Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant A.M. filed this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of her minor child, F.M., against two employees of the Albuquerque Public Schools: Cleveland Middle School (“CMS”) Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes. A.M. also filed suit against Officer Arthur Acosta of the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”). A.M. brought several claims stemming from two school-related events: (1) the May 2011 arrest of F.M. for allegedly disrupting his physical-education class, and (2) the November 2011 search of F.M. for contraband. Holmes and LaBarge sought summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, and the district court granted their respective motions. The court also denied A.M.’s motion for summary judgment on her claims pertaining to Officer Acosta after determining that Officer Acosta was entitled to prevail on qualified-immunity grounds too. On appeal, A.M. argued that the district court erred in awarding qualified immunity to all of the defendants. The Tenth Circuit consolidated these matters for review, and found o reversible error in the district court's grant of qualified immunity. View "A.M. v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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J.S. is the mother of M.S., a child covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). M.S. was a residential student at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind (“USDB”). Believing USDB was not complying with IDEA’s procedural requirements and was not providing M.S. with free appropriate public education (FAPE), J.S. sought a due process hearing. Unsatisfied with the relief she obtained in that hearing, J.S. filed a civil action in federal court, and appealed the district court decision granting her additional limited relief. She asserts the district court erred when it: (1) delegated its authority to resolve the propriety of M.S.’s residential placement to members of the team tasked with developing M.S.’s individualized education program (“IEP”); and (2) granted her only a partial award of attorneys’ fees. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court delegated the issue of M.S.’s residential placement to her IEP team and that such delegation "[was] at odds with" 20 U.S.C. 1415. The Court remanded this case to the district court to resolve the issue of M.S.’s residential placement and reconsideration of the attorney fee award. View "M.S. v. Utah School for the Deaf" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Kansas Board of Education (the “Board”) adopted curriculum standards establishing performance expectations for science instruction in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Appellants, Citizens for Objective Public Education, Kansas parents, and school children (collectively, “COPE”), contended that although the standards purported to further science education, their concealed aim was to teach students to answer questions about the cause and nature of life with only nonreligious explanations. COPE also claimed two plaintiffs had standing as taxpayers who objected to their tax dollars being used to implement the Standards. The district court disagreed, and dismissed the suit without prejudice for lack of standing. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded all of COPE's theories of injury failed, and affirmed the district court's dismissal. View "COPE v. KS State Board of Education" on Justia Law

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C.V. was a seven-year-old second grade student at an elementary school operated by Albuquerque Public Schools (“APS”). He was eligible for special education benefits for autism. One morning in 2011, C.V. disrupted his class, ran away from APS staff, kicked an APS social worker, and kicked and shot rubber bands at APS School Security Officer Xiomara Sanchez. To protect C.V. and others, Officer Sanchez handcuffed him to a chair. Before doing so, Officer Sanchez had called C.V.’s mother, who granted permission to restrain him, and repeatedly warned C.V. to calm down. Officer Sanchez was unaware of C.V.’s disability. C.V.’s parents sued under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), claiming APS denied C.V. a protected benefit and discriminated against him. The district court granted summary judgment to APS. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision. View "J. V. v. Albuquerque Public Schools" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of allegations that AKC, a child with autism, suffered abuse at school by her special-education teacher, Vickie Cantrell. AKC’s parents, Ted and Bella Carroll, filed suit in federal district court against Cantrell, the school district, and others, seeking damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and a variety of state-law theories. The district court dismissed the Carrolls’ federal claims, concluding the Carrolls had not exhausted their administrative remedies before filing suit as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the IDEA). The district court then dismissed the Carrolls’ complaint, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over their state-law claims. The Carrolls appealed. The single issue on appeal before the Tenth Circuit was whether the district court erred in determining the Carrolls’ federal claims were subject to the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement. Because the Court concluded the Carrolls’ complaint alleged educational injuries that could have been redressed to some degree by the IDEA’s administrative remedies, it agreed with the district court that exhaustion of those remedies was required before the Carrolls could file suit. View "Carroll v. Lawton Independent School" on Justia Law

