ST. LOUIS — A mother's claim that her young son had been unlawfully restrained and isolated at school in the Francis Howell School District has been dismissed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court affirmed a St. Louis federal-court decision that found it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction in Kristine McCauley's claim on behalf of her son J.M., as she failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The 8th Circuit also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over McCauley's human-rights claim.
McCauley's son, who began kindergarten in 2011, had qualified for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) because of his diagnoses of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism-spectrum disorder, anxiety disorder, separation-anxiety disorder, panic disorder, Asperger’s/autism spectrum disorder and generalized anxiety, according to court documents.
Her complaint alleged that J.M. was repeatedly placed in physical restraints and isolation without her knowledge between January 2012 and September 2014.
The decision stated that once she learned about her son's treatment, she immediately contacted the district and asked that restraints be used only when necessary and that he not be subject to isolation. She removed him from school on Sept. 5, 2014.
McCauley sued in federal court under the IDEA and Missouri common law, court documents reported. In amending the complaint, she added claims under American Disabilities Act and Missouri Human Rights Act. Later, the school district responded by stating that McCauley failed to exhaust administrative remedies for the federal claims and sovereign immunity for the common-law tort claims.
In response, McCauley amended her complaint removing the IDEA and common-law claims. In her second amended complaint, she included claims under the Equal Protection Clause, the ADA, a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the MHRA.
The court in the Eastern District of Missouri granted the school district's motion to dismiss in its argument that McCauley failed to exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA. McCauley countered that her claims were not under the IDEA and therefore not subject to exhaustion. In the alternative, she asserted exceptions to the exhaustion requirement.
In the decision filed March 7, the 8th Circuit panel determined that there were three exceptions to the exhaustion requirement: “futility,” the “inability of the administrative remedies to provide adequate relief,” and “the establishment of an agency policy or practice of general applicability that is contrary to law.”
McCauley had argued that the futility and inadequate-remedy exceptions apply to her case. She claimed that exhaustion would have been futile because she tried to take on her problems by directly getting in touch with the school.
But the appeals panel, which included Chief Judge William Riley and Judges James Loken and Duane Benton, found that McCauley did not seek to “address her concerns with isolation and physical restraint through the IEP process or modified J.M.’s IEP to reflect those concerns.”
She also claimed “the administrative process would not have addressed all her claims.”
"This, however, does not excuse exhaustion," the decision stated. "Although the administrative process may not address all claims, this court has held exhaustion is not futile because it would allow 'the agency to develop the record for judicial review and apply its expertise' to the plaintiff’s 'claims to the extent those claims are related to implementation' of the IEP."
The court also held that McCauley's claim that the administrative process did not provide adequate relief, as well as punitive and compensatory damages, is without merit.