IEPs: Individual Education Plan or Incredibly Exasperating Plan

Individualized Education Plans (hereinafter IEPs) are critical for the educational progress of children with disabilities. An IEP as defined under 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1) is a “written statement for each child with a disability” that includes information regarding the child’s current education level and performance, annual goals, progress reports on the child’s ability to meet those goals, lists of services and resources in place to be provided to the child, and a description of the extent the child will participate with nondisabled students in classes and activities.

The Supreme Court case, Endrew v. Douglas County School District, decided earlier this year should have had parents dancing in the streets. It held that to meet the obligations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), IEPs should be created with the goal of educational progress for a child with a disability in mind. The broad focus of IEPs encourages children with disabilities to become thriving students by increasing access to resources and educational goals. However, the Endrew case, while well-intentioned, did nothing to help parents and guardians of those children with disabilities understand the IEP so that they may ensure that their children are getting access to the resources needed for them to thrive.

IEPs are written in highly technical language, making it difficult for the average parent to understand. As a result, the fiercest advocates for these children are potentially excluded from doing so, simply because they cannot understand the document. Moreover, these parents are forced to spend hundreds of dollars to hire an advocate to navigate them through the IEP process. When it comes to one’s child, most parents are willing to do anything for them and may be prohibited when crucial documents are drafted with such highfalutin and technical language that they cannot fully comprehend.

A parent or guardian knows their child better than anyone. They know what will allow their child to succeed. They have probably been to every doctor and therapy appointment. They have probably researched their child’s particular disability in depth. They have spent years developing strategies and learning what steps to take in order for their child to succeed, but are precluded from advocating for their child simply because of a piece of paper they cannot understand. This piece of paper has such power. It determines a child’s access to resources over the course of the school year.

One concerned parent of a child with autism noted:
They are written in legal language and terminology that most parents do
not understand. Parents tend to assume that the school automatically
knows what the children need and just sign off on the IEPs due to the
language. Additionally, if parents have questions regarding the
document, the school tends to send the message that it’s inconvenient to
take time to over things in a broken down or simplified way. Frankly,
many parents put too much trust in the education administration because
of the jargon used. And not to say that all school systems fall into the
category of doing what’s best for their bottom line, but that’s been our
experience.
-Brittney Effler

Brittney Effler is a mother to a three-year-old boy on the autism spectrum with childhood apraxia of speech about to begin pre-school. He may be on the spectrum, but he is capable of doing just about anything when given the correct resources. A parent knows best, but without being able to assess what an IEP is actually providing for a child, how can a parent advocate zealously for a child? For a child on the spectrum, every resource counts. It could mean the difference between verbal and non-verbal, socializing and making friends, or even gaining a level of independence that every child is entitled to no matter what disability they may have.

The spirit of the Endrew case cannot be achieved for as long as IEPs remain inaccessible to the majority of parents and guardians. The responsibility is on the parents and guardians to advocate for their child to ensure their child makes progress and does not plateau, but they cannot do so if they do not understand the document that states how the school system plans on achieving success for each and every child.

New Bedford Opioid Forum Keynote Speaker Emphasizes Community as an Approach to the Opioid Epidemic

On October 2, 2017, the New Bedford Whaling Museum hosted “Finding Solutions: a Community Opioid Forum.” The forum was intended to provide an opportunity for law enforcement officials, medical workers, and community members to converse about the problem of opioid addiction in Massachusetts. The keynote speaker, Mr. Michael Botticelli, is the current Executive Director of the new Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center. As a person who struggled with addiction himself, Mr. Botticelli talked about significant challenges to recovery, and stated that the ultimate cure to the addiction crisis is community. He identified multiple factors which helped create the problem of opioid addiction, and ways that the same entities who helped create the problem can help solve it.

