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DOMBROWSKI v. WISSAHICKON SCHOOL DISTRICT

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


January 8, 2004.

DIANE DOMBROWSKI, et al., v., WISSAHICKON SCHOOL DISTRICT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: M. FAITH ANGELL, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This matter was originally referred to me by the Honorable Timothy J. Savage for pretrial management; however, the parties subsequently consented to a trial by a Magistrate Judge. Trial is set to commence before me with jury selection to begin on January 27, 2004. Presently before me is Defendant's Letter Brief on the issue of monetary damages and compensatory education as appropriate remedies under Section 1983 and Plaintiffs' Letter Brief in response.

  Plaintiffs instituted this action against Defendant Wissahickon School District for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA") and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. By Memorandum and Order dated September 30, 2003, I granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Issue of Liability Only and granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and for Disposition on the Administrative Record. The sole issue remaining for trial is whether or not Plaintiffs Jason Dombrowski and Diane Dombrowski, on Jason's behalf, are entitled to damages as a result of Defendant's violation of their rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Page 2

 II. MONETARY DAMAGES AS A REMEDY UNDER 42 U.S.C. § 1983

  Both parties acknowledge that controlling case law in the Third Circuit permits the recovery of monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by an aggrieved party when a school district has violated the provisions of the IDEA. See Plaintiffs' Letter Brief at 1-2; Defendant's Letter Brief at 2-3. As clearly stated by the Third Circuit:

Even before Franklin [v. Gwinnett County Pub. Sch., 503 U.S. 60, 66, 112 S.Ct. 1028, 1032, 117 L.Ed.2d 208 (1992)], in a § 1983 action to enforce IDEA, we held that compensatory damages are available to remedy IDEA violations. [Bd. of Educ. of East Windsor Regional Sch. Dist. v.] Diamond, 808 F.2d at 996. See also Lester H. [v. Gilhool], 916 F.2d at 873 (in direct appeal from IDEA administrative proceeding, "Congress empowered the courts to grant a compensatory remedy"); Muth v. Central Bucks Sch. Dist., 839 F.2d 113, 127 (3d Cir. 1988) ("there is case law suggesting that compensatory damages based solely on violations of a parent's procedural rights may be available under the EHA"), rev'd on other grounds, 491 U.S. 223, 109 S.Ct. 2397, 105 L.Ed.2d 181 (1989); Woods v. New Jersey Dept. of Educ., 796 F. Supp. 767, 774, 776 (D.N.J. 1992) (compensatory and punitive damages available in § 1983 action for IDEA violations).
We conclude that the traditional presumption in favor of all appropriate relief is not rebutted as to § 1983 actions to enforce IDEA. . . . Certainly the plain language of § 1983 authorizes actions at law or equity, and our prior holding in Diamond compels the conclusion that, as a matter of law, an aggrieved parent or disabled child is not barred from seeking monetary damages in such an action. W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484, 495 (3d Cir. 1995).
See also Andrew P. v. Bucks County Intermediate Unit, 2001 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 24193, *7 (E.D.Pa., December 10, 2001); Hicks v. Purchase Line Sch. Dist., 251 F. Supp.2d 1250, 1253 (W.D.Pa., 2003) ("[T]he IDEA itself makes no mention of damages as an available type of relief, though damages are available in an § 1983 action for violations of IDEA."); Susavage v. Bucks County Schools Intermediate Unit, 2002 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 1274, *45 (E.D.Pa., January 22, 2002) ("Similarly, upon Page 3 consideration of the legislative history of IDEA, the court held that an action for monetary damages could be brought under § 1983 based on violations of IDEA and further, that `the expansive language of § 1415(f),' `which' tracks the broad grant of remedial power allowed a district court reviewing a direct IDEA appeal contains no restrictions on forms of relief under the statute." (citations omitted)).

  Concluding that monetary damages are available as a matter of law in the Third Circuit, the matter now proceeds to trial during which Plaintiffs' shall attempt to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that they have suffered damages as a result of Defendant's violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1

  ORDER

  AND NOW, this 8th day of January, 2004, upon consideration of Defendant's Letter Brief on the issue of monetary damages and compensatory education as appropriate remedies under Section 1983 and Plaintiffs' Letter Brief in response, it is hereby ORDERED that the above — captioned action shall proceed to trial on the issue of the entitlement of Plaintiffs Jason Dombrowski and Diane Dombrowski, on Jason's behalf, to monetary damages as a result of Defendant's violation of their rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


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