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Media Alerts - B.C. et. al. v. Mount Vernon School District
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September 20, 2016
  B.C. et. al. v. Mount Vernon School District
Headline: Second Circuit Holds that an Individual with a Disability under the IDEA Does Not Categorically Qualify as an Individual with a Disability under the ADA and Section 504

Areas of Law: Education

Issue Presented: Whether an individual with a "disability" under the IDEA categorically qualifies as an individual with a "disability" under the ADA and Section 504.

Brief Summary: Two former students in the Mount Vernon School District sued the District and other defendants under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Section 504"). Each of these two students had previously been classified as a child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), and had received special education services on that basis. In the instant lawsuit, they claimed that the way the school district provided academic intervention services violated the ADA and Rehabilitation Act by having a disparate impact on students with disabilities. The plaintiffs' only evidence that they were in fact covered by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act was their previous classification as having a disability under the IDEA. In a case of first impression, the Second Circuit held that an IDEA disability does not necessarily constitute a disability under the ADA and Section 504, noting that the statutes defined "disability" differently. "The ADA [and, by incorporation, Section 504] asks whether an impairment 'substantially limits' a major life activity, while the IDEA trains on whether an impairment necessitates 'special education and related services,'" the court explained. The court noted that although "many, if not most, IDEA-eligible individuals" will also fall under the ADA definition, that showing must be supported by evidence. Here, because the plaintiffs had failed to present such evidence, the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their claim.

To read the full opinion, please visit:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...7bca30a4136/1/hilite/

Extended Summary: Two parents, individually and on behalf of their two minor children (former students in the Mount Vernon School District), brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Mount Vernon School District, the Board of Trustees, the District Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent, the NYSED, and the Title I Director. In their lawsuit alleging discrimination under ADA and Section 504, plaintiffs-appellants relied on statistical data showing that the school district offered Academic Intervention Services ("AIS," which referred to noncredit bearing courses intended for students at risk of not meeting state performance standards) to children with disabilities under the IDEA at a higher rate than to children without same. Plaintiffs-appellants claim that the district's policy of offering these noncredit bearing AIS courses during school hours prevented them from earning the number of credits necessary to advance to a higher grade. Consequently, they argue, such policy disparately impacted students with disabilities in violation of ADA and Section 504.

The lawsuit presented a question of first impression to the Circuit: whether a "disability" under the IDEA categorically qualifies as a "disability" under the ADA and Section 504, such that data regarding "children with a disability" under IDEA suffices to establish a prima facie case in a claim predicated on the plaintiff having a "disability" under ADA and Section 504. The Second Circuit held it does not.

In its de novo review of the district court's decision, the Second Circuit outlined the almost identical standards adopted by ADA and Section 504 for the protection of individuals with a disability. The ADA and Section 504 require the showing that the plaintiff (1) is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) was excluded from participation in a public entity's services, programs or activities or was otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and that (3) such exclusion or discrimination was due to plaintiffs' disability. Additionally, the Court explained that exclusion or discrimination may take the form of inter alia, disparate impact, and that to establish a prima facie case under a disparate impact theory, a plaintiff is required to demonstrate (1) the occurrence of certain outwardly neutral practices, and (2) a significantly adverse or disproportionate impact on persons of a particular type produced by the defendant's facially neutral acts or practices. The showing of the latter requirement, the Court explained, ordinarily requires that plaintiffs include statistical evidence showing the alleged outcome disparity between groups. In this case, the statistical data relied on by plaintiffs-appellants compared (1) the percentage rate at which high school students classified as having a disability under the IDEA received AIS courses with (2) the percentage rate at which high schools students not classified as having a disability received AIS instruction. The data showed that, in the Mount Vernon City School District, the ratio between the two groups was 3:1 (23.02% vs. 8.62%) during the 2008-2009 school year; and 1.5:1 (20.37% vs. 12.56%) during the 2009-2010 school year.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Court found that plaintiffs-appellants had failed to provide any evidence that the group of students included in their data classified as having a disability under the IDEA, also satisfied the ADA and Section 504 definitions of "disability." In this regard, the Court explained that although these statutes all provide relief for persons with disabilities, they define disability differently. Under the ADA, a "disability" constitutes a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities," whereas under the IDEA, a "child with a disability" has one or more of an enumerated list of impairments requiring "special education or related services." The Court further explained that only if, as a matter of law, a child with a disability under the IDEA necessarily qualifies as an individual with a disability under the ADA and Section 504, plaintiffs-appellants' statistical evidence would suffice to show the disparate impact under the alleged ADA and Section 504. However, based on the distinct legal standards set forth by these statutes, the Court concluded that an individual may qualify as disabled under the IDEA without demonstrating the "substantially limiting impairment" required to qualify as such under the ADA.

This mandatory showing of a substantially limiting impairment to seek redress under the ADA, the Court concluded, had not been made by the plaintiffs-appellants, because the statistical data relied on in this case at most showed that the District's AIS policy affected children with a disability under the IDEA at a higher percentage than it affected children without such disability, but fell short of satisfying the statutory standards of the ADA and Section 504. Therefore, since an IDEA disability is not equivalent as a matter of law to a disability cognizable under the ADA and Section 504, the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants was proper.

To read the full opinion, please visit:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...7bca30a4136/1/hilite/

Panel: Circuit Judges Walker, Jacobs, and Livingston

Argument Date: 08/26/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/16/2016

Docket Number: 14-3603-cv

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Gloria Mejia-Repp

Counsel: Michael H. Sussman, Sussman & Watkins, Goshen, N.Y., for Plaintiffs-Appellants; Lewis R. Silverman, Rutherford & Christie, LLP, N.Y., for Defendants-Appellees Mount Vernon City School District, Mount Vernon City School District Board of Trustees, Dr. Welton Sawyer, and Shelly Jallow; Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General, Steven C. Wu, Deputy Solicitor General, Philip V. Tisne, Assistant Solicitor General, for Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, N.Y., for Defendants-Appellees New York State Education Department and Roberto Reyes.

Author of Opinion: Judge Debra Ann Livingston

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor:
Professor Emily Gold Waldman

    Posted By: Emily Waldman @ 09/20/2016 10:16 AM     2nd Circuit  

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