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Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District v. State, Dep't of Education

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 16, 2015

FAIRFIELD-SUISUN UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant-Appellee. YOLO COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant-Appellee

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California: October 9, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. 2:11-cv-02796-LKK-GGH. Lawrence K. Karlton, Senior District Judge, Presiding.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. 2:11-cv-03224-MCE-JFM. Morrison C. England, Jr., Chief District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Affirming the dismissal of two lawsuits brought against the California Department of Education, the panel held that two local educational agencies, a school district and a county office of supervision, lacked a statutory right of action to seek declaratory and injunctive relief regarding alleged violations of certain procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and its implementing regulations regarding complaint resolution proceedings.

Kimberly A. Smith (argued), Roy A. Combs, Jan E. Tomsky, and Emily E. Sugrue, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, Oakland, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District.

Kimberly A. Smith (argued), Roy A. Combs, Elizabeth B. Mori, and Christopher J. Fernandes, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, Oakland, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant Yolo County Office of Education.

Leonard Garfinkel (argued), Deputy General Counsel; Amy Bisson Holloway, General Counsel; and Edmundo Aguilar, Assistant General Counsel, California Department of Education, Sacramento, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: William A. Fletcher and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges, and Kevin Thomas Duffy, District Judge.[*] Opinion by Judge Watford.

OPINION

Page 969

WATFORD, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs in these consolidated appeals are local educational agencies in California--one a school district, the other a county office of education. (For ease of reference, we will refer to both of them as school districts.) In separate, unrelated actions, they sued the California Department of Education in federal court. They allege that, in resolving disputes between parents and school districts, such as the disputes that led to these actions, the Department routinely violates certain procedural requirements imposed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its implementing regulations. The school districts seek a declaration that the challenged practices are unlawful and an injunction forbidding their use in resolving future disputes. In both cases, the district courts dismissed the actions with prejudice on the ground that Congress did not grant school districts the right to sue state agencies for violating procedural requirements imposed by the IDEA.

The details underlying each lawsuit are not important for our purposes, so we provide just a brief description here. In both cases, the parents of a disabled student filed a complaint against the school district with the California Department of Education. The complaints charged the school districts with violating the IDEA by failing to provide appropriate services to the students in question. The parents pursued their complaints through what's known as a " complaint resolution proceeding," one of two dispute-resolution mechanisms States are required to maintain as a condition of receiving federal funds under the IDEA. 34 C.F.R. § 300.151(a). A complaint resolution proceeding may be initiated by parents to remedy a public agency's violation of any requirement imposed by certain provisions of the IDEA and its implementing regulations. § 300.153(b)(1). In California, complaint resolution proceedings are resolved by the Department of Education, which, after conducting an on-site investigation if necessary, must issue a written ...


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