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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wonder Dog Goes to the SCOTUS

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 perform.
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.
Post #547

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