised upon an exercise of rights under Title III of the ADA; and (2) Appellants failed to raise triable issues of fact as to their contract and misrepresentation claims. View "G. v. Fay School" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court upholding a decision of the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) ruling that the Natick Public School District had complied with the "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), "least restrictive environment" (LRE), and transition requirements in proposed individualized education programs (IEP) for C.D., holding that the district court did not err. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Massachusetts law, the IEPs of certain disabled students must contain, in addition with FAPE and LRE requirements, postsecondary transition goals and services based on age-appropriate assessments. Appellants were C.D., who qualified as a child with a disability under the IDEA, and her parents. Appellants filed a complaint with the BSEA seeking reimbursement for C.D.'s tuition at a specialized private school. The BSEA denied Appellants' request. The district court affirmed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) applied the correct legal standards; (2) properly ruled that the IEPs did not violate the LRE mandate; and (3) did not err in affirming the BSEA's ruling that the IEPs complied with the statute's transition provision. View "C.D. v. Natick Public School District" on Justia Law

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In these appeals arising from a complaint filed by Ms. S. with the Maine Department of Education alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq., the First Circuit remanded with instructions to dismiss Ms. S.’s action with prejudice, holding that Ms. S.’s claims about her son’s education in school years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 were time barred. The state due process hearing officer dismissed as untimely Ms. S.’s claims about 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 and found no violations as to school years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. In the First Circuit’s second decision it held (1) the district court erred in ruling that an earlier decision by the First Circuit foreclosed the interpretation of Maine’s Unified Special Education Regulation (MUSER) that Maine has established a two-year statute of limitations for due process complaints and has done so to align its statute of limitations with the IDEA’s; and (2) Ms. S.’s proposed construction of MUSER, her waiver argument, and her argument that the Regional School Unit 72 misled her were all without merit. View "Ms. S. v. Regional School Unit 72" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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The First Circuit dismissed as moot a school district’s challenge to the district court’s order compelling the school district to determine a student’s eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) without first obtaining its own evaluations and reversed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees to the student’s parents, holding that the challenge to the order was moot and the attorneys’ fee award was mistaken. M.S., a student formerly enrolled in the Westerly School District in Westerly, Rhode Island, suffered from Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Plaintiffs, M.S.’s parents, unsuccessfully sought to have Westerly determine that M.S. was eligible for an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. During the dispute, the district court entered an order forcing Westerly to forego conducting its own evaluations and decide immediately if M.S. was eligible for an IEP, resulting in a determination that M.S. was not eligible. The court then awarded Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees as the prevailing parties. On appeal, the First Circuit held (1) because M.S. and Plaintiffs have since moved out of the Westerly school district, this Court lacked the power to review the order that Westerly determine M.S.’s eligibility without first conducting its own evaluations; and (2) the attorneys’ fees award was not proper because Plaintiffs were not the prevailing parties. View "J.S. v. Westerly School District" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the decision of the district court and remanded this case for entry of judgment in favor of Plaintiff and for remedial proceedings, holding that the district court erred in finding that Rhode Island does not discriminate against students with disabilities by failing to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualifying students of the same age. Plaintiff, through her parent and on behalf of a certified class of those similarly situated, brought this action claiming that Rhode Island violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by providing “public education” to individuals without disabilities between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-two but does not provide special education services to individuals with disabilities of the same age. The district court concluded that the adult education programs provided to non-disabled Rhode Island students beyond the age of twenty-one do not constitute “public education” within the meaning of the IDEA. The First Circuit disagreed, holding that the adult education services in Rhode Island qualify as “public education” within the meaning of the IDEA. View "K.L. v. Rhode Island Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision upholding the determination of the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) ruling against all of Plaintiff’s claims seeking placement for her minor child in a school outside of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system, holding that there was no basis in which to reverse the district court’s decision. Plaintiff, on behalf of her minor child, initiated this proceeding pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq. A hearing officer denied relief. The district court affirmed the BSEA’s decision. On appeal, Plaintiff raised a number of claimed errors during the hearing. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court applied the proper standard in evaluating the minor child’s education progress; and (2) Plaintiff’s challenges to the conduct of the hearing itself did not warrant reversal of the district court’s decision. View "Johnson v. Boston Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court for Regional School Unit 75 (the district) on this complaint filed by a student’s parents on his behalf under, among other things, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), holding that Plaintiffs were precluded from proving an element necessary for them to prevail on their ADA claim. The student at issue, B.P., was diagnosed with several disabilities. B.P.'s parents sought permission from the school district court to allow B.P. to carry an audio recording device at school to record almost everything said in his presence. The school district refused to permit the device, and the parents filed this lawsuit. The district court entered summary judgment for the district. While Plaintiffs’ appeal to the Court was pending, an IDEA hearing officer issued a decision rejecting Plaintiffs’ position that the recording device was required under the IDEA. Plaintiffs appealed only the dismissal of their disability discrimination claims against the district. In affirming, the First Circuit held that because of the hearing officer’s factual findings, Plaintiffs could not make the preliminary showing that the device would benefit B.P. in some manner, which was an element essential to sustaining their reasonable accommodation claim. Therefore, Plaintiffs could not prevail. View "Pollack v. Regional School Unit 75" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant’s eighteen-month sentence imposed in connection with his conviction for one count of possession with intent to distribute less than fifty grams of cocaine. Defendant pled guilty to the charge pursuant to a plea agreement with the government. At sentencing, Defendant’s counsel argued for a term of imprisonment of six months, while the government asked the court to impose a sentence of twelve months. The district court ultimately sentenced Defendant to an upwardly variant sentence of eighteen months of imprisonment. The First Circuit affirmed the sentence, holding that it was neither procedurally nor substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Rondon-Garcia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law