Court: You have no IDEA case. Therefore, you have no 504 case.

Last Thursday we told you about the recent decision involving Highland Park ISD (Region 10) in which the court held that the district provided FAPE to the student. The parties also litigated over Section 504.  Again, the court ruled in favor of the district on this one. In so doing, the court relied on a somewhat obscure legal theory that I would classify as “inside baseball.” But it has implications for future 504 cases.

The legal theory is “issue preclusion.”  The court defines it like this:

Issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel, “means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit.

Based on that, the court noted that 1) the issue of FAPE has been determined already; and 2) the claims of a “failure to provide” services under 504 involved the same facts; 3) therefore, those claims are “redundant” and are “precluded.”   Key Quote:

The Court concludes as a matter of law that the questions of fact underpinning Plaintiff’s Section 1983 and Section 504 claims have actually been litigated in resolving Plaintiff’s IDEA claim, and therefore, preclude Plaintiff from pursuing his redundant non-IDEA claims.

The court noted that 504 claims can be raised along with an IDEA claim. But if the IDEA claim is resolved in favor of the district, there is no way the parent can prove a 504 violation based on an alleged denial of FAPE or failure to provide needed services.  That does not, however, completely preclude any possible 504 claim. The court noted that a plaintiff may still succeed with a 504 claim raising “an alternative theory of liability.” For example, a claim that the district discriminated against the student by being deliberately indifferent to disability-based harassment and bullying might be viable.  But that’s not what was alleged here. “Here,” noted the court, “Plaintiff’s claims under Section 504 are all based on HPISD’s alleged IDEA violations.” Since there were no IDEA violations, there can be no 504 violation.

The case is R.S. v. Highland Park ISD, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of  Texas on March 22, 2019.  We found it at 74 IDELR 35.  Nona Matthews of our firm’s Irving office took the lead in representing the district in the special education due process hearing, while Meredith Walker handled the appeal to federal court. 


See you next week when the Dawg barks again.