Dilworth Paxson Defeats Third Circuit Appeal in Putative IDEA Class Action

July 14, 2021

Dilworth Paxson Defeats Third Circuit Appeal in Putative IDEA Class Action Dilworth Paxson LLP attorneys, led by Partner Marjorie McMahon Obod, upheld judgment for the School District of Philadelphia in a precedential opinion by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. This opinion affirmed the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s grant of summary judgment in a putative class action lawsuit brought against the District by limited English proficient (LEP) parents with children enrolled in schools within the District that alleged that the District failed to provide sufficient translation and interpretation services to LEP parents as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The School District of Philadelphia, through its team at Dilworth, sought to show that the District addresses the translation and interpretation needs of LEP parents, on a case-by-case and individual basis in accordance with the IDEA and other applicable law.

In the District Court, Dilworth’s team first defeated the plaintiffs’ class certification motion, with the Court holding that neither the numerosity nor commonality elements of Rule 23(a) had been met and that injunctive relief under Rule 23(b)(2) was not appropriate because of the highly individualized nature of the IDEA’s requirements. “[T]he ‘meaningful participation’ standard [of the IDEA] is not subject to common enforcement . . . . ‘Meaningful participation,’ therefore, does not proscribe a certain course of conduct by a school district, but rather requires a fact-intensive inquiry into the individual circumstances.” The District Court later granted summary judgment in favor of the District, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to bringing suit and that LEP parents could achieve the remedies sought via the administrative process.

Plaintiffs appealed both the denial of their class certification motion and the summary judgment entered against them. The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment, holding that the plaintiffs had failed to show a systemic violation of the IDEA by the District and therefore had failed to exhaust their individual administrative remedies as required by the statute.  “[A]s the District Court correctly observed, whether a parent needs a certain translation or interpretation service in order to meaningfully participate requires an individualized inquiry . . . .  Looking beyond Plaintiffs’ class-action overtures, it is clear that they can obtain relief through the administrative process.” With none of plaintiffs’ claims surviving summary judgment, the Third Circuit did not address the denial of their class certification motion.

In addition to Ms. Obod, the Dilworth attorneys representing the District included Partner Danielle Goebel, Partner James Rodgers and Associate Jessica Titler-Lingle.

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