Arlington v. Murphy
Oral Argument on April 19
Background l Question
Briefs l Implications
l Decisions l News
On Wednesday, April 19, 2006, the U. S. Supreme Court will
hear Oral Argument in Arlington
Central School District v. Murphy.
The Court will decide whether parents who prevail in special education
cases may be reimbursed for the costs of their experts and/or educational
Briefs by Petitioner and Respondents
In their brief, the Petitioner, Arlington Central School District (NY), argued that the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit erred in holding that the court was authorized to award expert fees to the parents of a child with a disability who is a prevailing party under the IDEA. (Click to read Petitioner's brief)
The essence of the school district's Brief is that the Second Circuit erred in awarding expert witness fees because the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is "spending clause" legislation that must be interpreted very narrowly. Congress failed to provide in IDEA the "explicit statutory authority" that would authorize payment of expert witness fees. (Petitioner's Brief, page 18-19)
In March, the parents and Respondents, Pearl and Theodore Murphy, filed their Brief. They argued that the text of IDEA confirms that expert costs may be recovered by prevailing parents (Click to read the Respondent's brief.)
The essence of the Murphy Brief is contained in the Opening Statement:
"The evidence that Congress authorized prevailing parents to recover expert costs is overwhelming. Congress added Section 1415(i)(3)(B) to IDEA in 1986 when it enacted the Handicapped Children's Protection Act (HCPA) to overturn Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992 (1984). Smith had held that attorneys' fees were unavailable to prevailing parents under the then-current version of IDEA. Congress responded in the HCPA first by authorizing awards of "attorneys' fees as part of the costs to the parents" in Section 1415(i)(3)(B). Then, in a provision of the HCPA petitioner disregards, Congress underscored that the phrase "the costs to the parents" includes expert costs by directing the General Accounting Office (GAO) to report on the "attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses awarded" to prevailing parents and "the number of hours spent by personnel, including attorneys and consultants" in IDEA proceedings. P.L. 99-372, § 4(b)(3), 100 Stat. 796, 797-98 (1986). Taken together, these provisions demonstrate that Congress used "costs" in its ordinary sense - to cover the expenses parents incur in IDEA proceedings, including the costs of consultants and experts - and not as a restrictive legal term of art. " (Respondent Brief, page 1-2)
The school district then filed their Reply Brief. (Click to download the school district's Reply Brief).
The U. S. Department of Education filed an amicus brief on behalf of the school district, arguing that IDEA's fee shifting provision does not authorize an award of expert fees (read the brief filed by the U. S. Department of Education).
In an amicus brief filed on behalf of the school district, the National School Board Association argued that "recovery of expert fees is contrary to IDEA's collaborative framework" and that "recovery of expert witness fees will lead to increased litigation costs for parents and schools and divert attention and resources from the education of all children." (read the brief filed by the School Board Association).
Amicus briefs were filed on behalf of Joseph and his parents by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and by the National Disability Rights Network and the Center for Law and Education.
The brief filed by COPAA argued that "IDEA's purpose to protect constitutional rights would be frustrated if expert fees were not awarded to prevailing parties" and "because the IDEA's purpose is to impose an affirmative equal protection obligation, the Court should not limit Court's discretion to award costs." (click to read the brief filed by COPAA)
The brief filed by the NDRN and the Center for Law and Education argued that "experts are critical to parents' ability to ensure that their child receive a free, appropriate public education" and that "IDEA's structure and text convey broad authority to District Courts to provide any appropriate relief to a prevailing party, including awarding parents the costs of obtaining an expert." (click to read the brief filed by NDRN).
decision is likely to have enormous implications for educational consultants,
evaluators, advocates, and other individuals who assist parents during
special education due process hearings.
Institute for Public Representation
The Murphys are represented by David Vladeck, Esq., of the Georgetown
University Law Centers Institute
for Public Representation.
According to their website, "The IPR program gives
law students an opportunity to work on unique, large scale projects
raising novel legal issues and requiring extensive research and writing.
These projects involve both challenging issues and challenging legal
materials. For example, most of our projects require students to develop
and master extensive factual records that often relate to technical
issues like telecommunications systems or clean water. Gathering of
facts and the creation and use of administrative records is an important
part of the experience for many of our students." Background of Case
The case involves Joseph Murphy, a child with a disability. In 1998,
the school prepared an IEP that Joseph's parents viewed as inappropriate
and inadequate to meet his needs. Placement in Kildonan School After the school offered an inappropriate IEP, the parents placed Joseph in The Kildonan School, a school that specializes in educating children with language learning disabilities like dyslexia. The parents requested that the school district reimburse them for the costs of their son's special education at The Kildonan School. Favorable Decision from Hearing Officer
After a special education due process hearing, the hearing officer decided in favor of the parents and awarded them reimbursment for Joseph's tuition at Kildonan.School Appeals
In August 1999, Arlington Central School District appealed the hearing officer's decision to a State review officer. School was about to begin. The school refused to pay Joseph's tuition at Kildonan for the upcoming school year, despite the fact that the hearing officer had found that Kildonan was appropriate and was Joseph's current educational placement.
The parents brought action in federeal court, seeking a temporary restraining order requiring the school district to fund Joseph's tuition during the pendency of the case.
