U.S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments for Case Involving Dykema Pro Bono Client
On Monday, October 31, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving one of Dykema’s pro bono clients, a 12-year-old girl from Jackson, Michigan, Ehlena Fry, and her family. Having the Supreme Court agree to hear arguments in any matter is extremely rare; as the Court receives between 7,000 and 8,000 petitions for writs of certiorari each year, granting only about 80 per year—a success rate of about 1 percent. At the heart of the appeal is whether students in certain circumstances can bring claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act without first exhausting administrative processes under a separate law.
When she was just five years old, Ehlena, who has cerebral palsy, was banned from bringing her service dog, Wonder, to class. Her school district claimed that it would provide a human aide instead of allowing Wonder to accompany her to class. The Fry family urged the school district to allow Wonder to accompany her because the dog would help her become independent in her life both in and out of school, something that a school-based human aide would not be able to do. The Frys eventually chose to enroll Ehlena in a different school district that would welcome her dog, Wonder.
The Fry family eventually decided that they wanted to prevent something like this from ever happening to any other students in the future and decided file suit against Ehlena’s former school district for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Frys contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who then reached out to Heidi Naasko, Dykema’s Pro Bono Counsel, asking Dykema to partner with them on a pro bono basis. Dykema member Jim Hermon handled the case at the district court level, and the leader of the Firm’s appellate practice, Jill Wheaton, handled the case in the Sixth Circuit.
Professor Sam Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School, a nationwide expert in disability rights law and former disability rights attorney at the Department of Justice, contacted Dykema and the ACLU to encourage the filing of a cert petition. Dykema and the ACLU assisted with research, drafting, and later, getting everything filed with the Court and moot courting before the United States Supreme Court granted cert in June. Professor Bagenstos argued in front of the Supreme Court on Monday with Wheaton sitting with him at table as co-counsel. A decision is expected from the Court by June 2017.