One of the sources of the problem which may also provide solution is healthcare workers. Mr. Botticelli described the impact of the prescription drug market on today’s opioid crisis with a stark statistic: in 2012, enough opioid-based pain medications were prescribed to provide every American with a bottle. Today, however, safe prescribing practices and use of non-addictive alternative pain management methods have significantly cut down the amount of opioid medications being prescribed. Aside from these safer prescription practices, Mr. Botticelli advocated for earlier intervention at hospitals and by healthcare providers when it becomes apparent that a patient has a drug or alcohol addiction disorder. He stated that the idea of reaching “rock bottom” before treatment can begin is part of the problem. Healthcare workers should strive to identify problems before there is an overdose to provide more effective treatment and potentially diversion from the criminal justice system. Mr. Botticelli said that a person with hypertension is not told to wait for treatment until she has a heart attack, so waiting for people with drug addiction disorders to reach their most severe state prior to treatment is hypocritical.

The failure of the criminal justice system to provide treatment options in lieu of incarceration has also exacerbated the opioid crisis, but Mr. Botticelli stated that the criminal justice system is also the most common source of referrals for the treatment of drug addiction disorders. Although the New Bedford Opioid forum focused largely on the diligent work of local law enforcement and healthcare workers, it is critical for legal minds to remember that they can make a difference too. Many of the issues faced by people with addiction disorders are the everyday issues of marginalized populations, but exacerbated by a chemical dependence. As zealous advocates, lawyers should remember that beyond preventing their clients from succumbing to eviction, criminal liability, and other legal maladies, they are also in a unique position to be able to determine whether their client has a drug or alcohol problem. Zealous advocacy is not merely solving a client’s discrete legal problem, but helping the client find solutions to remain out of trouble.

In sum, Mr. Botticelli is one hundred percent on point in emphasizing community. Drug addiction disorders have impacted New England for long enough. Every person in nearly every profession can find a way to make a positive change, even if it’s only in their attitude.

UMass Law Review Hosts an Immigration Law Symposium

Immigration has become a divisive issue for our nation. At the end of 2016, NBC news identified immigration as one of eight issues that would shape politics in 2016. After the election of President Donald J. Trump, immigration became a hotly debated issue as the President threatened to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities. The problem is that sanctuary city is not defined in law. Nonetheless, it prompted hundreds of cities and towns, including several in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to offer “sanctuary” for immigrants who came to this country illegally. These cities vowed not to prosecute otherwise law abiding immigrants. Meanwhile, President Trump moved quickly once in office to institute a travel ban barring refugees from seven Muslim countries for 120 days and suspending travel from these countries for 90 days. The order was effective against foreign visitors and permanent U.S. residents. A day later, a federal judge in New York issued an emergency stay of the order allowing for the release of travelers with visas at U.S. airports and stopping deportations of travelers. Following this, several states took legal action against the President claiming that the ban will cause “irreparable harm.” On February 3rd, a federal judge out of Washington issued a temporary restraining order suspending the ban nationwide. On February 9th, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals heard the appeal and refused to reinstate the travel ban arguing that the government had not shown that irreparable injury would be caused by the stay.

The back and forth continued in March as the President signed a new executive order, but it met a similar fate at Federal District Courts in Hawaii and Maryland. Then a few weeks later, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled that the order was justified. The order is currently in limbo right now but it is very possible that it may go before the Supreme Court.

As a result, the University of Massachusetts Law Review has decided to take on this topic for our annual law school symposium. The event entitled, The Immigration Symposium: Beyond the Wall, is scheduled for April 6th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will not only discuss the legal intricacies of this complex topic but it will also mark the American Bar Association’s Law Day which focuses on the 14th Amendment this year. It will also mark a milestone for the University: the 15th anniversary of the Immigration Law Clinic, which provides free legal assistance to individuals with immigration matters.

The event will start with a light breakfast at 8 a.m. This will be followed by an alumni panel from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. featuring local immigration attorneys who graduated from the University of Massachusetts School of Law and participated in the Immigration Clinic. At 10 a.m. the discussion will continue as we zero in on the topic of sanctuary cities featuring Sheriff Hodgson, Mayor Curtatone of Somerville, Councilwoman Emily Norton of Newton, and Sarand Sekhavat, the Federal Policy Director for Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. This has been a hotly debated issue in Massachusetts and has made headlines in both the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Mayor Curtatone, most notably, being one of the first mayors to announce that his city would be a sacntuary city and forego federal funding if it came down to it. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials like Sheriff Hodgson of Dartmouth, Massachusetts shot back saying we should prosecute illegal immigrants to the full extent of the law. The panel promises to be lively as well as informative and balanced.

