Polera v. Bd. of Educ., Newburgh City Sch. Dist.

Second Circuit Court of Appeals

288 F.3d 478 (2nd Cir. 2002)

April 29, 2002


Polera, a visually impaired student, attended public school in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District until she graduated in 1997. Polera alleged that the school system failed to provide her with the proper educational tools, for which she qualified as a disabled student, such as compensation for tutoring, study materials, and recognition for educational achievements. Instead of seeking relief through the administrative remedies available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), Polera filed a complaint in federal court in December of 1996, including claims under the American’s with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act (“Rehab Act”), among others. The District Court found that Polera’s situation excused her from exhausting all administrative remedies available regarding the educational claims because the pursuit for those remedies would have been futile. Additionally, the court found that the Board had discriminated against Polera under both the ADA and the Rehab Act and subsequently awarded Polera $30,000 in compensatory damages.

On appeal, the Second Circuit Court reversed the District Court’s decision and determined that Polera was required to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing a complaint in federal court. Though the plaintiff brought the case under the ADA and the Rehab Act, the causes of action fell under the ambit of IDEA, and IDEA provides that before a plaintiff may seek relief under any federal law protecting the rights of children with disabilities, which is also available under IDEA, all administrative remedies must be exhausted. Failure of a plaintiff to exhaust these remedies before filing a complaint deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Second Circuit also found that monetary damages are not available under IDEA because such a remedy would be inconsistent with the statute’s purpose of providing public education to disabled children. Polera was still able to seek the equitable relief requested, but only after exhausting the available administrative remedies. A plaintiff may not avoid the administrative process by simply requesting relief, such as monetary damages, not available through the administrative process. As a result, the court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

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