Alert March 22, 2012

Recent Statutory Actions

Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools
--Shanna M. Ramsower

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently vacated a trial court’s order certifying a class in an action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 2089 (7th Cir. Feb. 3, 2012).  The plaintiffs sued the Milwaukee Public Schools and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, alleging that the school district failed to identify disabled children in need of special education, and to tailor individualized education programs for such children as required by the IDEA.  The District Court certified a class of students eligible for special education in the district “who are, have been, or will be” denied or delayed participation in the individualized education process. 

The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding the case unsuitable for class certification because the class was indefinite, the claims lacked the requisite commonality, and no injunctive or declaratory relief could be ordered that would provide final relief on a class-wide basis.  Because some of the class was comprised of students who had never been identified, the court found that “there is no way to know or readily ascertain who is a member of the class.”  It also held that because the claims were not based upon any illegal policy, but rather allegations of a failure to abide by a policy in a variety of circumstances, the plaintiffs could not meet the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2) because resolving any individual class member’s claim would require inquiry into each child’s circumstances. 

The court finally held that the class could not be certified as an injunction class under Rule 23(b)(2).  Because the injunctive relief ordered by the District Court was to initiate a process for individualized determinations of liability and the appropriate remedies, the Seventh Circuit found that the class did not meet the requirement of Rule 23(b)(2) that any injunctive or declaratory relief must be appropriate as to the class as a whole.