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Schaffer v. Weast
Background l Question Presented l Briefs l Decisions l News

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November 2005

On Monday, November 14, 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Schaffer v. Weast. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the decision and was joined by Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas. Justices Ginsberg and Breyer filed dissenting opinions. Chief Justice Roberts recused himself and did not take part in the case. Read decision. Read Alert.

The majority held that, "The burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief. In this case, that party is Brian, as represented by his parents. But the rule applies with equal effect to school districts: If they seek to challenge an IEP, they will in turn bear the burden of persuasion before an ALJ." Read decision.

In How Will the Decision in Schaffer v. Weast Affect YOU?, Pete Wright explains that the implications of this decision depend on where you live. He describes what you must do to prevail in a due process hearing - regardless of who has the Burden of Proof.

October 2005

On Wednesday, October 5, the U. S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Schaffer v. Weast. Pete shares the notes he took during oral argument and offers his observations and impressions.

August 2005

On August 9, 2005, the National Council on Disability (NCD) issued a Position Paper on the Scaffer case, IDEA Burden of Proof - On Parents or Schools? The author of this Position Paper is Pete Wright.

The NCD's position is that the burden of proof should always be on school districts. This comprehensive paper describes the history of the Schaffer case and the Court's history in resolving similar cases where the federal statute does not assign the burden of proof to one party or the other. Download

July 2005

Supreme Court Will Hear Oral Argument in Schaffer v. Weast on October 5 - The high court’s decision about who bears the burden of proof in IEP disputes is of enormous importance, and may shift the balance of power in IEP meetings and due process hearings. (July 22, 2005)

On February 22, 2005, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to resolve a split among circuits on whether parents or school districts bear the burden of proof in special education due process hearings. The Court will hear probably hear oral argument in Schaffer v. Weast in October or November, 2005. Read article

In the 30 years since the special education law was enacted, the high court has only heard a small handful of special education cases. The most critical are Rowley, Burlington, Honig v. Doe, Florence County v. Shannon Carter, and Cedar Rapids v. Garret F.Their last ruling came in 1999 when the Court found in favor of Garret F., a child who needed related services in Cedar Rapids v. Garret F.

Background of the Schaffer v. Weast Case

In 1998, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) imposed the burden of proof on the parents and ruled for the school district on the merits of the child’s individualized
education program (“IEP”).

In 2000, the district court reversed the ALJ on the burden of proof issue, placed the burden on the school district, and remanded the case for further proceedings. This decision is published as Brian S. v. Vance, 86 F. Supp. 2d 538 (D. Md. 2000).

In 2000, with the burden of proof placed on the school district, the ALJ ruled for the parents on the merits, holding that the IEP proposed by the school district was inappropriate and that the program favored by the parents was appropriate.

In 2001, without deciding the burden of proof issue, the court of appeals vacated the district court’s 2000 decision and remanded the case for further proceedings,including an appeal from the ALJ’s second decision on the merits. The opinion is found at Schaffer v. Vance, 2 Fed. Appx. 232 (4th Cir. 2001) (per curiam).

In 2002, the district court again placed the burden of proof on the school district, and it affirmed the ALJ’s 2000 ruling for the parents on the merits. This opinion is published as Weast v. Schaffer, 240 F.Supp. 2d 396 (D. Md. 2002).

In 2004, the U. S. Court of Appeals reversed the district court on the burden of proof issue, imposed the burden on the parents and remanded the case. This decision is published as Weast v. Schaffer, 377 F.3d 449 (4th Cir. 2004). In this decision, the appeals court
assigned the burden of proof to the party who initiated the special education due process hearing and created a "split among circuits":

"Other circuits are split - and splintered in reasoning - on this question. Three circuits assign the burden to the parents, and four (perhaps five) assign it to the school system."

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Question Presented

"Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when parents of a disabled child and a local school district reach an impasse over the child’s individualized education program, either side has a right to bring the dispute to an administrative hearing officer for resolution. At the hearing, which side has the burden of proof – the parents or the school district?" (Petitioner's Brief, page 2)

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Briefs

Petitioner's Brief filed on behalf of Brian Schaffer and his parents by his attorneys, William H. Hurd and Michael J Eig. (101 pages)
URL: http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/schaffer.petitioner.brief1.pdf

Amicus Briefs Filed in Support of Brian Schaffer

By late April, more than 20 organizations and nine states had filed a amicus briefs in support of Brian Schaffer and his parents.

