The US Supreme Court Wednesday heard oral arguments in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools. The case addresses when an individual is eligible for relief under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Plaintiff Miguel Perez is a 23-year-old deaf student whose school in Michigan provided him with an aide that did not know sign language and was not trained to work with deaf individuals. Perez filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Education, saying that his school failed to give him a proper education and violated a variety of state and federal law. An administrative judge dismissed Perez’s ADA claim on the grounds that the judge lacked jurisdiction to hear it. Perez and the school then settled the complaint on his IDEA claim prior to a hearing.
Perez then filed suit against the school and district in federal court for ADA violations, citing the school’s failure to provide him with an aid that knew sign language and was properly trained. The suit was dismissed due to Mr. Perez’s failure to utilize all administrative remedies before filing suit. IDEA requires complainants to “exhaust” the administrative process before beginning litigation. The district court found that Perez had not exhausted all administrative efforts when he settled before a hearing on his claims. The dismissal was affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and Perez continued his effort to the Supreme Court.
During oral arguments, Perez’s attorney Roman Martinez spoke of how the school had neglected Perez and misled his family as to his education. The school informed Perez that he was not eligible for graduation after telling his family that he had been making good progress. Martinez argued that Perez followed the procedure of IDEA properly, and his acceptance of a settlement would prevent Perez from being granted relief under the ADA, so his best option was litigation. Assistant Solicitor General Anthony Yang was present arguing on behalf of the United States in support of Perez.
Justice Kagan asked the attorney representing Sturgis school district what Perez should have done differently. Dvoretzky responded that Perez should have negotiated a better outcome for his IDEA settlement. Justice Jackson seemed agreeable to Perez’s argument, discussing Congress’s intent in creating multiple remedies available to complainants. Justice Alito pushed back most noticeably against Perez’s argument, specifically Perez’s suggestion that certain relief is not granted under the IDEA.