The United States Supreme Court has vacated and remanded the Sixth Circuit’s Decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, framing new standards and limits to the “exhaustion doctrine.” In general, the exhaustion doctrine had required that parents fully exhaust all their administrative remedies under IDEA before asserting any “other” claims.  That rule caused many claims to languish unaddressed.

Autism Speaks filed an amicus brief with the high court advocating for limits to the exhaustion doctrine so that important non-IDEA claims could be timely addressed and adjudicated. I attended the oral argument in my role as the Director of the Autism Speaks Federal Legal Appeals Project.  Many thanks to Caroline Heller and her colleagues at Greenberg Traurig for their excellent work on the amicus brief.  I also want to recognize the contributions of my Senior Counsel, Jean Marie Brescia.

Justice Kagan, writing for all of the justices other than the two concurring opinions, explained that exhaustion of the IDEA statute’s administrative procedures is unnecessary where the graveman of the plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of a FAPE (e.g. where the graveman is a claim under the ADA).  Justice Kagan went on to warn, however, that examination of a plaintiff’s complaint would consider substance, not simply a surface examination or search for “magic words.”

In my opinion, the high court’s decision in Fry is a thoughtful and balanced decision that recognizes the continuing utility of the exhaustion doctrine for FAPE deprivation claims while at the same time recognizing the fact that there are other claims that require prompt attention, and which should not be subject to the exhaustion requirement.