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Archive for the ‘Disability Law’ Category

Hansen v. Republic R-III School District, No. 10-1514.

Larry Hansen’s son is a ninth-grade student in the Republic R-III School District (“Republic”) and has been diagnosed with conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”). Hansen has (1) been suspended numerous times for threatening classmates and teachers, (2) made suicidal comments on multiple occasions, (3) consistently performed poorly in his classes and standardized tests. At the end of his fifth-grade year, Hansen’s father initiated proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) for special education services for Hansen. After an eligibility evaluation, Republic determined that Hansen did not qualify. Hansen’s father challenged the decision through an administrative due process hearing, and the Due Process Panel agreed with Republic, noting that Hansen did not qualify for special education services under the IDEA as a matter of law.

Hansen’s father then sought judicial review of the panel’s decision. The district court agreed with Hansen’s father that Hansen was disabled as defined by the IDEA and, thus, eligible for special education services. Republic subsequently appealed the matter to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Hansen did not meet the statutory definition of a “child with a disability.”

The Eighth Circuit noted that the IDEA provides thirteen categories of eligibility, including “emotional disturbance” and “other health impairment.” The Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) defines “emotional disturbance” as a condition exhibiting at least one of the five listed characteristic “over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” The CFR’s definition precludes children who are only “socially maladjusted” and fail to exhibit at least one of the five provided characteristics. Republic contends that Hansen is socially maladjusted rather than emotional disturbed, as Hansen’s father alleges. The court agreed with Hansen’s father, stating that “consistently struggled to pass his classes, failed the standardized test . . . for advancement to the seventh grade, and suffered academically because of his diagnosed bipolar disorder.”

The court then explained that Hansen met the eligibility requirement for “other health impairment” under the IDEA. The CFR defines “other health impairment” as “having limited strength, vitality, or alertness . . . that—(i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as [ADHD] . . . and (ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” The court found that there was overwhelming evidence that Hansen suffered from ADHD and that his educational performance was affected by it.

Accordingly, the court held that Hansen meets the statutory definition of a “child with a disability” under the IDEA and affirmed the district court’s ruling.

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In September 2005, James Chapman was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard for failing to “maintain reasonable and consistent progress” during his probationary weight-loss period. He weighed around 250 pounds and had 32% body fat at the time he was discharged. In April, he had been given six months to shed 70 pounds and 8% body fat.

Chapman asked the Board for Correction of Military Records to vacate the discharge, reinstate him to active duty, or correct his military records so he could retire with 20 years of service. He had been approved to retire in September 2006. Chapman claimed the Coast Guard “condoned for 19 years his marginal weight performance,” and his commanding officer had unfairly singled him out in his last year of service. The board ruled against him, noting that he had previously been placed on weight probation in 1992, 1993, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.

Chapman then filed a claim under the Military Pay Act, alleging that his commanding officer had used the weight program to remove him from the Coast Guard for filing grievances. The Court of Federal Claims, however, found the board’s conclusion was reasonable based on Chapman’s previous compliance with the weight program through a combination of diet and exercise. The court further noted that compulsive overeating does not qualify as a physical disability in the military.

For the full story, click here.

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Elliot Spiegel sued Daniel “Tiger” Schulmann and UAK Management Co., claiming his weight got him fired as a karate instructor at the Tiger Schulmann Karate School in Stamford, Connecticut. Spiegel stated he has a medical condition called hypogonadism that prevents him from losing weight. He alleged invasion of privacy (based on Spiegel’s photos in a weight-loss advertisement), retaliation, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and state and city human rights laws.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuit entirely. On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that most of the case was meritless, including Spiegel’s bid for a different judge on remand. He argued that U.S. District Judge Sandra Townes was biased and “had undertaken to scour the record to find a basis for knocking out plaintiffs’ claims.”

However, the Second Circuit revived Spiegel’s claim that the karate school violated the New York City Human Rights Law barring employers from firing workers “because of an actual or perceived . . . disability” because no New York appellate court had yet addressed whether obesity alone could constitutes a disability the law.

For the full story, click here.

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In 2003, Disability Advocates, a nonprofit legal group, sued New York Governor David Patterson, the state’s Department of Health and Mental Health, and other defendants “on behalf of individuals with mental illness residing in, or at risk of entry into, ‘impacted adult homes’ in New York City.” The complaint alleged that adult homes are for-profit, large warehouse-like facilities that house hundreds of residents.

After a five-week trial last year, U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis found that the state “denied thousands of individuals with mental illness in New York City the opportunity to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate for their needs,” adding that “these actions constitute discrimination” under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The court noted that “virtually all” of the 4,300 mentally ill residents of adult homes were not in the most “integrated settings appropriate to meet their needs.” The judge then ordered the state to place all qualified mentally ill individuals in supported housing, if they choose, within four years.

In his most recent opinion, the judge criticized the state’s remedial proposal, saying it “scarcely begins to address the violations identified by the court.” The state proposed to create 200 supportive housing units per year over the next five years, for a total of only 1,000 new units. The judge wrote as follows:

The court is disappointed and, frankly, incredulous that defendants sincerely believe this proposal would suffice. As if failing to provide a meaningful remedy for current adult home residents were not bad enough, defendants also make absolutely no provision of supported housing for potential future adult home residents, ensuring that the violations found by this court will inevitably recur.

The judge also stated he will appoint a monitor to make sure the state complies with the order. For the full story, click here.

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