Disability Claims Were Allowed to Proceed Against the School District

Nidia Heston (“Heston”) sued the Austin Independent School District (“AISD”) on behalf of her minor son, A.H., alleging that AISD violated § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“§ 504”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) by employing an individual assigned to help A.H. accommodate his disabilities, but who instead allegedly verbally harassed him and threw a trash can at him, hitting him and causing injury.

After the incident, the parties settled all of A.H.’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) claims outside of court but agreed that Heston still had the right to file a separate action containing A.H.’s claims arising under § 504, the ADA, and § 1983. Heston then brought these claims in a suit filed in 2018.

The district court dismissed the suit without prejudice for Heston’s failure to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative remedies (and failure to show exhaustion was futile). The Fifth Circuit affirmed that dismissal and the suit was refiled, bringing nearly identical claims under the same three statutory provisions against AISD, with the same factual allegations as the prior case.

The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that issue preclusion barred Heston from relitigating the same issues as in the first case.  However, since Heston appealed, the Supreme Court decided Luna Perez v. Sturgis Pub. Schs., 143 S. Ct. 859 (2023), concluding that the IDEA does not require administrative exhaustion “where a plaintiff brings a suit under another federal law for compensatory damages.”  As a result, dismissal in favor of the school district was reversed and the case is allowed to proceed. The case is Heston v. Austin ISD, No. 22-50295 (June 22, 2023).

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