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United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D

August 20, 1985


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rovner, District Judge.


This case arises under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and its implementing regulations. On November 20, 1984 plaintiff Arsenio Salvador ("Salvador") filed his pro se complaint against Terrel Bell, the Secretary of the United States Department of Education ("the Secretary") alleging that the Secretary failed to investigate his complaints and review decisions regarding his complaints that Roosevelt University ("Roosevelt") discriminated against him on the basis of his handicap, a learning disability. Roosevelt allegedly failed to make necessary modifications of its academic program to accommodate him in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.*fn1 Salvador alleged that, as a direct and proximate result of these violations, he was denied a Masters Degree from Roosevelt, denied the opportunity for employment, and has suffered mental anguish and emotional distress. He seeks damages in the amount of $10,000 and an injunction requiring the Secretary to fully investigate his complaints against Roosevelt.

The Secretary has moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on the grounds that, although the plaintiff may file a claim directly against Roosevelt under Section 504, Section 504 does not provide the plaintiff with a private cause of action against the Secretary. In the alternative, the Secretary has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R. Civ.P. 56(b) on the grounds that the Secretary has complied with his obligation described in 34 C.F.R. § 104.61 to investigate alleged violations of Section 504, and, consequently, the plaintiff's claim is without basis.


Salvador filed two complaints with the Department of Education Regional Office for Civil Rights in Chicago, Illinois ("Regional Office") claiming that Roosevelt, which is located in Chicago, discriminated against him because of his handicap, a learning disability. He filed the first complaint on May 19, 1980. On October 31, 1980, the Regional Office issued a Letter of Findings which concluded that the evidence uncovered by the Regional Office in its investigation of this complaint did not support the plaintiff's claim of discrimination against him because of his handicap by Roosevelt. The Letter of Findings indicated that the investigation by the Regional Office revealed that Roosevelt was never informed that the plaintiff had a learning disability that might require modifications of the school's academic requirements. Section 504 requires a recipient of federal financial assistance, such as Roosevelt, to "make such modifications to its academic requirements as are necessary to insure that such requirements do not discriminate or have the effect of discriminating, on the basis of handicap, against a qualified handicapped applicant or student." 34 C.F.R. § 104.44. Because that obligation only arises when the recipient knows of or is made aware of a beneficiary's handicapping condition, and because Roosevelt was never informed that the plaintiff had a learning disability, the Letter of Findings concluded that Roosevelt's obligation to make necessary modifications in its academic requirements to accommodate Salvador never arose.

As part of its investigation of Salvador's complaint, the Regional Office requested information from Salvador on the nature of his handicap. Salvador's physician did not release relevant medical records to the Regional Office despite two written requests by the plaintiff, although she did confirm that the plaintiff was physically and mentally handicapped in an August 5, 1980 telephone conversation with a staff member of the Regional Office. She failed, however, to provide detailed information on the nature of his handicaps or on whether Salvador had a learning disability. Furthermore, when she notified Roosevelt that Salvador suffered from an illness that she diagnosed as cryptococcal meningitis, she did not mention that he had a learning disability. Nor did she inform the University that he required academic modifications due to a learning disability. Because the Regional Office had insufficient information on the nature of plaintiff's handicap, it could not ascertain whether Roosevelt had violated Section 504 by not sufficiently modifying its academic requirements.

The October 31, 1980 Letter of Findings prompted Salvador to file his second complaint against Roosevelt. In his second complaint, he provided the Office of Civil Rights with a neuropsychological evaluation dated November 22, 1980 as proof of his handicap. The doctor who evaluated him stated in his evaluation that Salvador had a past history of cryptococcal meninigitis, hydrocephalus, and posterior right shunt. He concluded, however, that ". . . at the same time, the deficiency in recent memory and learning ability make his academic failures recently entirely understandable, and it seems to be unlikely that he could manage a graduate course at present."

On March 20, 1981, the Regional Office issued its second Letter of Findings on Mr. Salvador's complaint. The Letter stated:

  This additional evidence does not change our
  original findings. As we notified Mr. Salvador in
  our original letter, since his needs (as a result
  of his handicap) were not clearly communicated to
  University officials, it was difficult for them
  to ascertain what specific academic modifications
  he required.

  However, we did find that University officials
  were made aware that he was recovering from a
  serious illness and as a result made certain
  academic adjustments on his behalf. (Please refer
  to the letter dated October 31, 1980). Therefore,
  the weight of the evidence is insufficient to
  establish that Roosevelt University has
  discriminated against Mr. Salvador on the basis
  of his handicap in failing to make necessary
  modifications of its academic program.

The plaintiff then appealed the decision of the Regional Office on his two complaints to the Secretary who in turn referred the matter to officials in the headquarters office of the Department's Office for Civil Rights. On June 8, 1981, the Office for Civil Rights informed Salvador that, after a careful review of his complaints, it had determined that the conclusion of the Regional Office that Roosevelt had not violated his rights under Section 504 was correct. The Office of Civil Rights stated that Roosevelt did in fact take account of Salvador's recovery from a serious illness by allowing him to continue in its M.B.A. program even after he received his third "C," which normally resulted in termination. The Office of Civil Rights also noted that Roosevelt was not obligated to accommodate a handicap of the plaintiff of which it was not informed. This lawsuit followed.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides as follows:

  No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in
  the United States, as defined in section 706(6)
  of this title, shall, solely by reason of his
  handicap, be excluded from the participation in,
  be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to
  discrimination under any program or activity
  receiving Federal financial assistance.

