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 Home > News > Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Burden of Proof Case (February 22, 2005)


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U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Burden of Proof Case
in Weast v. Schaffer

February 22, 2005. Today, 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. This decision assigns the burden of proof to the party who initiates a special education due process hearing.

Split Among Circuits

In their decision in Weast v. Schaffer, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit wrote, "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."

2-1 Decision

In their 2-1 decision issued on July 29, 2004, the majority held that:

"In sum, the IDEA does not allocate the burden of proof, and we see no reason to depart from the general rule that a party initiating a proceeding bears that burden. Congress was aware that school systems might have an advantage in administrative proceedings brought by parents to challenge IEPs. To avoid this problem, Congress provided a number of procedural safeguards for parents, but assignment of the burden of proof to school systems was not one of them. Because Congress took care in specifying specific procedural protections necessary to implement the policy goals of the Act, we decline to go further, at least insofar as the burden of proof is concerned. Accordingly, we hold that parents who challenge an IEP have the burden of proof in the administrative hearing. We reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Judge Luttig, in his dissent, wrote:

"I fear that, in reaching the contrary conclusion, the majority has been unduly influenced by the fact that the parents of the disabled student in this case have proven to be knowledgeable about the educational resources available to their son and sophisticated (if yet unsuccessful) in their pursuit of these resources. If so, it is regrettable. These parents are not typical, and any choice regarding the burden of proof should not be made in the belief that they are. For the vast majority of parents whose children require the benefits and protections provided in the IDEA, the specialized language and technical educational analysis with which they must familiarize themselves as a consequence of their child's disability will likely be obscure, if not bewildering. By the same token, most of these parents will find the educational program proposed by the school district resistant to challenge: the school district will have better information about the resources available to it, as well as the benefit of its experience with other disabled children. With the full mix of parents in mind, I believe that the proper course is to assign the burden of proof in due process hearings to the school district."

"I respectfully dissent."

In html: The decision in Weast v. Schaffer, 377 F.3d 449 (4th Cir. 2004) is available at: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/04/4th.schaffer.weast.md.htm

In PDF: The decision in Weast v. Schaffer is also available at:
http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/04/4th.schaffer.weast.md.pdf

Petition for Certiorari

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

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