The opinion of the court was delivered by: HENDERSON
On August 4, 1997, a group of defendants in the above-captioned matter, comprised of California's Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, the California Department of Education ("CDE"), and several members of the California Board of Education (collectively referred to as the "State Defendants"), filed a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, on a variety of grounds. This motion came before the Court for hearing on September 22, 1997. Having considered the written and oral arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following Order.
The eight named plaintiffs in this class action are school-aged children with disabilities who presently attend, or have in the past attended, schools in the Ravenswood City School District ("Ravenswood"). Plaintiffs allege that Ravenswood has failed not only to meet their individual educational needs, but has also failed to provide similarly-situated children within its jurisdiction a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"), as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and various other state and federal laws. Plaintiffs accordingly filed this action on November 18, 1996, pursuant to the IDEA; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. ; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and a variety of state law causes of action. In addition to the State Defendants, plaintiffs are proceeding against Ravenswood and a number of Ravenswood officials ("Ravenswood Defendants"). The plaintiff class seeks declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief.
The State Defendants now move to dismiss various aspects of plaintiffs' claims, or, in the alternative, move for summary judgment.
1. Motion to Dismiss, or for Summary Judgment, for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
A plaintiff, before bringing suit under the IDEA, must first exhaust the administrative remedies provided by the act. Doe v. Arizona Dept. of Educ., 111 F.3d 678, 680 (9th Cir. 1997). This exhaustion requirement applies not only to a plaintiffs' IDEA claims, but also to any other federal claims seeking relief that would be available under the IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f); Charlie F. v. Board of Educ. of Skokie Sch. Dist., 98 F.3d 989, 992 (7th Cir. 1996). Within the Ninth Circuit, moreover, the exhaustion requirement appears to be jurisdictional in nature. See Dreher v. Amphitheater Unif. Sch. Dist., 22 F.3d 228, 231 (9th Cir. 1994); Hoeft v. Tucson Unif. Sch. Dist., 967 F.2d 1298, 1302 (9th Cir. 1992); but see Charlie F., 98 F.3d at 991 (holding that exhaustion can be waived, and thus is not jurisdictional).
In an Order filed July 10, 1997, the Court dismissed the entirety of plaintiffs' action against the Ravenswood defendants, finding that plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The State Defendants now seek dismissal on the same grounds. In their reply briefing, the State Defendants make it clear that they do not mean to reargue the issue of administrative exhaustion. Rather, the State Defendants argue that, if Ravenswood prevails in demonstrating that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, this finding should also dictate a dismissal against the State Defendants.
The Court is in complete agreement with the State Defendants' "us too" argument. On October 1, 1997, however, the Court granted plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, vacated its July 10, 1997 Order, and found that administrative exhaustion was excused on the facts of this case. See Order at 11 (filed Oct. 1, 1997). Accordingly, the State Defendants' motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative for summary judgment, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is HEREBY DENIED.
2. Motion to Dismiss Compensatory Damages Claims under the IDEA and § 1983
The Court next addresses the State Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' prayer for compensatory damages, insofar as these damages might flow from an IDEA violation. The State Defendants argue that courts have limited monetary awards under the IDEA to reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and compensatory education--relief that can be characterized as "equitable." See Burlington Sch. Comm. v. Department of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 369-71, 85 L. Ed. 2d 385, 105 S. Ct. 1996 (1985) (holding that IDEA permits retroactive reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses where school district failed to provide appropriate education); W.G. v. Board of Trustees of Target Range Sch. Dist., 960 F.2d 1479, 1485 (9th Cir. 1992) ("Parents have an equitable right to reimbursement for the cost of providing an appropriate education where a school district has failed to offer a child a FAPE."); Jefferson County Bd. of Educ. v. Breen, 853 F.2d 853, 857-58 (11th Cir. 1988) (upholding district court that had ordered school district to fund two additional years of "compensatory education"); Miener v. Missouri, 800 F.2d 749, 753-54 (8th Cir. 1986) (compensatory education is permissible remedy under IDEA). Permitting monetary relief beyond these narrowly circumscribed "equitable" measures, according to the State Defendants, would be inconsistent with Congress' intent in enacting the IDEA.
Whether general compensatory damages are available under the IDEA is, surprisingly, a question that has not been settled. Compare W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484, 494-95 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding that damages are available in § 1983 suits brought to enforce IDEA rights and suggesting in dicta that damages would also be available under the IDEA directly) with Crocker v. Tennessee Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 980 F.2d 382, 386-87 (6th Cir. 1992) (holding that damages are unavailable under the IDEA's predecessor and thus also unavailable in a § 1983 suit seeking to enforce IDEA rights). The question is further complicated by the analytically separate question of whether compensatory damages are available in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce IDEA rights.
With respect to the availability of damages under the IDEA itself, the Court begins with the language of the statute, which authorizes a court to "grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2).
Despite the facially expansive character of this language, a long line of cases, tracing its origins to the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Anderson v. Thompson, 658 F.2d 1205, 1206 (7th Cir. 1981), holds that the statute nevertheless bars compensatory damages. See, e.g., Crocker, 980 F.2d at 386-87; Marvin H. v. Austin Indep. Sch. Dist., 714 F.2d 1348, 1356 (5th Cir. 1983); Powell v. Defore, 699 F.2d 1078, 1081 (11th Cir. 1983); Miener v. Missouri, 673 F.2d 969, 979 (8th Cir. 1982). Of ...