Subj: ALERT! NEW DECISION IN
"TIME-OUT ROOM" ABUSE CASE
Date: 3/7/00 5:01:51 PM Pacific Standard Time
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Wrightslaw)
ALERT! NEW DECISION IN "TIME-OUT ROOM" ABUSE CASE FROM SIXTH CIRCUIT
On Monday, March 6, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision about damages in COVINGTON V KNOX COUNTY (TN)."
* * BACKGROUND * *
David Jason Covington, now 22 years of age, "was a special education student at the Knoxville Adaptive Education Center from 1990 until he graduated with a special education decision in May 1996. He suffers from 'multiple mental and emotional disabilities.'"
"TIME-OUT ROOM" -- OR CELL?
In the complaint, Jason's parent alleged that "on several occasions between 1990 and 1994, Jason was locked in a 'time out room' that could only be unlocked from the outside." The 'time-out room' sounds like a cell, and was described in the complaint as follows:
". . . approximately four feet by six feet, dark and 'vault-like,' with a concrete floor, no furniture, no heat, no
ventilation, and only one small reinforced window located at least five feet above the floor."
In her complaint, the parent "claims that Jason was repeatedly locked in the time-out room for several hours at a time without supervision and was often not allowed to leave the room for lunch. On at least one occasion, Jason was allegedly made to disrobe before being locked in the time-out room . . . [and] because of the lack of supervision by school officials and the long duration of his confinement, Jason was forced to relieve himself on the concrete floor of the room and to remain there with his excrement for a period of time."
TENNESSEE DEPT. OF ED. FAILS TO INVESTIGATE, SENDS ABUSE COMPLAINT BACK TO SCHOOL DISTRICT
These incidents led Jason's mother to file an administrative complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education on March 17, 1994.
What did the Tennessee Department of Education Do? Did the Department of Education conduct an unannounced on-site visit to determine whether these allegations were true?
According to the pleadings, the Department of Education did not investigate the allegations. Instead, the Department of Education referred the complaint back to the Knox County School System. What did Knox County do? The pleadings state that "The Knox County School System wrote a letter that denied the allegations in part and 'attempted to explain the school officials actions, but offered no other relief.'"
Following this, Jason's parent requested a due process hearing. Although the due process hearing was rescheduled several times, often at the parent's request, the hearing was never held. On April 3, 1998, Jason's mother filed a complaint in federal district court. She alleged that her son's civil rights had been violated and raised state-law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. The complaint did not
mention the IDEA.
Knox County Schools moved for summary judgment. A Motion for Summary Judgment states that even if the facts are true, the plaintiff does not have a case. In this instance, the school district asserted that because the parent failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, the case must be dismissed. The district court agreed. The court found that the parent was required to exhaust her administrative remedies under IDEA "because her complaint involved the school's disciplinary practices." Because she "had not exhausted her administrative remedies and that she had failed to demonstrate that such exhaustion would be futile" the district court granted the school
district's motion and dismissed the case.
The Court of Appeals reversed.
* * EXCEPTIONS TO EXHAUSTION REQUIREMENT * *
In their decision, the Sixth Circuit discussed exceptions to the exhaustion requirement under IDEA:
" . . . we hold that in the unique circumstances of this case -- in which the injured child has already graduated from the special education school, his injuries are wholly in the past, and therefore money damages are the only remedy that can make him whole -- proceeding through the state's administrative process would be futile and is not required before the plaintiff can file suit in federal court."
In support of their decision, the Court cited the recent Ninth Circuit decision in WITTE V. CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT (9th Cir. 1999).
If you are a long-time newsletter subscriber, you remember the WITTE case. Subscribers received an Alert when the WITTE decision was issued.
In WITTE, the child suffered physical and emotional abuse by education officials and later requested monetary damages. The Ninth Circuit found that relief for the child's injuries was 'retrospective only' and that . . . relief available under the IDEA was not well-suited to remedying past instances of physical injury."
In PDF: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/9th_Witte_ClarkCo_991202.pdf
In support of their decision in COVINGTON, the Sixth Circuit also cited W. B. V. MATULA (3rd Cir. 1995) which held "that exhaustion was not required for plaintiffs seeking money damages, because damages are unavailable through the administrative process . . ." Get the full text of the new COVINGTON decision in pdf format at
and in html format at
* * CAUTIONARY NOTE FROM WRIGHTSLAW * *
As part of the legal analysis of this case, the Court of Appeals assumed that the factual allegations were true. This is a factor used by courts to test a legal principle and does not mean that the factual allegations have been proven true.
In COVINGTON (and in WITTE), there has not yet been a trial by judge or jury where factual allegations were proven to be either true or false. In both cases, the lower courts dismissed the cases on an issue of law, while assuming that the facts were true.
Thus, when reading appellate decisions, it is necessary to determine if the facts in the opinion have been proven true as a result of a trial, or are simply the facts that are alleged in the complaint, and for purposes of legal analysis, were assumed to be true.
* * SIXTH CIRCUIT STATES * *
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