In Blanchard v. Morton School District, case no. 06-35388 (9th Cir. Sept. 20, 2007), the Ninth Circuit becomes the fifth federal appellate circuit to hold that rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are not enforceable by an action under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. The court acknowledges that two circuits have gone the other way and that the Eighth Circuit has an intra-circuit split on the issue.
The case arose when the mother of a disabled child sued to recover damages for lost earnings and suffering endured during her eventually successful drive to obtain benefits for her son under the IDEA. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that the mother had no individual rights under the IDEA ad that the IDEA did not contemplate the damages she sought.
While the appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Winkelman ex rel. Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., (2007) 127 S.Ct. 1994, which held that parents do have individually enforceable substantive rights under the IDEA. In light of this, the court stated that “[t]he question before us now is whether 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action for money damages under the IDEA for the lost earnings and suffering of a parent pursuing IDEA relief.”
Given that so many circuits have already decided the availability of Section 1983 relief one way or another, I would have thought that the Ninth’s opinion would include an extensive analysis of the issue, comparing the merits of each side and the reasoning of the other circuits. Instead, in a very short opinion, the Ninth is satisfied to say that:
We are persuaded by the recent thoughtful, well-reasoned opinion of the Third Circuit. See A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Sch., 486 F.3d 791, 797-803 (3d Cir. 2007) (en banc) (surveying the existing circuit split and analyzing recent Supreme Court precedent on the availability of § 1983 as a remedy for violation of a federal statute). In A.W., the Third Circuit overruled its prior authority to the contrary and held:
The IDEA includes a judicial remedy for violations of any right “relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of [a] child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child.” § 1415(b)(6). Given this comprehensive scheme, Congress did not intend § 1983 to be available to remedy violations of the IDEA . . . .
Id. at 803 (alteration in original). We now join the First, Third, Fourth, and Tenth Circuits and hold that the comprehensive enforcement scheme of the IDEA evidences Congress’ intent to preclude a § 1983 claim for the violation of rights under the IDEA.