In a case closely watched by the disability community, the U.S. Supreme Court held in February of 2017 that the family of a Michigan girl afflicted with cerebral palsy may pursue a disabilities claim and file a lawsuit against her school for banning the service dog she used to assist her in performing routine, daily functions at school.

The ruling of the SCOTUS was unanimous with Justice Elena Kagan penning the opinion that found that the family was not required to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before filing a complaint in civil court. The family based its lawsuit on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, rather than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The girl, identified as E.F., attended the Ezra Eby Elementary School, which had banned her service dog, Wonder, in 2009. The school district argued that E.F. didn’t need the further assistance of a service dog because she had a human aide to provide similar functions. Wonder was trained to help E.F. retrieve dropped items, open and close doors, turn on and off lights, and take off her coat. E.F.’s pediatrician had recommended that Wonder remains with E.F. around the clock to help the pair bond. Eby Elementary later reversed its decision to ban the dog.

Because the substance of the lawsuit was not based on a denial of the IDEA’s guarantee of a free appropriate education, the SCOTUS explained exhaustion of administrative remedies was unnecessary. Justice Kagan remanded the family’s lawsuit for a determination of whether the family had sought remedies under the IDEA before filing their lawsuit.

Kagan explained that if the family “started down that road, the court should decide whether their actions reveal that the gravamen of their complaint is indeed the denial of a [free appropriate education], thus necessitating further exhaustion.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. authored a concurring opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito disagreed with the portion of the majority’s opinion that he believed were misleading to lower courts on how to determine when parents may file a civil suit.

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The assistance of an experienced disability attorney may help you navigate the often lengthy and complicated process of applying for disability benefits. Retain the services of an experienced, knowledgeable, and qualified Social Security Disability attorney. We offer free consultations, so there is absolutely nothing to lose! Contact the Sullivan Law Office to get the help you need in the Louisville metro area. Call 888-587-0228 or visit us online.Supreme Court Rules For Girl And Her Service Dog