Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400, states receive federal funding for education of disabled children if local schools provide a "free appropriate public education" to all resident children with disabilities. Local districts must identify children with disabilities, determine whether they require special-education services, and develop individualized education programs (IEPs) tailored to each student's specific needs. In 2001, students with disabilities sued Milwaukee Public Schools and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, alleging IDEA violations. The case became focused on "child find" requirements. DPI settled by agreeing to order MPS to meet compliance benchmarks. The district court approved the settlement over MPS's objection and ordered MPS to set up a court-monitored system to identify disabled children who were delayed or denied entry into the IEP process, implement hybrid IEP meetings, and craft compensatory-education remedies. The Seventh Circuit vacated the class-certification order and liability and remedial orders. IDEA claims are highly individualized, making the case unsuitable for class-action treatment. The claims lack commonality required by Rule 23(a)(2). DPI's settlement was vacated as requiring more of MPS than DPI had the statutory authority to demand. View "Jamie S., v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch." on Justia Law

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Students and former students of the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, filed three separate class-action lawsuits in the Jefferson Circuit Court challenging the legality of so-called "dining-dollars" programs implemented by the universities and pursuant to which all undergraduate students were required to pay a mandatory dining fee each semester, which was then credited back to the students in the form of "dining dollars" that could be spent only at on-campus dining outlets controlled exclusively by the food-service vendors for the universities - Aramark Educational Services, Inc., at UA; Compass Group, USA, Inc. (Chartwells) at Auburn; and Sodexo, Inc., at UAB. The trial court dismissed the three actions, and the students appealed. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeals for the purpose of writing one opinion and affirmed all three. The students sued the boards of trustees governing the universities and the food-service vendors, alleging that the dining-dollars programs violated: (1) state antitrust laws; (2) the Alabama Constitution inasmuch as it forbids the State from having an interest in a private enterprise; (3) the rule in 16-1-32(d) barring universities from charging excessive transaction fees to merchants that accept university-issued debit cards; and (4) the common-law prohibition on conversion. Because the boards of trustees are entitled to state immunity pursuant to section 14 of the Alabama Constitution, all claims against them were properly dismissed. The university administrators and foodservice vendors were entitled to immunity on the asserted antitrust claims as well, albeit state-action immunity as opposed to state immunity. Moreover, because the students lacked standing to pursue a cause of action for a violation of 16-1-32(d), and because the students did not and could not allege the necessary elements of a conversion claim, the trial court also properly dismissed the students' other claims.

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A six-year-old boy, with profound hearing impairment, was furnished with transportation to and from school as part of his individualized education program. The school district contracts with a private company for bus service. The boy alleged sexual abuse by a bus driver. The family sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681-1688. The district court ruled in favor of the defendants. The First Circuit affirmed. The Section 1983 claim was properly rejected because transportation to and from school is not an exclusive state function; defendants did not act under color of state law. The Title IX claim failed because it is not clear that the "appropriate person," with the authority to take disciplinary action against the bus driver, actually knew about the alleged harassment and exhibited deliberate indifference toward it.