451 F.3d 13 (1st Cir. 2006), 05-1301, Diaz-Fonseca v. Puerto Rico

Docket Nº:05-1301, 05-1472.
Citation:451 F.3d 13
Party Name:Marta DIAZ-FONSECA, on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor daughter; Lyssette Cardona-Daz, Minor, Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Commonwealth of PUERTO RICO; Department of Education of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Csar Rey-Hernndez, in his personal capacity and as Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Nitza Ros-Malav, in h
Case Date:June 16, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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451 F.3d 13 (1st Cir. 2006)

Marta DIAZ-FONSECA, on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor daughter; Lyssette Cardona-Daz, Minor, Plaintiffs, Appellees,

v.

Commonwealth of PUERTO RICO; Department of Education of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Csar Rey-Hernndez, in his personal capacity and as Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Nitza Ros-Malav, in her personal capacity and as Supervisor of the Special Education Program of Cidra School District, Defendants, Appellants.

Nos. 05-1301, 05-1472.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

June 16, 2006

Heard March 10, 2006.

APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO, Hon. José Antonio Fusté, U.S. District Judge.

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Doraliz E. Ortiz-de-Len, Assistant Solicitor General, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, with whom Salvador Antonetti-Stutts, Solicitor General of Puerto Rico, and Mariana D. Negm-Vargas and Maite D. Oronoz-Rodrguez, Deputy Solicitors General, were on brief, for appellants.

Kevin G. Little on brief for appellees.

Before Torruella, Circuit Judge, Hansen, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, and Lynch, Circuit Judge.

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LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

A parent, Marta Díaz-Fonseca, brought suit in 2002 against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, its Department of Education, and two individual defendants, alleging that her child, Lyssette Cardona-Díaz, had been deprived of a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. ; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134; and Puerto Rico law.

The underlying dispute concerns whether the public schools are required to provide Lyssette, a child whom the parties agree is disabled within the meaning of the IDEA, with adaptive physical education in the form of swim classes under an Individualized Education Program (IEP), see 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). The dispute led to a jury verdict and an award of compensatory damages in the amount of $45,000 to Diaz and $3000 to Lyssette against all of the defendants. The jury also assessed a total of $100,000 in punitive damages against the two individual defendants, César Rey-Hernndez and Nitza Ríos-Malavé, in their personal capacities. Those two individuals respectively hold the offices of Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth and Supervisor of the Special Education Program of Cidra School District. The district court also entered broad declaratory and injunctive relief in favor of plaintiffs.

We vacate most of the relief granted, leaving intact only the award of reimbursement for the sum of private school tuition and costs for transportation and psychological services incurred by plaintiffs during the 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and 2005-2006 school years.

This case demonstrates significant confusion about the governing law in cases alleging denial of FAPE, including confusion over the limitations on monetary relief available, the limitations on suits against school administrators in their personal capacities, and the scope of immunity available to the Commonwealth in federal court. Unfortunately, as a result of counsel for plaintiffs' lack of candor about the law to the district court and defense counsel's failures to comply with court orders and to make appropriate objections on defendants' behalf, the case comes to us in a posture in which a jury has awarded damages not available in IDEA and Rehabilitation Act actions.

In order to clarify, we outline the core holdings of this case:

1. Where the essence of the claim is one stated under the IDEA for denial of FAPE, no greater remedies than those authorized under the IDEA are made available by recasting the claim as one brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title II of the ADA, or section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

2. No punitive damages may be awarded in such a suit, regardless of which of the causes of action listed above is invoked.

3. No general compensatory damages may be awarded in such a suit, regardless of which of the causes of action listed above is invoked.

4.Monetary recovery in such suits is limited to compensatory education and equitable remedies that involve the payment of money, such as reimbursements for educational expenses that would have been borne by defendants in the first instance had they properly developed and implemented an IEP. Under the category of "reimbursement," parents may recover only actual, not anticipated, expenditures for private tuition and related services.

