Dellmuth v. Muth

LOCATION: Sable Communications of California

DOCKET NO.: 87-1855
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 22 (1989)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1989

Martha A. Field - on behalf of Respondents
Maria Parisi-vickers - on behalf of respondents
Maria Parisi Vickers - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Dellmuth v. Muth

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1989 in Dellmuth v. Muth

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 87-1855, Thomas K. Gilhool versus Russell A. Muth.

You may proceed whenever you're ready.

Maria Parisi-vickers:

This case is here on petition for certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The cases arises in the context of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

It is our contention that the court below has misunderstood that statute when it held, first, that it abrogates the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the states from suit in federal court, and, second, that Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, the Petitioner here, is precluded from reviewing administrative appeals.

Turning to the first issue, we believe that Congress has not abrogated the state's constitutional immunity.

In Atascadero v. Scanlon this Court reaffirmed the concept that abrogation of Eleventh Amendment immunity involves a fundamental shift in the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government as well as an expansion of federal constitutional power of the federal courts.

Consequently, the court has held that abrogation of immunity will not be found unless Congressional intent to subject suits to... subject states to federal court suits is unmistakably clear.

This clear statement rule has two fundamental and important reasons.

First of all, it is intended to provide notice to the states who, as in the EHA, have voluntarily agreed to participate in a program to provide equal education to handicapped children.

Secondly, it makes certain that Congress considers directly the problems and issues which would arise if states are subjected to suit in federal court and, therefore, lessens the chance that Congress will act in haste or without giving consideration to the constitutional balance which it will be affecting with its actions.

It is our position that this notice, which is required, especially to the states, has not been given to the 50 states who since 1975 have joined in this Federal Government partnership to provide appropriate education for every handicapped child in America.

The court of appeals in its opinion struggled to find this clear abrogation language and in doing so it pointed to the preamble of the statute found at Section 140C(b)(9) which speaks in terms of the Federal Government's intent to assist the states in providing federal funds so that equal education can be achieved for handicapped children.

That is at page 6 of our petition for cert.--

It also points to section 1415(e)(2)... page 11 of our petition for cert... where the... there is a provision for a hearing, a due process hearing, to the party aggrieved in the administrative hearing process, and a party so aggrieved will have the right to bring an action in federal court.

The last basis on which the court of appeals stands is section 1415(e)(4)(G) which is the 1986 amendment to the Act, and it provides for attorney's fees.

Looking at these provisions, it is absolutely clear that there is no indication at all that states were to be made liable to private parties under the EHA.

No state liability to private parties is mentioned.

The abrogation of the state's immunity is nowhere mentioned.

The Eleventh Amendment is nowhere mentioned.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, now, the attorney on the other side says that the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 make clear that this Act is covered at least after 1986.

Would you agree with that?

Maria Parisi-vickers:

Not at all, Justice O'Connor, for two reasons.

The first reason is dispositive.

And that is that that amendment is effective for violations occurring after--

Sandra Day O'Connor:


That's why I ask you about after 1986.

Maria Parisi-vickers:

--After October 21, 1986 and, therefore, it has nothing to do with this particular case where the violations occurred long before that.

Secondly, as we discussed in our brief, the EHA is not an antidiscrimination statute.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, it could be viewed as that, couldn't it?