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WALKER v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

July 22, 1997

PHILLIP WALKER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRIEDMAN

 I. BACKGROUND

 The case is now before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and defendants' motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages under the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At this stage they ask only that the Court find that damages are available as a matter of law. *fn2"

 Defendants maintain (1) that damages are not available for violations of the IDEA; (2) that plaintiffs cannot bring a Section 1983 action based on IDEA violations; (3) that even if plaintiffs could bring a Section 1983 action, they have failed to state a claim because they have not alleged a custom or practice of IDEA violations; and (4) that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under the Rehabilitation Act. *fn3"

 The Court concludes that damages are not available under the IDEA itself but that plaintiffs can bring a Section 1983 claim for damages to vindicate their rights under the IDEA. The Court further finds that plaintiffs have raised an allegation of a custom or practice of IDEA violations on the part of the District sufficient to survive defendants' motion to dismiss on that basis. *fn4" Plaintiffs have also alleged a valid Rehabilitation Act claim. Whether the District of Columbia in fact has a custom or practice of failing to enforce the IDEA or whether the Rehabilitation Act was actually violated in this case are questions of fact not susceptible to summary judgment on this record. This case therefore shall be set for trial.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. The IDEA and Section 1983

 The IDEA guarantees every disabled student a free, appropriate public education specially designed to meet his or her unique needs. See 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c). The Act establishes a variety of entitlements and procedural safeguards, including the design and implementation of an "individualized education program" ("IEP") for every disabled child, see 20 U.S.C. § 1401(a)(20), and a notice and hearing process by which parents and children participate in the design and implementation of IEPs. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415.

 Where a school system fails to provide special education or related services, a student is entitled to compensatory education. See Hall v. Knott County Board of Education, 941 F.2d 402, 407 (6th Cir. 1991); Miener v. State of Missouri, 800 F.2d 749, 753 (8th Cir. 1986); Harris v. District of Columbia, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11831, 19 IDELR 105, 106-07 (D.D.C. Aug. 6, 1992) (Lamberth, J.). If a parent pays for educational placements or related services to which a child is later found to be entitled, the school system must reimburse the parent. Town of Burlington v. Department of Education, 471 U.S. 359, 369, 85 L. Ed. 2d 385, 105 S. Ct. 1996 (1985). Reimbursement is considered an equitable remedy, and compensatory damages beyond reimbursement are not provided for by the IDEA. Hall v. Knott County Board of Education, 941 F.2d at 407; Miener v. State of Missouri, 800 F.2d at 753; see also Town of Burlington v. Department of Education, 471 U.S. at 370-71 (reimbursement is not a form of damages but rather "merely requires the [school system] to belatedly pay expenses that it should have paid all along . . . ."). In sum, while Phillip can and has been awarded compensatory education, he cannot obtain money damages under the IDEA for the education that the District allegedly failed to provide.

 Plaintiffs maintain, however, that they can obtain compensatory damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as could any civil rights plaintiff. Defendants respond that a Section 1983 cause of action is unavailable because the IDEA establishes a comprehensive remedial scheme that precludes such an action. Defendants' argument, however, ignores the 1986 amendments to the IDEA, codified in part at 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f), and the legislative history accompanying those amendments. See The Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986, Pub L. No. 99-372, 100 Stat. 796 (1986); H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 99-687, 99th Cong., 2d Sess. (1986), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1807, 1809 ("It is the conferees' intent that actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are governed by [§ 1415(f)].").

 Section 1415(f) of the IDEA provides:

 
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict or limit the rights, procedures, and remedies available under the Constitution, title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or other Federal statutes protecting the rights of children and youth with disabilities . . . .

 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). Congress added this section to the IDEA in order to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 82 L. Ed. 2d 746, 104 S. Ct. 3457 (1984), in which the Court held that the IDEA precluded claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the Equal Protection Clause. See W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484, 493 (3d Cir. 1995) (describing in detail the legislative history of Section 1415(f)). The House Report made clear that "since 1978, it has been Congress' intent to permit parents or guardians to pursue the rights of handicapped children through [the IDEA], section 504 [of the Rehabilitation Act], and section 1983 . . . . Congressional intent was ignored by the ...


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