Third Circuit Switches Sides in Split Re Whether Violations of IDEA-Created Rights Are Actionable under § 1983
A.W. v. Jersey City Public Schools, 486 F.3d 791 (3d Cir. May 24, 2007):
In [W.B. v. ]Matula . . . we held that violations of IDEA-created rights are actionable under § 1983.
In Matula, we concerned ourselves with the jurisprudential and legislative directives regarding the availability of relief for IDEA violations. We noted that in Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 104 S.Ct. 3457, 82 L.Ed.2d 746 (1984), the Supreme Court held that the IDEA FN8 provided the exclusive means by which parents and children could remedy violations of the rights guaranteed therein, and that no constitutional claim would be therefore allowed. . . . However, in response to this decision, Congress enacted § 1415( l ) of the IDEA, to countermand Smith and make clear that actions can be maintained under the Constitution or under federal laws protecting the rights of children with disabilities notwithstanding the fact that the IDEA also protects these rights.
. . .
However, following Matula, reasonable minds have differed as to the correctness of our interpretation of the congressional reaction to Smith v. Robinson embodied in § 1415( l ). In addition, over the past decade, the Supreme Court has further refined its guidance as to how we should decide whether § 1983 relief is available for violations of statutory rights, most recently in City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 120, 125 S.Ct. 1453, 161 L.Ed.2d 316 (2005). All of these developments since Matula have informed our analysis in a way that requires us to reconsider our view.
The Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Tenth Circuits have taken issue with our reading of § 1415( l ) and discernment of Congress' intent in enacting it. They note that the provision does not refer to § 1983; rather, it focuses on substantive rights.FN10 In *798 Sellers v. School Board of Manassas, Virginia, 141 F.3d 524 (4th Cir.1998), and Padilla v. School District No. 1, 233 F.3d 1268, 1273 (10th Cir.2000), the Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Tenth Circuits, respectively, challenged our analysis of the congressional enactment of § 1415( l ) in reaction to Smith. . . .
In Padilla, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit noted that the issue had created a circuit split. Padilla, 233 F.3d at 1273 (comparing Sellers with Matula and Marie O. v. Edgar, 131 F.3d 610, 620-22 (7th Cir.1997)). . . .
Were we deciding this case in the year 2001, after these courts had voiced their disagreement with Matula, we might be conflicted as to whether to revisit the issue. On the one hand, the Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Tenth Circuits offered the convincing arguments, noted above, as to how Congress' enactment of § 1415( l ) did not provide for § 1983 as a remedial tool here, and as to how our analysis with respect to the availability of relief in Matula was incomplete in light of other Supreme Court cases. On the other hand, several other courts had expressed views similar to ours in Matula, or had assumed § 1983 to be available.FN12 While the former may have tipped the scales somewhat towards rethinking Matula even then, the Supreme Court's discussion of the availability of § 1983 as a vehicle for redressing violations of federal statutory rights in Rancho Palos Verdes, 544 U.S. 113, 125 S.Ct. 1453, has tipped them definitively, and we are now convinced that our ruling in Matula is no longer sound.