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
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.
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)
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
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.