U. S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Expert Witness Case, Arlington v. Murphy!
Note: For a comprehensive discussion of this case, including links to decisions and briefs, please go to Arlington v. Murphy. Download Alert: Supreme Court to Hear Expert Witness Case, Arlington v. Murphy.
On January 6, 2006, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of 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 consultants.
This decision is likely to have enormous implications for educational consultants, evaluators, advocates, and other individuals who assist parents during special education due process hearings.
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.
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.
The parents received favorable decisions from the hearing officer, state review officer, the federal district court, and the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
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 for the services of Marilyn Arons, M.S., an educational consultant.
Expert Witness Fees
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/lay advocate.
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). Delaware Supreme Court Issues Decision in Arons case.
Fees to Arons Upheld
The District Court ordered Arlington Central School District to reimburse the parents for the costs of their experts. The District Court reduced Marilyn Arons' 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)
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 the 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?
Dept of Ed Urges Court to Rule Against Parents
Briefs were filed on the issue of whether the U. S. Supreme Court should grant certiorari.
The U. S. Department of Education requested that the Supreme Court grant cert. They cited a split among circuits and argued that awarding expert fees to prevailing parents "contradicts the plain language of IDEA ..." Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae
Implications of Case
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, 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 experts or consultants?
If the Supreme Court limits or eliminates expert witness fees, how will this further this purpose of IDEA which is "to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected"? 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A)
For a comprehensive discussion of this case, including links to decisions, briefs, and news, go to Arlington v. Murphy. We are adding new information (briefs, publications) to this page frequently (sometimes several times a day).
Put a Wrightslaw Training Program on Your 2006 To-Do List
Wrightslaw offers a variety of special education law and advocacy programs taught by experts in the field of special education law and advocacy.
The 2006 schedule includes programs in:
February 2: Duluth GA - Special Education Law & Advocacy Training; keynote; breakout sessions
February 11: Atlanta, GA - Keynote, breakout sessions at the Annual Conference of the Georgia Branch of the International Dyslexia Association
February 20: Northern VA - What You Don't Know About IDEA CAN Hurt You!
March 3-4: Fort Worth, TX - Special Ed Law & Advocacy Boot Camp
March 15: Annapolis, MD - What You Don't Know About IDEA 2004 CAN Hurt You!
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We are scheduling programs for Fall 2006 and 2007. If you are interested in bringing a Wrightslaw program to your community, please read Conference Information.
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