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 Home > News > Deliberate Indifference - State Liable for Damages  (June 21, 2001)

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"Deliberate Indifference" - State Liable for Damages

Children Not Receiving FAPE - State DOE Did Nothing

News Release

Date: June 19, 2001
Re: Stephen L., et al. v. LeMahieu, et al.; Civil No. CV 00-00338 DAE/KSCC

In a decision which defines for Felix class members the circumstances under which the state is liable for damages, U. S. District Court Chief Judge David Ezra ruled that the State of Hawaii is liable to a 19 year old disabled student from Molokai, for conduct labeled as "deliberate indifference." Suit was brought by the student under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which act forbids the State of Hawaii from discriminating in the provision of education to disabled children.

"In the suit, the family alleged that Molokai's crisis of personnel shortages in special education teachers, speech therapists and educational aides had caused Aaron L. to be denied an appropriate education. The court agreed.

Judge Ezra found that the severe personnel shortages on Molokai were known by Molokai High school, the Maui District Office, and State of Hawaii officials. The court stated that the state's repeated failure to adequately fund special education was no excuse to fail to meet the federal education standards. It further
stated that it was clear that "special education children on Molokai, including Aaron L., were not receiving the necessary services to provide them with [a free and appropriate public education] to which they were entitled" In spite of this awareness, the DOE did nothing. This amounts to deliberate indifference.

This ruling means that the sole issue at trial, which is presently scheduled for September 2001, will be the amount of damages that should be paid by the state to the plaintiff family. When told of Judge Ezra's ruling, Mrs. L., Aaron's mother, said the decision helps the family deal with the DOE's conscious neglect of Aaron's needs.

She went on to say that this was "a victory for all Felix children on Molokai."

In his decision, Judge Ezra noted the history of the State of Hawaii in inadequately funding special education in Hawaii. He concluded by stating:

"state defendants cannot excuse a knowing failure to provide these services because of a lack of funds commitment from the state legislature. In sum, deliberate indifference by the state government cannot provide an excuse for another arm of state government, the DOE, from meeting its knowing legal obligation to
special needs children."

Stanley E. Levin, attorney for Aaron L. and his parents, added, "after years of frustration and no services by the state, this ruling is only the first step toward recovery."

400 Davis Levin Livingston Grande Place
851 Fort Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

Information about another damages case against Hawaii.

Note From Wrightslaw: For updates on this important case, check What's New or the Topics page. Subscribers to The Special Ed Advocate newsletter will receive updates on this important case.

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