Supreme Court sides with student in fight over service dog in school

February 22, 2017

USA Today writes:

The proverb "every dog has its day" came true at the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the family of a 13-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and her goldendoodle, Wonder.

In a case that was closely watched by the disability community, the high court ruled unanimously that Ehlena Fry's family can pursue a lawsuit against her former public school district for denying access to her service dog. Read more at

The below blog post is by Autism Speaks Board Member, Gary Mayerson who is the founder of Mayerson & Associates, a Manhattan-based law firm founded in 2000 as the very first law firm in the nation dedicated to the representation of individuals with autism.

The United States Supreme Court has vacated and remanded the Sixth Circuit’s Decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, framing new standards and limits to the “exhaustion doctrine.” In general, the exhaustion doctrine had required that parents fully exhaust all their administrative remedies under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) before asserting any “other” claims. That rule caused many claims to languish unaddressed.

Autism Speaks filed an amicus brief with the high court advocating for limits to the exhaustion doctrine so that important non-IDEA claims could be timely addressed and adjudicated. I attended the oral argument in my role as the Director of the Autism Speaks Federal Legal Appeals Project. Many thanks to Caroline Heller and her colleagues at Greenberg Traurig for their excellent work on the amicus brief. I also want to recognize the contributions of my Senior Counsel, Jean Marie Brescia.

Justice Kagan, writing for all of the justices other than the two concurring opinions, explained that exhaustion of the IDEA statute’s administrative procedures is unnecessary where the graveman of the plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) (e.g. where the graveman is a claim under the ADA).  Justice Kagan went on to warn, however, that examination of a plaintiff’s complaint would consider substance, not simply a surface examination or search for “magic words.”

In my opinion, the high court’s decision in Fry is a thoughtful and balanced decision that recognizes the continuing utility of the exhaustion doctrine for FAPE deprivation claims while at the same time recognizing the fact that there are other claims that require prompt attention, and which should not be subject to the exhaustion requirement.