290 F.3d 476 (2nd Cir. 2002), 01-7541, Board Educ. Pawling Central School Dist. v. Schutz

Docket Nº:01-7541
Citation:290 F.3d 476
Party Name:Board Educ. Pawling Central School Dist. v. Schutz
Case Date:May 13, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 476

290 F.3d 476 (2nd Cir. 2002)

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE PAWLING CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellant,

v.

Steven SCHUTZ, Yvonne Schutz, Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees,

State Education Department of the State of New York, Frank Munoz, as the State Review Officer of the State Education Department of the State of New York, Defendants-Appellees.

Docket No. 01-7541.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 13, 2002

Argued: Jan. 10, 2002.

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Karen S. Norlander, Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., Albany, NY, for Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellant.

Julie M. Sheridan, Attorney General's Office, State of New York, Albany, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

RosaLee Charpentier, Family Advocates, Inc., Kingston, NY, for Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees.

Before SACK, KATZMANN and FLETCHER,[*] Circuit Judges.

FLETCHER, Circuit Judge.

The Board of Education of the Pawling Central School District (the "District") appeals from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (David N. Hurd, District Judge), granting defendants', (Steven and Yvonne Schutz ("the Schutzes"), the State Educational Department of the State of New York ("NYSED"), and State Review Officer ("SRO") Frank Munoz (in his official capacity)) motion to dismiss the District's complaint in its entirety. In its complaint, the District requests, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that SRO Munoz's order directing it to pay the Schutzes prospectively for the cost of their child's tuition violated the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400

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et seq., the Fourteenth Amendment, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court held: (1) that the State defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity as to plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, and, alternatively, a subdivision of the State could not sue the State for an alleged violation of due process; and (2) that plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief under the IDEA. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The factual background of this case is undisputed, unless otherwise noted. Kevin Schutz, the child of Steven and Yvonne Schutz, first enrolled in the District's public school system as a kindergarten student in 1991. Classified as a student with a learning disability in 1993, Kevin received special education pursuant to an "individualized education program" (".IMP") during the 1993-94 and 1994-95 school years. In the fall of 1995, the Schutzes objected to the proposed IEP for the 1995-96 school year, unilaterally removed Kevin from the District school, and enrolled him in the Kildonan School ("Kildonan"), a private school serving children with learning disabilities.

Unable to resolve the dispute over Kevin's IEP for the 1995-97 school years, in 1997 the Schutzes requested an impartial hearing, arguing that the District failed to provide a "free appropriate public education" ("FAPE"). In May 1996, the Schutzes sought reimbursement for the cost of tuition at Kildonan for both the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years.

On September 4, 1997, the hearing officer issued an opinion in favor of the Schutzes, finding that the District failed to make a FAPE available to Kevin, and awarding reimbursement of tuition costs for both academic years. The District's appeal to SRO Munoz was denied, and the District subsequently reimbursed the Schutzes in compliance with Officer Munoz's order.

Subsequently the Schutzes objected to the IEPs proposed by the District for the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years, and the District, prior to any hearings on the matter, reached settlements with the Schutzes pursuant to which the District reimbursed what appears to be either the bulk of, or all of, Kevin's Kildonan tuition for those years in return for the Schutzes agreement to withdraw their requests for administrative hearings. Despite the District's claim that its 1999-2000 IEP was substantially different from previous plans, the Schutzes also rejected the 1999-2000 IEP, re-enrolled Kevin at Kildonan, and subsequently requested a hearing before an impartial hearing officer, seeking tuition reimbursement for the 1999-2000 school year.

B. The Proceedings Below

At the administrative hearing, the Schutzes sought to invoke the pendency provision, also known as the "stay put" provision, of the IDEA, at 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j), and requested an interim ruling that the District be ordered to pay Kevin's tuition at Kildonan during the pendency of the proceedings concerning their 1999-2000 school year reimbursement claim.1

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That request was denied by the hearing officer on November 5, 2000.

