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Gabriel v. Edgar

December 2, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 94 C 1471 -- Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

Before CUDAHY, RIPPLE and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.



Four infants with disabilities filed a class action suit alleging that the State of Illinois was not complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). These plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to achieve recognition of their rights under the IDEA and to require the Governor and State Superintendent of Education of Illinois to bring Illinois into compliance with the IDEA. Upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion and subsequently entered a judgment providing declaratory and injunctive relief. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


A. Facts

Four infants with disabilities brought this action on behalf of themselves and a class of approximately 26,000 other children in Illinois who are eligible for, but not receiving, early intervention services, allegedly in violation of Part H of the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. sec.sec. 1471-85. *fn1 The IDEA has evolved from what was originally the Education of the Handicapped Act ("EHA"), enacted by Congress in 1970. In 1986, the EHA was supplemented by the addition of Part H, which was established to address the needs of infants with disabilities. In 1990, the EHA was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; the portion of the IDEA pertaining specifically to infants with disabilities continued to be referred to as Part H.

Part H sets up a federal program by which federal funds are granted to states for the development and implementation of systems to provide early intervention services to developmentally-delayed infants and toddlers from birth through age two. The law was enacted because Congress perceived, among other needs, an "urgent and substantial need . . . to enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities and to minimize their potential for developmental delay." 20 U.S.C. sec. 1471(a)(1). *fn2 In order for states to receive federal funds under Part H, the states are required to establish a comprehensive early intervention system to assist children with disabilities from birth through age two. *fn3 Part H contains specific guidelines detailing the parameters of the statewide system, including the types of services such a system must provide. *fn4

Part H allows a state to increase incrementally its participation in the program. Specifically, Part H requires assurances from the state, as it applies for its fifth year of funding, that the state has in effect the statewide system providing for early intervention services. See 20 U.S.C. sec.sec. 1475(c), 1476(a). The statute provides that the state must file an application providing "information and assurances demonstrating to the satisfaction of the Secretary [of Education] that the State has in effect the statewide system required by section 1476 of this title and a description of services to be provided." 20 U.S.C. sec. 1475(c). In turn, sec. 1476 provides that a "statewide system of coordinated, comprehensive, multidisciplinary, interagency programs providing appropriate early intervention services to all infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families . . . shall include the minimum components under [sec. 1476(b)]." 20 U.S.C. sec. 1476(a). Excluding subparts, there are 14 minimum required components of the statewide system under sec. 1476(b). *fn5 Among these is a requirement that the statewide system shall include "timetables for ensuring that appropriate early intervention services will be available to all infants and toddlers with disabilities in the State." 20 U.S.C. sec. 1476(b)(2). In addition, other sections of Part H further explicate the details of those required components of the statewide system. *fn6

The State of Illinois began participating in the Part H program in 1987, and since then has received in excess of $34 million in federal funds for use in planning and implementing its statewide system of early intervention services. In September, 1991, Illinois enacted the Illinois Early Intervention Services Systems Act ("Illinois Act") which formally established an early intervention system in the state. Although Illinois began its fifth year of participation in the Part H program in December, 1992, the Illinois Act did not contemplate full implementation of a statewide service system until 1996. Despite its violation of the IDEA's provision requiring full implementation of the statewide system by the fifth year of participation, Illinois still applied for, and was granted, funds under Part H from the federal government.

In 1993, the Auditor General of Illinois reviewed the state's progress in implementing its statewide system and compiled a report regarding the status of the early intervention program. The report indicated that services were not available in all parts of the state, many eligible children were not being served and were on waiting lists, some federal and state program components were not fully implemented and no tracking or other follow-up was being conducted. The defendants, throughout the proceedings, have not challenged the plaintiffs' allegation of Illinois' lack of complete compliance with the elements of Part H. Instead, they have argued predominantly that plaintiffs cannot bring an action against them, both because the action is barred by the Eleventh Amendment and because Part H does not create rights that may be enforced by private parties in an action under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983.

The named representatives of the plaintiff class are four children with disabilities who were placed on waiting lists. They brought suit on behalf of the class of eligible but unserviced infants and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The declaratory relief they requested was for the district court to declare that Illinois' failure to provide all eligible infants with early intervention services under Part H was a violation of their rights under Part H. Correspondingly, the injunctive relief requested was for the district court to require Illinois, through its Governor and ...

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