183 F.3d 816 (8th Cir. 1998), 98-1721, Little Rock School District v. Mauney

Docket Nº:98-1721
Citation:183 F.3d 816
Party Name:LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT, PLAINTIFF, v. JAMES MAUNEY, MR. AND MRS., PARENTS OF J. M., DEFENDANTS. JAMES MAUNEY, MR. AND MRS., PARENTS OF J. M., THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, v. STATE OF ARKANSAS, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
Case Date:December 15, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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183 F.3d 816 (8th Cir. 1998)

LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT, PLAINTIFF,

v.

JAMES MAUNEY, MR. AND MRS., PARENTS OF J. M., DEFENDANTS.

JAMES MAUNEY, MR. AND MRS., PARENTS OF J. M., THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

STATE OF ARKANSAS, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

No. 98-1721

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 15, 1998

June 14, 1999

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Aug. 10, 1999.*

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas

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Before Fagg, Heaney, and Wollman, Circuit Judges.

Heaney, Circuit Judge.

Appellees/defendants/cross-plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. James Mauney, frustrated with their inability to obtain an education for their severely physically disabled son, secured a due process hearing against the Little Rock School District (LRSD) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1491o (1998).1 On February 3, 1997, a hearing officer found for the Mauneys and awarded compensatory education. The LRSD then initiated this action, claiming that the findings and award are not supported by the record. The Mauneys cross-claimed against appellants the State of Arkansas and its Department of Education (ADE), asserting claims under the IDEA and various

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other federal statutes. After the district court denied in part the state's and ADE's motion for summary judgment, they filed this interlocutory appeal.

The State of Arkansas and ADE make only one argument: that because Congress does not have the power under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to pass legislation such as the IDEA, the purported abrogation of states' Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1403 of that Act is ineffectual and therefore the state and the ADE are not proper parties to the suit. We conclude that Congress had both the power and intent to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity and therefore affirm the district court's determination that it has jurisdiction over the appellants.

I. Statutory Scheme and Factual Background

The IDEA "provides federal money to assist state and local agencies in educating handicapped children, and conditions such funding upon a State's compliance with extensive goals and procedures." Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 179 (1982). In response to two federal district court decisions ruling that handicapped children should be afforded greater access to public education, Congress in 1974 undertook to provide federal funding in order to ensure "full educational opportunities to all handicapped children." Rowley, 458 U.S. at 180 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also id. at 192 (providing history of the Act). The stated purpose of the Act is

"to assure that all children with disabilities have available to them... a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs, to assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents or guardians are protected, to assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities, and to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate children with disabilities."

20 U.S.C. § 1400(c). To that end, the IDEA confers upon disabled students the right to a public education and conditions federal financial assistance upon a recipient state's compliance with the substantive and procedural goals of the Act. See Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 310 (1988). The chief mechanism for instituting the congressional purpose is the "free appropriate public education" (FAPE). A FAPE must be tailored to a child's unique needs and be implemented in an environment suitable for the child. See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400(c), 1412(1), (2)(B), (3), and (5)(B) (1998). This requirement is satisfied where a state provides "personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction." Rowley, 458 U.S. at 203 (providing definition of sufficient services).

The IDEA also confers upon "[a]ny party aggrieved by the findings and decision [resulting from certain procedures available under § 1415(b) of the act].. . the right to bring a civil action... in a district court of the United States without regard to the amount in controversy." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2). The LRSD initiated suit pursuant to § 1415(e)(2) and the Mauneys cross-claimed, alleging that appellants violated their son James' procedural rights under the IDEA "by failing to follow the procedural requirements of the IDEA... resulting in a denial of free appropriate public education for James." (Order at 2). In addition, the Mauneys claim that appellants denied James' procedural rights by "a) failing to provide trained personnel to meet the needs of children with James' disability; b) failing to enable [the Mauneys] to compel witnesses necessary to their case; and c) by failing to provide the appropriate continuum of placements necessary to meet the needs of a student with James' disabilities." (Order at 2). On the record before it, the district court granted

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appellants' motion for summary judgment as to claims a) and c), stating that the Mauneys failed to provide evidence suggesting that Arkansas and its Department of Education have failed to comply with statutory guidelines. As to the issue of compelling witnesses, the district court denied appellants' motion for summary judgment.

The IDEA grants parties to a hearing the right, inter alia, to compel the attendance of witnesses. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(d)(2) (1998). Appellants did not provide any evidence suggesting that they are in compliance with that provision. Instead, they insist they are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.

II. Discussion

A court ruling denying a claim of entitlement to immunity is immediately appealable. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 524-25 (1985). This interlocutory appeal from denial of motion for summary judgment based on immunity is thus appropriate as an exception to the final order requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review the district court's denial of summary judgment de novo. See Burnham v. Ianni, 119 F.3d 668, 673 (8th Cir. 1997).

The Eleventh Amendment provides: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend. XI. Though the text of the Constitution appears to delimit only Article III diversity jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has construed this language to bar citizens from bringing suit against their own state in federal court. See Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238 (1985) (citing Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890)). 2 The Court has justified its expansive reading of the Eleventh Amendment by reference to the dual principles of federalism and sovereign immunity. See id.; see also Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996) (stating that "we have understood the Eleventh Amendment to stand not so much for what it says, but for the presupposition ... which it confirms") (quoting Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 779 (1991)).

The Supreme Court has also recognized two "well-established exceptions to the reach of the Eleventh Amendment." Atascadero, 473 U.S. at 238. First, a state may waive its immunity and thereby subject itself to suit in federal court. See id. Second, Congress may, when acting pursuant to its enforcement power under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity without the states' consent. See Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 59 ("[W]e recognize[] that the Fourteenth Amendment, by expanding federal power at the expense of state autonomy []fundamentally altered the balance of state and federal power struck by the Constitution.") (citing Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 455 (1976)). Arkansas and the ADE contend that neither exception applies in this case. We disagree.

Seminole Tribe established a two-part inquiry for identifying effective abrogation of states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit: first, whether Congress "unequivocally expresse[d] its intent to abrogate the immunity," 517 U.S. at 55 (quoting Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985)), and second, whether Congress acted "pursuant to a valid exercise of power."

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Id. (quoting Green, 474 U.S. at 68).

A. Intent to Abrogate

A court may not find congressional intent to abrogate state immunity absent "unmistakable language." Atascadero, 473 U.S. at 239-40. Congress' intent to abrogate state immunity is patent in the IDEA. Section 1403(a) of the Act was adopted by Congress in response to the Supreme Court's determination in Dellmuth v. Muth, 491 U.S. 223, 231 (1989), that the then-EHA did not contain an unequivocal declaration such as would support "with perfect confidence [the Conclusion] that Congress in fact intended in 1975 to abrogate sovereign immunity." The amended Act provides that a "State shall not be immune under the eleventh amendment to the Constitution of the United States from suit in Federal court for a violation of this chapter." 20 U.S.C. § 1403(a) (1998); see also Straube v. Florida Union Free Sch., 801 F.Supp. 1164, 1171 (S. D. N. Y. 1992) (" The IDEA abrogates the Eleventh Amendment for violations occurring in whole or in part after October 30, 1990."). The amended Act thus satisfies the first part of the Seminole Tribe test.

B. Power to Abrogate

The second part of the Seminole...

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