The third panel of the day (11:30-12:30) will feature three subject matter experts on the Middle East and refugees discussing issues surrounding the travel ban. We will talk to immigration attorney Subhan Tariq about practicing in the field as a Muslim attorney. He will also weigh in on the legal implications of the travel ban. We will also check in with Dr. Joseph Roberts of Roger Williams University. Dr. Roberts is a Middle Eastern expert who will discuss the implications of the travel ban in an international context. Lastly, a representative from the Massachusetts Bar Association will join us to discuss local efforts to overturn and challenge the travel ban.

The keynote speaker at the event will be former Congressman Barney Frank. Congressman Frank will weigh in on both the President’s policy on sanctuary cities and his recent executive orders concerning immigration. He will discuss the future of our nation and immigration as well as some of the circumstances leading up to President Trump’s immigration crackdown. Congressman Frank will speak at 12:45 p.m. Then the event will conclude with lunch and refreshments.

Autonomous Liability

Hypothetical: A Google Self-Driving Car is stationary at a traffic signal in Amherst, Massachusetts. At the same time, a Tesla Model S, utilizing its “Autopilot” feature, is traveling on the same road at a constant velocity of 65 miles per hour, the posted speed limit. If the Tesla fails to stop and crashes into the Google Self-Driving Car, who is liable?

The above hypothetical presents quite a few legal questions. First, Massachusetts laws do not currently allow the statewide operation of autonomous vehicles on state roadways. A bill sponsored by Brian A. Joyce (Senate Bill No. 1867) to legalize the operation of autonomous vehicles in Massachusetts is pending before the Senate Committee on Transportation. However, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation appears hesitant to embrace the growing demand for autonomous vehicles, especially following the death of Joshua Brown, who was killed in May 2016 when his Autonomous Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer at 65 miles per hour without applying the brakes. On the other hand, while MassDOT cautiously waits for more information about autonomous vehicles, the Massachusetts highway safety director, Jeff Larason, commented that the Tesla fatality, although a “‘horrible tragedy,’ should not undermine the good that accident-avoidance technology might achieve.”

The second issue is the principle question of liability; simply, who is liable in the event of an autonomous vehicle collision? Liability would largely depend on whether human error played a role in the collision. Considering the most recent autonomous vehicle accident—which occurred on September 30, 2016 and involved a Tesla and a German bus—almost every car crash involving an autonomous car was due largely to human error. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error accounts for approximately 94% of all autonomous car accidents. Thus, without more facts about the actions of the operators (or lack thereof) in the above-scenario, it is difficult to determine liability.

If human error accounts for almost all autonomous car accidents, will there be a decline in motor vehicle accidents as autonomous and accident-avoidance technologies evolve and become more commonplace? Interestingly, some legal experts predict that as a result of these technologies, we will see a large decline in traffic accidents and correspondingly, in tort claims. Some view that the purported decline in traffic accidents will mean that lawyers whose practices largely depend on auto accident claims may need to find another field of practice.

Sources:

Alexi Davies, Obviously Drivers Are Already Abusing Tesla’s Autopilot, Wired, Oct. 22, 2015, https://www.wired.com/2015/10/obviously-drivers-are-already-abusing-teslas-autopilot/.

Bill Vlasic & Neal E. Boudette, As U.S. Investigates Fatal Tesla Crash, Company Defends Autopilot System, N.Y. Times, Jul. 12, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/business/tesla-autopilot-fatal-crash-investigation.html?_r=0.

Hiawatha Bray, Without legislation, robotic cars can’t be tested on Mass. Roads, Boston Globe, Jul. 4, 2016, https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/07/03/without-legislation-robotic-cars-can-tested-mass-roads/NlGzpVSfIWbxHEOUcOPNiM/story.html.

