In deciding Endrew F. V. Douglas County School District (U.S., No. 15-827, March 22, 2017), the U.S. Supreme Court partially filled a 35-year void it created in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176,in 1982 and aimed to resolve the divide between the circuit courts on the matter in ruling that the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide students with disabilities an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that enables them to make more than minimal progress.
At issue was the standard that public schools must meet to provide a “free appropriate public education,” or FAPE, to children with disabilities. Must there be a “just-above-trivial,” a “meaningful,” or some other measurable educational benefit? Different standards have been applied in different jurisdictions, creating vastly different educational experiences for students covered by IDEA.
In Endrew, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that a more than de minimis, or just-above-trivial, educational benefit was all a school district need provide, denying Endrew’s parents’ claim for reimbursement of tuition costs they incurred when they sent him to a private school that specialized in educating children with autism. (Click here and here for our prior coverage of this case.)
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Tenth Circuit’s judgment. Writing for the unanimous Court, Chief Justice Roberts emphasized that states participating in IDEA must educate a wide spectrum of students with disabilities. The justices rejected a merely more than de minimis standard as not offering any education at all for students who cannot be educated in the regular classroom. But they also rejected as unworkable the notion that states provide equal educational opportunity for all students.
In finding a middle ground, the Court zeroed in on the language and intent of the Act and its focus on each particular child. Under the Court’s analysis, the key requirements to a FAPE are found in IDEA’s IEP provisions. There, a child’s present level of achievement is first identified, then according to the regulations there must be “a statement of measurable annual goals . . . designed to . . . enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.”
“[E]very child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” Roberts wrote, adding that “this standard is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.” However, the Court declined to further elaborate on what is appropriate progress from case to case, leaving that to the circumstances of the child and the expertise and judgment of school officials and parents. The Court simply said that “a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.
For the full text of the Court’s opinion, click here.
Finding no clear and convincing evidence that the deceased beneficiary of a pooled special needs trust intended funds remaining in her account to go to her children, and that the doctrine of laches also applies, a U.S. district court denies a claim to reform the trust. National Foundation for Special Needs Integrity, Inc. v. Reese (S.D. Ind., No. 1:15-cv-00545-TWP-DKL, March 21, 2017).
Theresa Givens established a pooled SNT with settlement proceeds she received for injuries from a medical procedure. Upon her death, her adult children sought the funds left in her account for themselves. National Foundation, trustee of the pooled special needs trusts, refused their requests and retained the funds in the pooled trust’s remainder share account. Ms. Givens had named only herself as contingent beneficiary in the Joinder Agreement she signed when she set up the trust.
More than three years after his mother’s death, Ms. Givens’ son Devon Reese pursued legal action to recover the money for her children. Mr. Reese claimed that their mother intended them to receive the funds and had mistakenly named herself as beneficiary. When National Foundation sought a declaration from the court that it had properly transferred the funds into its remainder share account, Mr. Reese counterclaimed seeking reformation of the trust agreement to reflect what he contended were his mother’s wishes.
The court previously held on summary judgment that National Foundation had properly retained the funds in accordance with the unambiguous terms of the trust agreement. (For earlier coverage of the case, click here and here.) Before the court were the remaining questions of Ms. Givens’ intent at the time of signing the Joinder Agreement and National Foundation’s affirmative defense of laches.
“The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denies Mr. Reese’s claim for reformation and grants National Foundation’s affirmative defense of laches. The court finds that a few statements Ms. Givens made about wanting to help her children before and after executing the Joinder Agreement were contradicted by other statements she had made to counsel and by the language of the trust documents. Therefore, the court concludes there is no clear and convincing evidence that she intended to transfer the remainder funds to her children when she executed the agreement. The court further finds that Mr. Reese’s delay in asserting the reformation claim was inexcusable because he knew for years about National Foundation’s intent to retain the funds and failed to act. Reformation of the Joinder Agreement now is time barred because it would prejudice National Foundation and its current pooled trust members, the court concludes.”
For a full text of this decision, click here.
Reprinted from the Academy of Special Needs Planners: https://attorney.elderlawanswers.com/court-denies-claim-to-reform-pooled-snt-agreement-in-favor-of-deceased-beneficiarys-children-16020?utm_source=ASNP%2BMonthly%2BApril%2B2017&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Article%2B2