Dellmuth v. Muth
Annotate this Case
491 U.S. 223 (1989)
U.S. Supreme Court
Dellmuth v. Muth, 491 U.S. 223 (1989)
Dellmuth v. Muth
Argued February 28, 1989
Decided June 15, 1989
491 U.S. 223
The Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) -- which enacts a comprehensive scheme to assure that handicapped children may achieve a free public education appropriate for their needs -- provides, inter alia, that parents may challenge the appropriateness of their child's "individualized education program" (IEP) in an administrative hearing with subsequent judicial review. Respondent Muth (hereinafter respondent) requested a hearing to contest the local school district's IEP for his son Alex, who is handicapped within the meaning of the EHA. Before the hearing was convened, respondent enrolled Alex in a private school. Alex's IEP then was revised and declared appropriate by the hearing examiner, and that decision was affirmed by Pennsylvania's secretary of education more than one year after the original hearing. While the administrative proceedings were underway, respondent brought suit in the Federal District Court against the school district and the secretary challenging the appropriateness of the IEP and the validity of the administrative proceedings and seeking, among other things, reimbursement for Alex's private school tuition and attorney's fees. The court found that, while the revised IEP was appropriate, procedural flaws had delayed the administrative process and that, since the EHA had abrogated the Commonwealth's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit, the school district and the Commonwealth were jointly and severally liable for reimbursement of Alex's tuition and attorney's fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: The EHA does not abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit, and, thus, the Amendment bars respondent's attempt to collect tuition reimbursement from Pennsylvania. Pp. 491 U. S. 227-232.
(a) Congress may abrogate the States' immunity only by making its intention "unmistakably
(b) Respondent's nontextual arguments -- that abrogation is necessary to meet the EHA's goals and that amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, though not retroactively applicable to respondent's suit, evince a previous intention to abrogate immunity from EHA suits -- have no bearing on the abrogation analysis, since congressional intent must be unmistakably clear in the statute's language. Although nontextual evidence might have some weight under a normal exercise in statutory construction, it is generally irrelevant to a judicial inquiry into whether Congress intended to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment. The argument that application of the Atascadero standard is unfair in this case because Congress could not have foreseen that application is premised on an unrealistic view of the legislative process. It is unlikely that the Ninety-fourth Congress, taking careful stock of the state of Eleventh Amendment law, would drop coy hints but stop short of making its intention manifest. Pp. 491 U. S. 228-230.
(c) The EHA provisions relied on by the Court of Appeals -- the preamble's statement of purpose, the 1986 amendments dealing with attorney's fees, and the authorization for judicial review -- do not address abrogation even in oblique terms. The statutory structure -- which, unlike the Atascadero statute, makes frequent references to States -- lends force only to a permissible inference that States are logical defendants, and is not an unequivocal declaration of congressional intent to abrogate. Pp. 491 U. S. 231-232.
839 F.2d 113, reversed and remanded.
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. 491 U. S. 233. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 491 U. S. 233. BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 491 U. S. 243, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 491 U. S. 243, filed dissenting opinions.