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Media Alerts - D.E., a minor, on his behalf, by his parents Maria English; Ronald Sheffy v. Central Dauphin School District - Third Circu
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September 1, 2014
  D.E., a minor, on his behalf, by his parents Maria English; Ronald Sheffy v. Central Dauphin School District - Third Circu
Headline: A party who receives a favorable ruling on an IDEA claim is not required to appeal that decision in order to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing a federal claim to enforce the favorable ruling.

Area of Law: Education Law and Administrative Law

Issues Presented: Under the IDEA, is a party, who received a favorable award at an administrative hearing, required to appeal that favorable ruling in order to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing a claim for enforcement of the administrative remedy in federal court?

Brief Summary: D.E. attended Central Dauphin School District ("District") from kindergarten to seventh grade. D.E. had a learning disability and emotional and behavioral problems throughout his time at the District. D.E.'s parents asked the District numerous times to evaluate D.E. and place him in the appropriate programs, almost yearly for eight years. The District, on multiple occasions, failed to properly evaluate D.E., failed to place him in proper classes, and incorrectly denied him extended summer school programs between fourth and seventh grades. Additionally, the District improperly classified D.E. as mentally retarded for two years, and placed him in an incorrect program. D.E.'s parents brought due process hearings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). An impartial hearing officer found in favor of D.E., ruling that the District must pay for education D.E. missed out on because of the improper practices by the District. Neither party appealed. After a year, D.E.'s parents sued in federal court to enforce the award and also brought claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The District court dismissed both claims, ruling that D.E. must exhaust all administrative remedies before bringing suit in federal court. The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's decision and reasoned that since D.E. received a favorable decision during the administrative proceedings, he had exhausted all administrative remedies because a party would not and could not appeal a completely favorable outcome.

Significance (if any):

Extended Summary: D.E. attended Central Dauphin School District ("District") from kindergarten to seventh grade. Prior to entrance, D.E's mother and father determined that D.E. needed special help in classes, and after several evaluations determined D.E. needed and was eligible for speech and language therapy. When D.E. began in the District, the District created an individualized education program ("IEP") to address these problems, but the District never placed D.E. in specialized courses. D.E.'s mother asked the school to reevaluate D.E., which was done seven months after the request. The report came to the same conclusion as D.E.'s previous evaluation and subsequently the District created a new IEP. D.E. had not acquired the skills necessary to move onto first grade and had to repeat his kindergarten year. D.E.'s mother requested an evaluation at the beginning of his second year of kindergarten, which determined that D.E. had a learning disability and needed special instruction. D.E. was placed in full-time learning support programs for his second year of kindergarten and first grade, during which time D.E. behavior became more erratic. The Parents had an external medical provider evaluate D.E., which determined D.E. as having borderline retardation, extreme difficulties with motor and visual skills, and bi-polar disorder. The District placed D.E. in full-time learning and emotional support program during second grade. D.E. regressed and was eventually diagnosed with depression. The District did not reevaluate D.E. nor place him in a behavior support program. During third grade, the District modified D.E.'s IEP to read "seriously emotionally disturbed" which is a classification associated with mental retardation. As such, they put him in a Life Skills Support program, which D.E. stayed in during third and fourth grades. When D.E.'s mother realized D.E. was identified as mentally retarded she withdrew him from the program, and the District found the designation error, fixed it, and changed his status. The District also inaccurately found D.E. to be ineligible for extended school year services for the next four years. During fifth and sixth grades, D.E.'s IEP were changed to recommend participating in regular education and D.E. was dropped from programs for his emotional and behavior needs. During seventh grade, D.E.'s teacher was not trained in giving adequate support to D.E. nor was provided his IEP to inform the teacher what was necessary to help D.E. The District did not promptly reevaluate D.E. and his evaluations were delayed.

D.E.'s parents requested a due process hearing, claiming that D.E. was deprived of a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") and that he was discriminated against based upon his various disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). An administrative hearing was held with an impartial hearing officer who found the District violated the IDEA. The officer also concluded D.E. was denied a FAPE for all eight years at the District. The officer ordered that D.E. receive compensatory education in the amount of one hour for each hour of school day for each year attended and fifteen hours for each of the six weeks for missed summer programs. Neither party appealed the hearing officer's order. Almost a year later, D.E.'s parents brought an action in the District Court against the District to recover monetary equivalent of the hearing officer's orders as well as compensatory damages under the ADA and IDEA. The District Court dismissed D.E.'s claims, citing D.E.'s failure to exhaust administrative remedies and the fact that there existed no evidence that the hearing officer's order required enforcement due to the unavailability of damages with respect to the IDEA claims. The District Court ruled in favor of the District on D.E.'s ADA claims because there was no evidence to prove the District intentionally discriminated against D.E. D.E. then appealed to the Third Circuit.

The Third Circuit first addressed the issue of the district court's grant of summary judgment on D.E.'s ADA claim. The Third Circuit found that the District did not intentionally discriminate against him, nor showed a deliberate indifference to his rights.

As to his IDEA claim, the Third Circuit agreed with D.E. and reversed the decision of the District Court. The Court reasoned that administrative remedies are exhausted when the party seeking to file suit received a completely favorable outcome in the administrative proceedings. The Court reasoned a party could not appeal a completely favorable outcome and such an outcome satisfies the requirement that administrative remedies first be exhausted. Additionally, the Third Circuit reasoned that D.E. was suing for nonperformance of the order by the District, and therefore, D.E.'s suit could be heard in federal court.

To read the full opinion, please visit

Panel (if known): Fisher, Van Antwerpen, and Tashima, Circuit Judges.

Argument Date: June 12, 2014

Argument Location: Philadelphia, PA

Date of Issued Opinion: August 27, 2014

Docket Number: No. 13-1294

Decided: Reversed and vacated in part, affirmed in part.

Case Alert Author: Ilya Gomelsky

Counsel: Carolyn M. Hazard, Esq., Joel Mallord, and Brian P. Savage, Esq. for Appellant; Thomas A. Specht, Esq. for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Fisher, Circuit Judge.

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/01/2014 09:58 AM     3rd Circuit  

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