In 2007, Montana Lance attended elementary school in Lewisville ISD. Montana received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for emotional disturbance, learning disability, and a speech impairment. From 2007 to 2010, students bullied Montana and taunted him because of his speech impediment and harassed him by calling him gay. The court noted that the record showed the district took few, if any, steps to address these issues or alert his parents to them. After a confrontation in class, Montana was sent to the nurse’s office to be placed in ISS. In ISS, Montana requested to go to the nurse’s restroom, where he hanged himself.
Montana’s parents filed suit. Relying on Doe v. Covington County School District, which had not yet been overruled en banc, the court ruled similar elements had been met: Montana was very young, suffered a disability, the school took little or no action to protect him, and the district took him into its custody and placed him in an isolated setting. The court stated that the district additionally exhibited deliberate indifference by its lack of action with respect to Montana’s suicide threats and emotional disabilities.
On September 11, 2012, the federal district court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against Lewisville ISD in light of the holding in Doe ex rel. Magee v. Covington County School District, 675 F.3d 849 (5th Cir. 2012) (en banc). The parents appealed the dismissal of their claims to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 26, 2013, LAF filed an amicus brief in support of the school district.
On February 28, 2014, a panel of the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion in favor of Lewisville ISD, concluding that the evidence in the case established that the district satisfied its Section 504 obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education by implementing a valid IEP under IDEA and that the record evidenced a pattern of active responses by the district to incidents involving Montana such that no discriminatory intent could be imputed to the school district. The court also held that no special relationship existed between Montana and the district and declined to recognize a state-created danger theory of liability.
Lance v. Lewsiville Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 12-41139 (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals). LAF’s Attorney: Lisa A. Brown, Thompson & Horton, LLP, Houston.