Supreme Court Declines to Hear Special Education Case

By Mark Walsh — October 20, 2008 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of a Minnesota family in a case about the burden of proof in legal disputes over special education.

The appeal in M.M. v. Special School District No. 1, Minneapolis, comes from the parent of a child with multiple disabilities who ended up in administrative proceedings over the child’s services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

At issue is whether the parent or the state of Minnesota would have the burden of proof in the proceedings. In a 2005 opinion known as Schafferv. Weast, the Supreme Court held that where state law was silent on the issue, the burden of persuasion in special education cases lies with the party who brought the case. That is typically the parents, so the Schaffer decision was considered a victory for school districts.

But the justices stopped short of deciding which rule would apply in states that assign the burden of proof in such proceedings by law, such as Minnesota, which places the burden on school districts in most instances.

In M.M.'s case, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled in February that notwithstanding the Minnesota law, the burden of proof in the case should be on the moving party, which was the family.

In its Supreme Court appeal, the family said the 8th Circuit court was wrong to disregard that Minnesota has legislatively assigned the burden of proof to school districts. They were joined in a friend-of-the-court brief by the state of Minnesota and a brief by the Minnesota Disability Law Center.

The Minneapolis district filed a brief that urged the justices not to take up the case because there was not yet a split among the federal appeals courts on the issue.

After considering the appeal at several of their private conferences, the justices on Oct. 20 denied the appeal without comment.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.