Amicus Brief Filed on behalf of Disability Organizations including the ARC, the Autism Society of America, the Epilepsy Foundation, NAMI, United Cerebral Palsy, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (40 pages) http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/schaffer.amicus.orgs1.pdf

Amicus Brief Filed on Behalf of Law and Disability Organizations including the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems; American Association of People with Disabilities; National Children's Law Network; Education Law Center of New Jersey; Education Law Center of Pennsylvania; Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; Center for Law and Education; University of Richmond's School of Law Disability Law Clinic; Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.; TASH, Inc.; Western Law Center for Disability Rights. (39 pages) http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/schaffer.amicus.orgs2.pdf

Amicus Brief on Behalf of Various Autism Organizations including the Autism Society of America, Northern Virginia Chapter (ASA-NV); Parents for Autistic Children’s Education (PACE™); Parents Of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia (POAC-NoVA), Inc.; and Unlocking Autism (UA). (34 pages)
URL: http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/schaffer.amicus.orgs3.pdf

Amicus Brief Filed on behalf of Nine States: Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Eight states joined with the Commonwealth of Virginia and filed an Amicus Brief supporting the parents. http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/schaffer.amicus.9states.pdf

The state of Maryland did not file a brief on behalf of Montgomery County and explained the reason in a letter to a Maryland parent. http://www.wrightslaw.com/news/05/ltr.mdattygenl.pdf

Briefs in support of Montgomery County MD and Superintendent Weast

By June 24, 2005, briefs had been filed on behalf of Montgomery County by Hawai'i (joined by Alaska, Oklahoma and Guam), Montgomery County and Weast, the Virginia School Board Association, the Council of Great City Schools, and the U. S. Department of Education:

The Respondent: Weast and Montgomery County, MD.
http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/weast.respondent.pdf

Amicus brief on behalf of Virginia School Board Association and others
http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/weast.amicus.vsba.pdf

Amicus brief on behalf of the Council of Great City Schools and others
http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/weast.amicus.great.city.pdf

Brief on behalf of the United States Department of Education.
http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/weast.usdoe.pdf

Petition for Certiorari

Petition for Certiorari prepared by William Hurd, Esq., Brian Schaffer's attorney.
http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/05/ussupct.schaffer.petition.hurd.pdf

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Decisions

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Weast v. Schaffer, 377 F.3d 449 (4th Cir. 2004)
URL:
http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/04/4th.schaffer.weast.md.htm

Weast v. Schaffer, 377 F.3d 449 (4th Cir. 2004)
(in pdf)
URL: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/04/4th.schaffer.weast.md.pdf

Joint Appendix Filed in the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Weast v. Schaffer. (180 pages)
URL: http://www.harborhouselaw.com/law/plead/schaffer.4th.jtappendix.pdf

U. S. District Court for the District of Maryland

Weast v. Schaffer, 240 F.Supp. 2d 396 (D. Md. 2002) - In 2002, the district court placed the burden of proof on the school district and affirmed the Administrative Law Judge's 2000 ruling for the parents on the merits.
URL: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/2002/md.schaffer.weast.pdf

Note: Six decisions have been issued in this case since 1998. See Background of the Case

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News

June 24, 2005.
Superintendent Weast and Montgomery County Public Schools filed their brief with the U. S. Supreme Court. The U. S. Department of Education, reversing themselves from their earlier position before the Fourth Circuit, this time filed a brief in support of Weast. Numerous other organizations and several states filed briefs in support of Weast. We do not have all briefs yet. The listing of those received and the URL's are listed above.

April 29, 2005. An amicus brief was filed on behalf of various autism organizations including the Autism Society of America, Northern Virginia Chapter (ASA-NV); Parents for Autistic Children’s Education (PACE™); Parents Of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia (POAC-NoVA), Inc.; and Unlocking Autism (UA). (34 pages) Download

April 29, 2005. An amicus brief was filed on behalf of several law and disability advocacy organizations. These organizations include the C
ouncil of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems; American Association of People with Disabilities; National Children's Law Network; Education Law Center of New Jersey; Education Law Center of Pennsylvania; Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; Center for Law and Education; University of Richmond's School of Law Disability Law Clinic; Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.; TASH, Inc.; Western Law Center for Disability Rights. Download.

April 29, 2005. An amicus brief was filed on behalf of several disability advocacy groups including the ARC, the Autism Society of America, the Epilepsy Foundation, NAMI, United Cerebral Palsy, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Schaffer v. Weast. Download.

February 22, 2005. The U. S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear Brian Schaffer's appeal of an adverse ruling from the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit decision assigns the burden of proof to the party who initiates the special education due process hearing. Read article

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Last revised 04/29/11

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