Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Case Law Development: U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Parents have Burden of Proof in Challenging IEPs

In a 6-2 decision today, the United States Supreme Court determined who has the burden of proof in administrative actions challenging their child's individualized education plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  The majority held that, "The burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief. In this case, that party is Brian, as represented by his parents. But the rule applies with equal effect to school districts: If they seek to challenge an IEP, they will in turn bear the burden of persuasion before an ALJ."  Parents had argued that school districts should always have the burden of proving that their IEP plans are valid and that fairness requires that districts have the burden of proof because they have access to the facts necessary to the review of the IEPs.  The majority of the court rejected both arguments, preferring the default position without stronger evidence of Congressional intent.  Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the decision and was joined by Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas. Justices Ginsberg and Breyer filed dissenting opinions. Chief Justice Roberts recused himself and did not take part in the case.

Shaffer v. Weast, 2005
Opinion on the web at (last visited November 14, 2005 bgf)

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