Favorable Decision from State Review Officer
In December 1999, the State review officer affirmed the hearing officer's decision. The review officer held that Kildonan was the appropriate placement for Joseph, and ordered the school district to reimburse the parents for all tuition expenses.
Favorable Decision re: "Stay Put"
As the case continued, the parents filed another motion in federal court. They sought an order that would compel the school district to pay Joseph's tuition at Kildonan School for the upcoming school year. Citing the stay-put provisions in IDEA, the Court ordered the district to pay for Joseph's education at Kildonan until his educational placement changed.
Arlington appealed the district court's deicison to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In July 2002, the Court issued a decision that affirmed the district court and described purposes of "stay-put"
"Section 1415(j) establishes a student's right to a stable learning environment during what may be a lengthy administrative and judicial review ... If the child is ejected from his or her current educational placement ... then the deprivation is complete." Murphy v. Arlington Central Sch. Dist. Bd of Ed (2nd Cir. 2002) Parents Request Fees and Costs
After the Second Circuit ruled in their favor, the parents petitioned
the U. S. District Court for an award of costs. Included among the Murphys expenses were $29,350 in fees pertaining to the services of Marilyn Arons, M.S., an educational consultant.
Marilyn Arons, Educational Consultant & Advocate The school district was opposed to paying expert fees, especially fees to Marilyn Arons who had provided services to the family as an educational consultant.
Marilyn Arons is a well-known educational consultant and advocate for children with disabilities.
In July 2000, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that by representing families of children with disabilities in due process hearings, Marilyn Arons and her partner, Ruth Watson were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). Read decision.
Read article, Delaware Supreme Court Issues Decision in Arons case.Fees for Experts, Lay Advocates, Consultants
The U. S. Court of Appeals described the school district's opposition to fees for Marilyn Arons:
In March 2003, Arlington opposed the Murphys application for fees, arguing that the district court should deny or substantially reduce the amount of Aronss fees because:
(1) the IDEA does not allow lay advocates to recover attorneys fees;
(2) although experts fees are recoverable, Aronss fees could not be recovered because she did not testify as an expert, or provide a litigation consulting service, as Arons has no specialized training in courtroom practice or procedure;
(3) Aronss time records were insufficient;
(4) Arons failed to establish that there was a market rate for her services; and
(5) Aronss fees pertaining to her representation of the Murphys during non-judicial state special education due process hearings were specifically exempted from the IDEA.
Parent's Right to Be Advised by Individuals with Special Knowledge or Training
The district court found that the court "may award a parent who is a 'prevailing party' reasonable attorneys fees and that, at impartial due process hearings, a party has the right to be accompanied and advised by counsel and by individuals with special knowledge or training with respect to the problems of children with disabilities. ..."
"The district court endorsed the approach of the Third Circuit, which held that specially qualified individuals such as Arons could not collect attorneys fees for doing work similar to that of an attorney, but could collect for expert consulting services."
The District Court ordered Arlington Cental School District to reimburse the parents for the costs of their experts. The District Court reduced Marilyn Aron's fees from $29,350 to $8,650.
Arlington Central School District appealed the award of $8,650 in fees to Marilyn Arons to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.The Second Circuit ruled against school district and upheld the District Courts award of fees to the parents. Murphy v. Arlington Central Sch. District Bd of Education (2nd Cir. 2005) Experts and "Individuals with Special Knowledge"
The Second Circuit offered their analysis of fees to experts and "individuals with special knowledge" -
"Expert testimony is often critical in IDEA cases, which are fact-intensive inquiries about the child's disability and the effectiveness of the measures that school boards have offered to secure a free appropriate public education..."
"An expert such as Arons falls within the category of "individuals with special knowledge." It would be inconsistent with the IDEA's conferral of the right to be accompanied by an "individual with special knowledge" to find that the IDEA's fee shifting provision barred compensation for such an individual's service..."
"Absent a fee shifting provision that allows for the recovery of appropriate expert fees, most parents with children with disabilities would have difficulty pursuing their case. Prohibiting expert witness fees for prevailing parents would thus frustrate the purpose of the IDEA, resulting in fewer children receiving the education they deserve." Murphy v. Arlington Central Sch. Dist. Bd of Ed (2nd Cir. 2005)School Appeals to Supreme Court
After the Second Circuit upheld the $8,650 award to the parents, the school district filed a Petition for Certiorari with the U. S. Supreme Court.
On January 6, 2006, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear one of two questions presented:
Does the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA ")'s attorneys' fees shifting provision, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), authorize a court to award
"expert" fees to the parents of a child with a disability who is a prevailing party under the IDEA?
In the 30 years since the special education law was enacted, the Supreme Court has heard only a handful of special education cases.
The most critical are Rowley, Burlington, Honig v. Doe, Pete Wright's Florence County v. Shannon Carter, and Cedar Rapids v. Garret F. Their most recent decision was on the burden of proof issue in Schaffer v. Weast.
Will the Supreme Court use this case to affirm the costs of lay advocates / educational consultants?
Will the Supreme Court use this case to deny the costs of lay advocates and educational consultants, but affirm costs for educational evaluators and diagnosticians, psychologists and others who testify as an expert witnesses on behalf of a child?
Will the Supreme Court use this case to hold that prevailing parents may not be reimbursed for the costs of any expert or consultants?
If the Supreme Court limits or eliminates expert witness fees, how will this further this purpose of IDEA which is:
ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of
such children are protected." 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A)