However, on appeal, SRO Munoz annulled the hearing officer's ruling in a decision issued on March 16, 2001, and ordered the District to "reimburse petitioners for their expenditures for their son's tuition at the Kildonan School during the pendency of the proceedings brought concerning the boy's educational placement for the 1999-2000 school year."

In response, the District filed an action in federal district court, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(A), seeking to vacate SRO Munoz's order and requesting, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that SRO Munoz's order directing the District to pay tuition prospectively violated the IDEA and the Fourteenth Amendment, and equitable relief in the form of reimbursement for $21,000 in tuition already paid to the Schutzes.

The district court granted defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and directed the District to "immediately comply" with SRO Munoz's order requiring prospective payment of tuition to the Schutzes.

We review here the district court's dismissal of the District's complaint.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

We review de novo the district court's dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Abramson v. Pataki, 278 F.3d 93, 99 (2d Cir. 2002). We must accept as true the allegations contained in the complaint, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant. Lee v. Bankers Trust Co., 166 F.3d 540, 543 (2d Cir. 1999).

B. The District's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claim

In its complaint, the District alleges, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that defendants NYSED and SRO Munoz, in his official capacity, deprived the plaintiff of its property without due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The district court dismissed this cause of action against both state defendants on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, and, alternatively, because the Fourteenth Amendment does not protect a political

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subdivision, such as the District, from actions taken by its own state.

We agree with the district court that the Eleventh Amendment requires dismissal of this cause of action. See Will v. Mich, Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989) (holding that the Eleventh Amendment protects both states and state officials, acting in their official capacity, from suits brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983); accord Posr v. Court Officer Shield # 207, 180 F.3d 409, 414 (2d Cir. 1999).

On appeal, the District argues that § 1983 suits seeking prospective equitable relief are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. While true that suits for injunctive relief, even against state officials in their official capacity, are not necessarily foreclosed by sovereign immunity, Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 2304; Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167, n. 14, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985), plaintiffs complaint seeks in part retrospective relief which is precluded by the Eleventh Amendment. Ward v. Thomas, 207 F.3d 114, 120 (2d Cir. 2000) (noting that "retrospective form[s] of relief [are] barred by the Eleventh Amendment").

With respect to prospective tuition payments, moreover, there was no due process violation. The District was afforded notice and a hearing before being ordered to make them. The District also seeks reimbursement from the Schutzes2, and prospective relief by way of declaratory judgment. Neither of these forms of relief is barred by Eleventh Amendment governmental immunity. As we explain in section II.C., below, however, any such relief would violate the IDEA's statutory provisions and implementing regulations. No § 1983 claim by the District can therefore lie for deprivation of its property without due process of law.

The District also makes what it concedes is a novel argument, namely, that by voluntarily receiving federal funds for IDEA programs, the state defendants expressly abrogated sovereign immunity against these suits under 20 U.S.C. § 1403(a) ("A State shall not be immune under the eleventh amendment to the Constitution . . . from suit in Federal court for a violation of this chapter."). This argument overlooks the obvious fact that § 1403(a)'s waiver of sovereign immunity extends only to claims brought pursuant to the IDEA, not claims brought pursuant to § 1983 or some other statute. Furthermore, a waiver of sovereign immunity must be "made either by invoking federal jurisdiction or by a clear declaration, a 'stringent' test." McGinty v. New York, 251 F.3d 84, 92-93 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting College Sav. Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expenses Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 675-76, 119 S.Ct. 2219, 144 L.Ed.2d 605 (1999)). The IDEA contains no such clear statement with regard to § 1983 claims, and so cannot be construed as a waiver.

For these reasons, we agree with the district court that plaintiff's § 1983 claims must be dismissed.

We need not reach the district court's alternative holding that a subdivision of the State cannot sue the State for an alleged violation of due process.

C. The District's IDEA Claim

The IDEA "assure[s] that all children with disabilities have available to them . . .

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a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special...

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