29 U.S.C. § 794. It thus requires recipients of federal funds not to discriminate against intended beneficiaries on the basis of handicap. The issue in this case is whether Section 504 provides those intended beneficiaries, i.e., those handicapped individuals who participate in programs offered by recipients of federal financial assistance,
with a private cause of action to secure their rights to non-discrimination against the Secretary of Education. Because the legislative scheme and the case law under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d,*fn2 upon which Section 504 was modeled, indicates that no such private right of action exists, this Court must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.

An amendment to Section 504 passed by Congress in 1978 specifically directs that the enforcement scheme of Title VI is to apply to Section 504 as well:

  The remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in
  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  [42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.] shall be available to any
  person aggrieved by any act or failure to act by
  any recipient of Federal assistance or Federal
  provider of such assistance under section 794 of
  this title.

29 U.S.C. § 794(a)(2). Section 603 of Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-2, provides for the limits of judicial review available under Title VI and thus under Section 504. It provides:

  Any department or agency action taken pursuant to
  section 2000d-1 of this title shall be subject to
  such judicial review as may otherwise be provided
  by law for similar action taken by such
  department or agency on other grounds. In the
  case of action, not otherwise subject to judicial
  review, terminating or refusing to grant or to
  continue financial assistance upon a finding of
  failure to comply with any requirement imposed
  pursuant to section 2000d-1 of this title, any
  person aggrieved (including any State or
  political subdivision thereof and any agency of
  either) may obtain judicial review of such action
  in accordance with chapter 7 of Title 5, and such
  action shall not be deemed committed to
  unreviewable agency discretion within the meaning
  of that chapter.

The first sentence of Section 603 does not authorize judicial review if judicial review is not already available by separate Congressional enactment. No separate Congressional provision for judicial review exists here, and thus the first sentence of Section 603 does not provide a cause of action in this case.

The second sentence of Section 603 grants a right of judicial review only to "any person aggrieved" by action that terminates or denies federal funding to a recipient or applicant for federal funds. That is, Roosevelt would have a cause of action against the Secretary if the Secretary terminated or threatened to terminate its federal funding for failure to comply with Section 504. But that is the converse of the circumstances of this case: here, plaintiff is seeking to sue the Secretary directly for Roosevelt's allegedly discriminatory conduct, not Roosevelt.

There is no doubt that a recipient or applicant of federal funds has a cause of action against the Secretary under Section 603. There is also no doubt that a beneficiary in Salvador's position has a private right of action against the recipient institution.*fn3 But no private cause of action exists under Section 504 for a beneficiary against the Secretary.

Courts have recognized that the type of relief requested in this case against the federal defendants is inconsistent with the overall framework of statutes like Title VI and Section 504, and their implementing regulations. Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness v. Community Television of Southern California, 719 F.2d 1017 (9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, Gottfried v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 104 S.Ct. 3535, 82 L.Ed.2d 840 (1984); NAACP v. Medical Center Inc., supra, 599 F.2d at 1250-59; See also Community Brotherhood of Lynn, Inc. v. The Lynn Development Authority, 523 F. Supp. 779 (E.D.Mass. 1981); Green Street Association v. Daley, 250 F. Supp. 139, 146 (N.D.Ill. 1966) aff'd, 373 F.2d 1, 8-9 (7th Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 387 U.S. 932, 87 S.Ct. 2054, 18 L.Ed.2d 995 (1967). Indeed, the Supreme Court has implied a private right of action by a beneficiary against a recipient of federal funds precisely because, inter alia, an action against an agency is "far more disruptive" of its enforcement resources "than a private suit against the recipient . . . could ever be." Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 707 n. 41, 99 S.Ct. 1946, 1963, n. 41, 60 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). For the same reason, courts have refused to allow private actions against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") to require investigation or reconsideration of particular complaints of employment discrimination, particularly because a private right of action is available directly to Title VII complaints. Hall v. EEOC, 456 F. Supp. 695, 699-700 (N.D.Calif. 1978);*fn4 Stewart v. EEOC, 611 F.2d 679, 682 (7th Cir. 1979); Kelly v. EEOC, 468 F. Supp. 417, 418 (D.Md. 1979).

  Because Salvador may pursue his private remedy against
Roosevelt, the recipient institution, directly, and because a
private right of action is inconsistent with the statutory
scheme and the integrity of the Section 504 administrative
process,*fn5 this Court holds that Salvador has no private
right of action against the Secretary. In reaching a similar
holding in the Title VI context, the court in NAACP v. Medical

Center, Inc., supra, succinctly noted that this result:

   . . does no harm to beneficiaries' rights, as
  complete relief can be awarded without the agency
  being a party to the private suit, and complete
  discovery can be undertaken, since the agency has
  no more relevant information to impart than does
  the funding recipient, who is a party.

599 F.2d at 1254 n. 27.

Because this Court has held that the complaint must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim because a private right of action against the Secretary does not exist under Section 504, it need not and does not address the issues posed by the Secretary's alternative motion for summary judgment.


According, Salvador's complaint is dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

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