Pat Murphy, Self-driving cars to usher in new age for PI lawyer, R.I. Lawyers Weekly, Sep. 29, 2016, http://masslawyersweekly.com/2016/09/29/self-driving-cars-to-usher-in-new-age-for-pi-lawyers/.

Reuters, Tesla Autopilot not to blame for bus accident in Germany, company says, Guardian, Sep. 30, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/30/tesla-autopilot-bus-crash-germany.

Recent SJC Case Will Aid Immigrant Children Between the Ages of 18 and 21 in Massachusetts

Since 2014, the United States has seen over 160,000 unaccompanied immigrant children reach its borders. (See Improving the Protection and Fair Treatment of Unaccompanied Children September 2016, available at: https://supportkind.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/KIND-Protection-and-Fair-Treatment-Report_September-2016-FINAL.pdf.). These children face multiple challenges and horrors that force them to flee their home countries. According to the legal representation organization Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), there is a particularly large flow of unaccompanied children from Central America. From gang and drug related violence, to sexual assault and rape, children from this region often make their way to the U.S. hoping to just find a place to feel safe. Countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are among some of the most dangerous and violence-ridden countries in the world.

So, what happens to such a child once they reach our borders? Well, Congress enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and included a provision that created a path for citizenship for immigrant children. The journey begins with obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). To acquire SIJS, the child must first be found by a state juvenile court to be: (1) a dependent on the juvenile court; (2) her reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment; and (3) it is not in her best interests to return to her country of origin. Once these findings are made, an application for SIJS may be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency. An application for SIJS must be submitted before the child’s twenty-first (21) birthday.

It is at this juncture that some immigrant children face a huge issue in most states, including Massachusetts. Children seeking SIJS must first obtain an order from the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. However, the Probate and Family Court usually only has jurisdiction over children under the age of eighteen (18), while the INA provides relief for children under the age of twenty-one (21).

What about children falling in between the ages of eighteen (18) and twenty-one (21)? Previously, these children would have to find another way of acquiring lawful admission into the U.S. or face deportation. However, in March 2016, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) provided an equitable remedy so that children falling within this age gap have a fair chance at citizenship. In the case Recinos v. Escobar, the SJC found that the Probate and Family Court does have broad equity powers that it may invoke when encountering an immigrant child between the ages of eighteen (18) and twenty-one (21). Recinos v. Escobar, 473 Mass. 734, 740. (2016). In other words, it gives the Probate and Family Court jurisdiction over children older than eighteen (18) but younger than twenty-one (21) for the purpose of making the required findings needed to apply for SIJS. This case now sets the precedent in Massachusetts that children who are in this this age gap can now attain SIJS. Given the large number of unaccompanied immigrant children still fleeing to the U.S., this important decision will now enable a previously over-looked group of children in Massachusetts the opportunity to feel secure and safe in the U.S.

Is Amazon.com a Monopoly?

Amazon.com, the preeminent online marketplace for seemingly all goods that exist, has been a lightning rod for criticism.  It experienced backlash over trying to control the e-book market and putting brick and mortar bookstores out of business.  It has also been accused of being a monopoly in violation of antitrust law.  News recently broke about Amazon potentially looking into the creation of their own delivery service in order to stop paying fees for the sue of UPS and FedEx.  With this addition, the evidence for Amazon being a monopoly may actually increase.

A monopoly has been defined by the Supreme Court to have two elements: the power to control prices and/or exclude competition in a similar market and the willful acquisition or maintenance of said power as a consequence of a superior product.  Clearly, determining the “market” that Amazon appeals to is a challenge, as they offer so many products which cover a wide spectrum of demographics.  However, if Amazon were to use their own delivery service, this would be directly attacking the market of UPS and FedEx.  The courts look to three things in determining these elements: market power, exclusionary conduct and business justification.

In using their own service (dubbed “Consume the City” by some, as a nod to Amazon’s efforts to control delivery on every street corner), Amazon would be able to control their shipping costs.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon spent over $10 billion in recent years in shipping on a mere quarterly basis while boasting a quarterly income of over $30 billion.  Clearly, the market power of Amazon is staggering, especially when one considers that it began as a mere online book retailer.

