High Court To Rule on Legal Fees for Parents

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case involving the right of parents or guardians of handicapped children to collect lawyers' fees in suits successfully argued under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142).

Lawyers for groups representing the handicapped say the Court's decision in Smith v. Robinson (Case No. 82-2120) is likely to affect the willingness of parents and others to seek relief for handicapped children in federal courts.

A U.S. district judge had ordered the State of Rhode Island to pay $32,109 in legal costs to the parents of Thomas Smith after they successfully argued before the court that their handicapped son had been denied a "free, appropri-ate" education.

In making the award, the court ruled that the Smiths were entitled to legal fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 and under 1978 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, even though their case was brought under P.L. 94-142, which does not expressly authorize such awards.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the decision of the lower federal court, ruling that the Smiths cannot recover legal fees because the decision in their case was not based on statutes that explicitly authorize fee awards.

Other federal courts have split on the issue recently, with several ruling that lawyers' fees in such cases can be recovered by the representatives of handicapped children.--tt

Vol. 03, Issue 10

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