Stories and Grievances: Special Education
Arlington Central School District v Pearl & Theodore Murphy is Heard By the US Supreme Court
The issue: Does IDEA authorize the award of expert fees to parents who are prevailing parties in due process hearings?
This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in its' second IDEA case this term; Arlington v. Murphy.
First Hand Witness to History
On behalf of the Parent Information Center, we wish to acknowledge those who brought us to a singular moment in special education history on 4/19/06 at 10 A.M. in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case: Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy.
The issue: Does IDEA authorize the award of expert fees to parents who are prevailing parties in due process hearings? The expert at the center of this dispute is PIC founder, Marilyn Arons.
We thank those with the courage and commitment to seek justice for all families with disabled children and salute:
Mr. & Mrs. Ted Murphy
David Vladeck, Lead counsel, Georgetown University Law Center
Georgetown University Law School students who assisted Professor
Peter Strauss, Columbia University School of Law
The argument for each side examined the specific language, intent and legislative history of the IDEA concerning the award of expert costs.
Arlington's case, argued by Raymond Kuntz, Esq., contended that IDEA provided no authorization to award costs for expert witnesses. In addition, he stated that school districts did not have experts; their personnel being only school psychologists and other special education staff. He indicated that they were fearful of hearings and inexperienced at testifying. He did not construe school staff as expert witnesses.
Professor Vladeck, on behalf of the Murphy's, pointed to the legislative history of IDEA that explained the various costs that could be paid to parents as prevailing parties. He argued that by denying parents the right to reimbursement for expert costs when they win their due process case violated the fundamental
requirements for a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). He pointed out what he characterized as a "Hobson's choice" - namely that if Arlington's position were upheld, a parent would have to choose between an inappropriate education that is free (the award of expert costs) vs. an appropriate education that is not free (paying for experts, winning the case and not being reimbursed).
PIC observers at the hearing included Maura Collinsgru, Barbie Hayes, Karolyn Hayes, Rena Heier, and Carolyn Vezza. Though special education attorneys were present, none approached the Murphys, Mrs.
Arons, Mr. Vladeck, or the organization for comments concerning the demeanor of the Justices, or the various questions and viewpoints expressed. As observers of this historical moment, we were proud of
the legacy given to us. We look toward the future with an even more impassioned commitment, realizing that our mission is unique and does not require the approval or endorsement of anyone but the
children and families we serve and those groups with sufficient courage to support us in spirit and in deed in the years that lie ahead.
Murphy v. Arlington case heads to the U.S. Supreme Court
A PIC case that established several precedents in the State of New York Murphy v. Arlington is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involves whether or not prevailing party fees are available for a nonlawyer representative who provided consultation services for the parents in a due process hearing. The parents, Pearl and Theodore Murphy, are represented by Brian Wolfman of Public Citizen Litigation Group and by David C. Vladeck, from the Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center who argued the case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in New York in mid-December.
In March the Second Circuit held for the parents finding that ...Congress intended to and did authorize the reimbursement of expert fees in IDEA actions. Applying the principle to this case the Court concluded that IDEA allows for parents to recover such costs as those incurred when accompanied by an individual with special knowledge such as Arons. Acknowledging parents of disabled children would be inhibited from pursuing due process if they were unable to recover expert fees and costs, the Court concluded, Prohibiting expert witness fees for prevailing parents would thus frustrate the purposes of the IDEA, resulting in fewer children receiving the education they deserve.
In June, Arlington School District appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before deciding whether or not to hear the case, the Court has asked the Bush administration for its views on whether or not parents can recover fees for experts in due process proceedings, asking the U.S. Solicitor General for guidance. These events are strikingly similar to the events that evolved in 2000 when Arons v. Delaware was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, a case concerning whether or not parents (in the State of Delaware) had the right to be represented by nonlawyers (those with special knowledge) under IDEA. An amicus brief supporting petitioners (Arons) was filed by the Administration. In that instance the Administration argued that IDEA clearly establishes that lay experts are entitled to advocate on behalf of parents at due process hearings. Further, they argued that barring such a practice could preclude parents from obtaining an impartial hearing guaranteed under the IDEA, a concern echoed by the Second Circuit.
If they are to be true to their previously stated position, the Administration would be bound to conclude that parents have an unequivocal right to recover expert fees and costs when they prevail in a due process proceeding. To advocate otherwise would be a complete betrayal of the spirit of IDEA and the parents and children it is intended to protect.
P.I.C. is preparing to bring you an interview with Pearl and Theodore Murphy, the courageous parents in this case. Their efforts, along with those of Marilyn Arons, founder of P.I.C., Public Citizen Litigation Group and the Georgetown Center for Public Representation, have implications for all of us interested in the appropriate education of our disabled children. Lets hope justice will prevail.
The court has accepted the case. Oral arguments will be scheduled for April with the decision anticipated sometime in June.
Parent Information Center of New Jersey
Related Links Pursuant to IDEA
PIC IDEA Study Guide
Murphy v. Arlington case heads to the U.S. Supreme Court