By cutting out the middle man, so to speak, Amazon would essentially decide on their own terms what to charge customers while also getting packages to them faster and making an impact on Amazon sales of billions.  There appear to be 40-50 million Amazon Prime subscribers in the United States alone.  If Amazon is offering every product under the sun at their own, discounted price, why would a customer use a website that charges more for shipping?  This would directly impact UPS and FedEx and have an exclusionary impact on them.  This seems as though it fits into the first element.

The second element would be a little more difficult to prove.  If the market was gained as a result of superior products or innovation, then this is allowed.  However, exclusionary supply or refusal to deal with a merchant would apply.  The only superior product that Amazon would be offering is its delivery system but it would not be delivering products outside of Amazon; therefore, its supposed superior delivery would seem to only apply to specific products and may act as exclusionary.  This could be seen as an unlawful use of its new power under the second element.

The courts would side with Amazon if they had a proper business justification for this new service.  On its face, this certainly does seem to favor the consumer if it truly does offer a better delivery service that is both cheaper and faster.  It is well known at this point that Amazon is experimenting with the use of drones for delivery so there is a history of attempting to implement new, faster forms of delivery.

Ultimately, Amazon may very well already have a monopoly and could be expanding its monopoly to delivery companies.  If UPS and FedEx were to lose their ability to deliver Amazon packages, they would suffer great financial burdens and need to completely retool their approach to delivery.  After all, the busiest time of the year for delivery companies is the holiday season when consumers need a package to arrive as soon as possible; Amazon already offers free two-day shipping for Amazon Prime members and will sometimes even offer free overnight shipping.  Once UPS and FedEx lose their place for the holidays, it could be disastrous for these companies.  However, proving a monopoly that results in damages or an agreement to stop their own delivery service would be difficult to prove.  But companies such as UPS and FedEx must be wary of this new development.

Repealing the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act; An Inhumane Approach to Immigration

American foreign and migration policy should reflect Cuba in 2016, and not 1966, and there is a fairer and more human way of expediting the immigration process for Cubans as well as other foreign natives. Ninety miles of water is the only thing that stands in the way of Cuban migrants from the shores of Key West, Florida. In 1966 the United States in response to Cuba’s communist political association loosened up the rules of their current immigration system and created the Cuban Adjustment Act.

This act also known as the wet foot/ dry foot policy allows a native or citizen of Cuba, who has been inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States and has been physically present in the United States for at least one year, to apply for permanent residency in the United States. In reality this law means that if a Cuban native can reach United States land they are allowed to stay. If they are captured at sea they are sent home, just to embark on the same journey the next week.

The United States Coast Guard in 2015 stopped 4,462 Cubans who attempted to illegally enter the United States by sea. Coast Guard officials in Florida are alarmed by the increasingly drastic, and violent, tactics Cuban migrants are threatening, or using, to reach freedom. This law invites Cubans to take greater risks to reach U.S. shores, and is increasingly endangering the lives of the Coast Guardsmen charged with standing in their way. Desperation has caused men and women to severely injure themselves when the United States Coast Guard approaches so they are flown to a nearby United States hospital.

No other immigrant community is afforded the same on-arrival treatment. A number of Governors and State Representatives have called for action, including Mark Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, who stated “the special treatment afforded to those fleeing Cuba must be re-examined in light of outrageous abuse of the existing law.”

The United States Immigration Service has in place a system that grants refugee status or asylum to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. This process allows for additional security measures, such as a fingerprinting and background checks, to ensure that the United States is affording the opportunity for migration while ensuring the safety of the Country. Ultimately this process ensures that applicants across the world who are really are in need of asylum are afforded it.

Therefore, repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act is the first step to create a working, fair, and human process to an immigration policy that allows equal protection to all.

Sources:

8 U.S.C. § 1255 (2006)

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2016/04/21/fearing-end-wet-foot-dry-foot-cubans-fleeing-to-us-in-record-numbers/

https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-refugee-or-asylee-status

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/12/marco-rubio-bill-cuban-immigrants-federal-benefits-prove-persecution