Oman v. Portland Public Schools

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Education Law
  • Date Filed: 05-14-2012
  • Case #: 10-35340; 10-35402
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge O’Scannlain for the Court; Circuit Judge Rawlinson; District Judge Molloy
  • Full Text Opinion

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., does not provide a cause of action for nominal damages.

Pat Oman brought an administrative action against the Portland Public Schools (the “District”), challenging the adequacy of her son C.O.’s individualized education program (“IEP”) after a magnet high school declined his admission. An administrative law judge ordered the District to provide compensatory education for violating the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). Oman’s preferred providers had no room for C.O. within the court-specified time. Oman sought monetary and prospective relief in federal district court. Following a bench trial, the district court found the District liable for nominal damages under IDEA and § 1983, where in-house counsel had acted in a way “calculated to discourage Oman from exercising her statutory rights to challenge [the] IEP.” The District appealed and Oman cross-appealed. First, the Ninth Circuit emphasized that compensatory damages play no part in IDEA’s enforcement scheme, regardless of the district court’s authority to grant “all appropriate relief.” Therefore, absent congressional intent otherwise, the district court erred by inferring a private cause of action for nominal damages. Next, because Oman failed to formally request discovery during administrative proceedings, the Court considered her denial of access claim “the functional equivalent of a claim…under IDEA,” and, thus, not entitled to § 1983 relief. The Court then dismissed the claim for lack of jurisdiction because IDEA lacked a remedy for damages, and prospective relief was moot where C.O. had already graduated. Finally, regarding whether Oman could bring suit for monetary damages based on the admissions policies of a magnet school, the Court found it reasonable to require eighth-grade proficiency for an applicant to be “otherwise qualified” under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and found the claim properly dismissed, absent relevant precedent or congressional intent. REVERSED in part, DISMISSED in part, and AFFIRMED in part.

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