|Courtesy ACLU Michigan|
Guest Blogger and Clarkston lawyer Laura Nieusma shared her thoughts about the SCOTUS petition of the week.
This October, 12-year-old Ehlena Fry and her
Goldendoodle Wonder will be the topic
of discussion for the highest court in the country. The SCOTUS granted certiorari to the lawsuit Ehlena's
parents filed against Napoleon Community Schools after the school refused to
allow Ehlena's service dog into the classroom with her.
The Jackson, MI school has since announced that Wonder would be allowed to attend school
with Ehlena, but this announcement was made only after Ehlena attended school
without Wonder for six-months, and
then was permitted to bring Wonder
for a short period of time, but forced to leave the dog in the back of the
classroom, not allowing her to perform the tasks she had been trained to
At the end of the 2010 school year, Stacy and
Brent Fry made the decision to enroll Ehlena in a different school system,
fearing retribution from Napoleon Community Schools.
Wonder is a service animal who is
protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act defines a service
animal as "a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks
for a person with a disability." Ehlena relies on Wonder to retrieve dropped items, open and close doors, turn on
lights, and help her remove her jacket, all tasks that she cannot perform
independently as a result of her cerebral palsy.
SCOTUS is expected to focus on the procedural
aspect of the case: whether the Fry family was required to exhaust their legal
remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act before bringing
suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While both statutes provide
protection for disabled individuals, the Fry's brought their lawsuit under the
Americans with Disabilities Act and not the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act. This distinction is crucial as the former legislation allows for
an award of monetary damages, while the latter statute does not.
The parties agree that Wonder is a service dog afforded protection under the applicable
statutes and that the Fry family did not exhaust pursue administrative remedies
before beginning the lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The issue
to be decided: when the administrative remedies available do not provide for
the relief sought, is a plaintiff required to exhaust those administrative
remedies before pursuing an avenue that can provide the requested relief?
We expect briefing and oral argument to take place during the October 2016 term. We will keep you posted on the Fry's case and the fate of their dog Wonder.
Labels: Americans with Disabilities Act, Ehlena Fry, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, SCOTUS