The court tips its hand…

My Torts professor at UT Law told us once that if the court’s opinion refers to the plaintiff not as “Mrs. Jones” but rather, “the widow Jones” she’s going to win the case.  Ever since then, I have looked for that telltale tip in the court’s opinion. So the opening line of McDavid v. Houston ISD caught my eye:

This case began as a high school grade dispute. 

There is another clue at the end of the first paragraph:

There is a happy ending.   McDavid [the plaintiff] is a college student at the University of Hawaii.

McDavid lost. 

The case was about alleged discrimination based on disability.  The plaintiff persuaded the court that the HISD did not, in fact, completely implement all elements of the student’s 504 plan. But the court held that this fact was not enough to show the kind of “intentional discrimination” that plaintiffs have to show to prevail in a 504 case. 

I’ve written about this issue before here in the Daily Dawg, and have cautioned readers that some courts more quickly will infer that the failure to implement a 504 plan does show “intentional discrimination.”  Some courts have held that if district personnel know what is in the 504 plan and fail to provide the required services, that this alone is enough to show “intentional discrimination.” This court takes a different approach, citing 5th Circuit precedent that “A failure to implement accommodations, without more, does not amount to professional bad faith or gross misjudgment.” 

What to make of that?  Jurisprudence is not a precise science.  Our laws require interpretation, and different judges will interpret things differently.  That is for the lawyers to worry about. At the local school district level the message is simpler: failure to implement 504 accommodations may well lead to litigation, and may, in some cases, lead to liability. 

We can’t control how judges will interpret the law. So let’s focus on what we can control: implementing 504 plans with fidelity to the best of our ability.

McDavid v. Houston ISD was decided in favor of the district by the federal court for the Southern District of Texas on October 5, 2021.  We found it on Special Ed Connection at 121 LRP 34084.


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Tomorrow: Boo!