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5. No claim for monetary relief is stated in such cases against individual school administrators who are sued in their personal capacities.

6. A state, here the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, may waive Eleventh Amendment immunity from monetary liability as to IDEA and Rehabilitation Act claims in federal court by accepting federal funds. This does not mean that the state has waived its immunity as to pendent state law claims being heard in federal court. Here, although the Commonwealth waived its immunity from suit in federal court on the federal claims, it did not waive its immunity from suit in federal court on the pendent state law claims under Law 51, see P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 18, §§ 1351-1359, and Puerto Rico's general negligence statute, see P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, §§ 5141-5142.

Applying these principles, we conclude that the harm to the public interest requires that we reverse and vacate the entirety of the punitive damages award and all compensatory damages against Rey and Ríos in their personal capacities. We also vacate those portions of the compensatory damages award against the Commonwealth that are not available as monetary relief.

Frustrated with the defendants' many defalcations in this case, the district court also granted in full plaintiffs' belated request for injunctive and declaratory relief. We reverse and vacate the entirety of the declaratory and injunctive relief awarded.

I.

There is no reason to detail the many facts and procedural events in this case and every reason to avoid a focus on the irrelevant. The crux of the dispute is that while the parties agreed that Lyssette could not engage in ordinary physical education and thus needed adaptive physical education, they could not agree over what type of adaptive physical education was appropriate. The public schools lacked swimming pools and declined to pay for swim lessons. Díaz insisted that her daughter needed such lessons and that the schools should have to pay for them, as well as for transportation to and from school and for the psychiatric treatment Lyss

ette required after she became depressed because she could not engage in physical education with her classmates. Feeling frustrated that Lyssette was not receiving any adaptive physical education and that the defendants had engaged in a classic bureaucratic runaround, Díaz unilaterally removed Lyssette from public school in 2003 and placed her in a private school.

At the time the litigation began in September 2002, Lyssette was an eleven-year-old public school student. She had been diagnosed in February 2001 with spina bifida and Klippel-Feil Syndrome, as a result of which she suffers from certain physical limitations, such as a circumscribed range of motion in the neck and cervical spine. In August 2001, after a physician recommended that Lyssette refrain from further participation in traditional physical education classes, Díaz registered Lyssette in the special education program administered by the DOE1 and requested that Lyssette be provided with specially designed physical education services. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.307(a) ("Physical

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education services, specially designed if necessary, must be made available to every child with a disability receiving FAPE.").

On September 4, 2001, the DOE convened a meeting with Diaz and other members of Lyssette's IEP team, see id. § 300.16 (defining "IEP team" as "a group of individuals . . . that is responsible for developing, reviewing, or revising an IEP for a child with a disability"); see also id. § 300.344 (specifying the composition of IEP teams), to produce an IEP for Lyssette. Their deliberations resulted in an IEP for the 2001-2002 school year; this IEP did not provide for special physical education services --specifically, swim classes, which, plaintiffs have maintained, was the only sport Lyssette could safely practice.2 The DOE told Diaz that it could not provide swim instruction because it did not have any schools equipped with a pool, and that Diaz would have to pay out-of-pocket for private swim lessons elsewhere.

Diaz filed an administrative complaint with the Commonwealth's DOE on November 27, 2001, requesting that it provide Lyssette with publicly funded swim classes. An administrative law judge (ALJ) eventually found that the DOE did not have the obligation to offer Lyssette swim lessons, because it was not clear from the IEP that swimming was the most appropriate physical education alternative for Lyssette. The ALJ did, however, order that Lyssette receive physical education at the same frequency as her non-disabled classmates, and further directed the parties to meet again to determine, with the help of a specialist, whether swimming was the most appropriate physical education alternative for Lyssette. That order was not handed down until June 14, 2002, far beyond the forty-five days provided by the regulations for resolution of an administrative complaint. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.511(a)(1) ("The public agency shall ensure that not later than...

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