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Christine B., the mother of student "A.F.," filed suit claiming that the Espanola Public Schools failed to address appropriately her daughter's disabilities in the educational program it formulated for her. Before any hearing could be held, Christine sought to mediate her dispute. In the end, the parties signed a settlement agreement. As a result of the settlement, Christine B. asked the administrative agency to dismiss her Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) claims with prejudice. Despite the satisfactory result she received through mediation, Christine B. filed suit again, though not pursuant to IDEA, but under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The allegations in her federal court complaint and those in her original IDEA administrative complaint were nearly identical: both alleged that A.F. suffered from the same disabilities and both contended that the school district failed to take her disabilities into account in her educational program. Agreeing with the school district that Christine B. failed to exhaust available administrative remedies, the district court dismissed her lawsuit. Christine B. appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. View "A.F. v. Espanola Public Schools" on Justia Law

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In this case, the parents of an autistic child withdrew him from the Douglas County School District because they believed his educational progress was inadequate. They later sought reimbursement of tuition and related expenses pursuant to federal law that required public schools to reimburse parents if the school could not meet the student's educational needs. The District’s denial of reimbursement was upheld after a due process hearing in administrative court, and that determination was also upheld in federal district court. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient support in the record to affirm the findings of the administrative law judge that the child received some educational benefit while in the District’s care and that is enough to satisfy the District’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education. View "Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District" on Justia Law

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Kansas developed a school financing scheme that sought to avoid “mak[ing] the quality of a child’s education a function of his or her parent’s or neighbors’ wealth.” Displeased with the outcome of school finance litigation in state court, plaintiffs, parents of students in the relatively wealthy Shawnee Mission School District (“SMSD”), sought federal intervention to upend decades of effort toward establishing an equitable school finance system in Kansas. Adopting a "kitchen-sink approach," they claimed that aspects of the state’s school financing regime violated their rights to free speech, to petition the government, to associate, to vote, to education, to equal protection of the laws, to direct the upbringing of their children, and to dispose of their property. Upon review of plaintiffs' "novel and expansive claims," the Tenth Circuit found no support and affirmed the district court’s orders denying plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, granting in part defendants’ motions to dismiss, and denying reconsideration. View "Petrella v. Brownback" on Justia Law

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Paul and Melinda Muskrat brought a civil rights action on behalf of their disabled son against the school district where he attended school for several years and against certain school district employees. The Muskrats alleged that the defendants unconstitutionally subjected their son to timeouts and physical abuse. The school district moved to dismiss, arguing that the Muskrats had not exhausted their claims through administrative procedures established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The district court denied this motion, ruling that the Muskrats had no obligation to exhaust their claims. The case then proceeded to discovery and the defendants eventually moved for summary judgment, arguing that no constitutional violation occurred. The district court agreed and granted defendants' motions. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects. "First, plaintiffs' claims [did] not fail for lack of exhaustion. Second, reaching the merits, the district court did not err in concluding the defendants' conduct did not shock the conscience, nor did it have an obligation to evaluate the claims under the reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment." View "Muskrat v. Deer Creek Public Schools" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were high school students from Roswell, New Mexico who belonged to a religious group called "Relentless." They sued the Roswell Independent school district and its superintendent seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for allegedly violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by preventing them from distributing 2500 rubber fetus dolls to other students. They also challenged the District's policies requiring preapproval before distributing any non-school-sponsored materials on school grounds. Teachers complained that students' preoccupation with the dolls disrupted classroom instruction: "[w]hile teachers were trying to instruct, students threw dolls and doll heads across classrooms, at one another, and into wastebaskets. Some teachers said the disruptions took eight to 10 minutes each class period, and others said their teaching plans were derailed entirely. An honors freshman English class canceled a scheduled test because students had become engaged in name calling and insults over the topic of abortion. A Roswell security officer described the day as 'a disaster' because of the dolls." A magistrate judge granted summary judgment for the District on all claims and Plaintiffs appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiffs' free speech, free exercise and equal protection claims. The Court also affirmed dismissal of Plaintiffs' facial challenge to the District's preapproval policies. View "Taylor v. Roswell Independent School Dist. " on Justia Law