Justia Summary

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400, includes administrative procedures for resolving disputes concerning a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for a child with a disability. “Nothing in [IDEA] shall be construed to restrict” the ability of individuals to seek “remedies” under “other Federal laws protecting the rights of children with disabilities,” section 1415(l), “except that before the filing of a civil action under such [other federal] laws seeking relief that is also available under this subchapter, the procedures under subsections (f) and (g) shall be exhausted.” Those subsections establish the right to a “due process hearing” followed by an “appeal” to the state education agency.

Perez, who is deaf, attended Sturgis public schools and was provided with aides to translate classroom instruction into sign language. Perez alleges that the aides were either unqualified or absent from the classroom. Sturgis allegedly promoted Perez regardless of his progress. Perez believed he was on track to graduate from high school. Months before graduation, Sturgis revealed that it would not award him a diploma.

Perez filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Education. Before an administrative hearing, the parties settled. Sturgis promised to provide Perez with forward-looking equitable relief, including additional schooling at the Michigan School for the Deaf. Perez then sought compensatory damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101. The district court dismissed the suit based on Sixth Circuit precedent.

The Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that compensatory damages are unavailable under IDEA. Although Perez’s suit is premised on the denial of a FAPE, the administrative exhaustion requirement applies only to suits that “see[k] relief … also available under” IDEA.