Supreme Court remands case on service dog in elementary school

Supreme Court remands case on service dog in elementary school

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday remanded [opinion, PDF] a dispute over an elementary school student’s service dog to the lower court. In Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools [SCOTUSblog materials], a child with cerebral palsy attempted to bring her trained service dog with her to kindergarten. The school stated that the school staff could perform all of the required services that the service dog would perform, thus meaning that the service dog was not required at the school. After the parents filed suit in the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights [official website], the school stated it would allow the service dog. However, the parents instead enrolled their child in different school that welcomed the service dog due to fear of resentment at the first school. The parents then sued the first school for monetary damages. At question in the case is if the parents were required to exhaust all administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) [text, PDF] before bringing suit. The court decided that the IDEA pathway applies to this case if the essential element of the lawsuit is the free appropriate public education (FAPE). The parents allege that the essential element of the case is instead violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [text, PDF]. In order to determine the essential element of the lawsuit, the court posed the following two questions for the lower court: “First, could the plaintiff have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility that was not a school? Second, could an adult at the school have pressed essentially the same grievance?” If either questions is answered with a “no,” then the case likely concerns FAPE. Starting down the IDEA pathway could also signify that FAPE is an essential element.

The court originally granted certiorari in June and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in October. The Supreme Court has previously ruled on many cases concerning application of the ADA. In December 2012 it ruled that an Alabama policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners violated [JURIST report] the ADA. In January 2012 the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that ministries are allowed to fire a minister who was diagnosed with narcolepsy without violating the ADA due to the ministerial exception within the ADA.