Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


decided: June 15, 1989.



Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, O'Connor, and Scalia, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 233. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall, Blackmun, and Stevens, JJ., joined, post, p. 233. Blackmun, J., post, p. 243, and Stevens, J., post, p. 243, filed dissenting opinions.

Author: Kennedy

[ 491 U.S. Page 225]

 JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether the Education of the Handicapped Act abrogates the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in the federal courts.


The Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA), 84 Stat. 175, as amended, 20 U. S. C. § 1400 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. V.), enacts a comprehensive scheme to assure that handicapped children may receive a free public education appropriate to their needs. To achieve these ends, the Act mandates certain procedural requirements for participating state and local educational agencies. In particular, the Act guarantees to parents the right to participate in the development of an "individualized education program" (IEP) for their handicapped child, and to challenge the appropriateness of their child's IEP in an administrative hearing with subsequent judicial review. See 20 U. S. C. § 1415 (1982 ed. and Supp. V); School Committee of Burlington v. Department of Education of Massachusetts, 471 U.S. 359, 361 (1985).

Alex Muth, the son of respondent Russell Muth (hereinafter respondent), is a bright child, but one handicapped within the meaning of the EHA by a language learning disability and associated emotional problems. Alex was enrolled in public school in the Central Bucks School District of Pennsylvania from 1980 to 1983. In the summer of 1983, respondent requested a statutory administrative hearing to challenge the district's IEP for Alex. In September, shortly before the hearing convened, respondent enrolled Alex in a private school for learning disabled children for the coming school year.

The hearing examiner found that Alex's original IEP was inappropriate and made a number of recommendations. Both respondent and the school district then appealed the decision to the secretary of education, as provided under Pennsylvania law, see 22 Pa. Code § 13.32(24) (1988). The secretary remanded the case to the hearing examiner with instructions

[ 491 U.S. Page 226]

     to the school district to revise Alex's IEP (1988). After the district did so, the hearing examiner issued a decision declaring the revised IEP appropriate, and the secretary affirmed that decision on October 24, 1984, more than a year after the original due process hearing.

While the administrative proceedings were underway, respondent brought this suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the school district and the state secretary of education, whose successor is petitioner here. As amended, respondent's complaint alleged that the district's IEP for Alex was inappropriate and that the Commonwealth's administrative proceedings had violated the procedural requirements of the EHA in two respects: the assignment of review to the secretary, an allegedly partial officer; and the delays occasioned by the secretary's remand to the hearing examiner. Respondent requested declaratory and injunctive relief, reimbursement for Alex's private-school tuition in 1983-1984, and attorney's fees.

The District Court found various procedural infirmities in Pennsylvania's administrative scheme and entered summary judgment on respondent's procedural claims. The court held a hearing to resolve the remaining issues in the case and to determine the proper remedy for the procedural violations. The court concluded that, while the district's proposed IEP for 1983-1984 had been appropriate within the meaning of the EHA, respondent was entitled to reimbursement for Alex's tuition that year because the procedural flaws had delayed the administrative process. The District Court further determined that the school district and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were jointly and severally liable, agreeing with respondent that the EHA abrogated Pennsylvania's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit. The court also awarded attorney's fees, assessed jointly and severally against the school district and the Commonwealth.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. Muth v. Central Bucks School Dist., 839 F.2d 113

[ 491 U.S. Page 227]

     (1988). Most pertinent for this case, the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar the reimbursement award against the Commonwealth. The court concluded that "the text of EHA and its legislative history leave no doubt that Congress intended to abrogate the 11th amendment immunity of the states." Id., at 128.

To resolve a conflict among the Circuits, we granted certiorari sub nom. Gilhool v. Muth, 488 U.S. 815 (1988), on the question whether the EHA abrogates the States' sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. Compare David D. v. Dartmouth School Committee, 775 F.2d 411 (CA1 1985) (finding abrogation), with Gary A. v. New Trier High School Dist. No. 203, 796 F.2d 940 (CA7 1986); Doe v. Maher, 793 F.2d 1470 (CA9 1986); and Miener v. Missouri, 673 F.2d 969 (CA8 1982) (finding no abrogation). We now reverse.


We have recognized that Congress, acting in the exercise of its enforcement authority under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment,*fn1 may abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 456 (1976). We have stressed, however, that abrogation of sovereign immunity upsets "the fundamental constitutional balance between the Federal Government and the States," Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238 (1985), placing a considerable strain on "'[t]he principles of federalism that inform Eleventh Amendment doctrine,'" Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984), quoting Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 691 (1978). To temper Congress' acknowledged powers of

[ 491 U.S. Page 228]

     abrogation with due concern for the Eleventh Amendment's role as an essential component of our constitutional structure, we have applied a simple but stringent test: "Congress may abrogate the States' constitutionally secured immunity from suit in federal court only by making its intention unmistakably clear in the language of the statute." Atascadero, supra, at 242.

In concluding that the EHA contains the requisite clear statement of congressional intent, the Court of Appeals rested principally on three textual provisions. The court first cited the Act's preamble, which states Congress' finding that "it is in the national interest that the Federal government assist State and local efforts to provide programs to meet the education needs of handicapped children in order to assure equal protection of the law." 20 U. S. C. § 1400(b)(9). Second, and most important for the Court of Appeals, was the Act's judicial review provision, which permits parties aggrieved by the administrative process to "bring a civil action . . . in any State court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States without regard to the amount in controversy." 20 U. S. C. § 1415(e)(2). Finally, the Court of Appeals pointed to a 1986 amendment to the EHA, which states that the Act's provision for a reduction of attorney's fees shall not apply "if the court finds that the State or local educational agency unreasonably protracted the final resolution of the action or proceeding or there was a violation of this section." 20 U. S. C. § 1415(e)(4)(G) (1982 ed., Supp. V). In the view of the Court of Appeals, this amendment represented an express statement of Congress' understanding that States can be parties in civil actions brought under the EHA.

Respondent supplements these points with some nontextual arguments. Most notably, respondent argues that abrogation is "necessary . . . to achieve the EHA's goals," Brief for Respondent Muth 37; and that the 1986 amendments to another statute, the Rehabilitation Act, 100 Stat.

[ 491 U.S. Page 2291845]

     , 42 U. S. C. § 2000d-7 (1982 ed., Supp. IV), expressly abrogate state immunity from suits brought under the EHA, Brief for Respondent Muth 30. In connection with the latter argument, respondent recognizes that the Rehabilitation Act amendments expressly apply only to "violations that occur in whole or in part after October 21, 1986." 42 U. S. C. § 2000d-7(b) (1982 ed., Supp. IV). Respondent contends, however, that "[a]lthough the amendment became effective after Muth initially filed suit, . . . the overwhelming support for the amendment shows that it reflects Congress' intent in originally enacting the EHA [in 1975]." Brief for Respondent Muth 32, n. 48.*fn2

We turn first to respondent's nontextual arguments, because they are the easier to dismiss. It is far from certain that the EHA cannot function if the States retain immunity, or that the 1986 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act are a useful guide to congressional intent in 1975. Indeed, the language of the 1986 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act appears to cut against respondent. Without intending in any way to prejudge the Rehabilitation Act amendments, we note that a comparison of the language in the amendments with the language of the EHA serves only to underscore the difference in the two statutes, and the absence of any clear statement of abrogation in the EHA. The amendments to the Rehabilitation Act read in pertinent part:

"A State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States from suit in Federal court for a violation of [several enumerated provisions] or the provisions of any other ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.