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IDEA Does Not Allow Parents to Recover Nominal Damages

Even though parents of children with special needs may suffer severe emotional distress due to stress involved when advocating for their child's educational needs, they are not entitled to a money award for their reported pain and suffering. In fact, a recent case has clarified this point by explaining parents are not even entitled to nominal damages in the amount of $1.00. On May 14, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court reversed an Oregon District's Court's decision to award a family nominal damages in the amount of $1.00. The District's Court rationale for such an order was awards of nominal damages would promote compliance with mandates under the IDEA. The Ninth's Circuit rejected this argument stating a proper remedy for noncompliance of IDEA requirements is a loss of federal funds. It is well established that parents cannot recover compensatory or punitive damages under the IDEA. This case shows nominal damages, or small monetary sums awarded to recognize school district legal violations are also unavailable under the IDEA. As such, the IDEA's directive that courts grant "appropriate" relief did not justify a monetary award even in the amount of $1.00.

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