United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
June 14, 2001
JONATHON LANDON, A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS MOTHER, DONNA MUNICI, PLAINTIFF,
OSWEGO UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT #308, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: John W. Darrah, Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Jonathan Landon, a minor, by and through his mother and next
friend, Donna Munici, commenced an action against defendant, the Oswego
Unit School District #308, alleging the defendant discriminated on the
basis of sex and retaliated against plaintiff in violation of Title IX of
the Educational Amendments of 1972 and intentionally inflicted emotional
distress upon plaintiff. Before this Court is defendant's motion to
strike plaintiff's claims for punitive damages.
Defendant argues that plaintiff's punitive damage claims should be
stricken because the school district is a municipality which is immune
from punitive damages. Plaintiff argues that punitive damages are allowed
pursuant to Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Sch., 502 U.S. 60 (1992)
(Franklin). The Seventh Circuit has not, nor has any other circuit
court, determined whether punitive damages are recoverable in a Title IX
action. In addition, this Court was unable to locate any other Northern
Illinois District Court decisions regarding this issue.
Defendant relies primarily upon Newport v. Facts Concerts, Inc.,
453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981) (Newport), in which the Court found that a
municipality is immune from punitive damages in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983
In Newport, the Court considered both the history and policy of an
award of punitive damages in determining whether punitive damages were
appropriate in a § 1983 suit. Newport, 453 U.S. at 259. In addressing
the history of punitive damages and municipality liability, the Court
noted that the "judicial disinclination to award punitive damages against
a municipality has persisted to the present day." Reviewing several cases
upholding the common-law tradition of disallowing punitive damages against
a municipality, the Court found a distinction "between liability to
compensate for injuries inflicted by a municipality's officers and
agents, and vindictive damages appropriate as punishment for the
bad-faith conduct of those same officers and agents." Compensation was an
obligation properly shared by the municipality, but punishment was
properly applied only to the actual wrongdoer. Newport, 453 U.S. at 263.
The refusal of the Court to award punitive damages against a municipality
protected the public from unjust punishment and protected the
municipalities from undue fiscal burdens. The Court concluded that, given
this well established common law principle that a municipality was immune
from punitive damages, Congress would have specifically so provided had
it wished to abolish the doctrine. Newport, 453 U.S. at 263.
Having found no evidence that Congress intended to disturb common law
immunity, the Court considered whether public policy dictated a different
result. Newport, 453 U.S. at 266. The Court noted that an award of
punitive damages was not intended to compensate an injured party;
instead, its purpose was to punish the wrongdoer and to deter him and
others from similar extreme conduct. Newport, 453 U.S. at 266. The Court
found that an award of punitive damages against a municipality did not
advance the retributive-deterrent purposes of punitive damages because
such an award punished "only the taxpayers who took no part in the
commission of the tort." The Court held that an award of punitive damages
against a municipality were, in effect. a windfall to a fully compensated
plaintiff at the cost of the "blameless or unknowing taxpayers." Newport,
453 U.S. at 267.
The Court also found that an award of punitive damages assessed against
a municipality did not further the deterrence aspect of punitive
damages. Newport, 453 U.S. at 268. The Court found that "it [was] far
from clear" that municipal officials would be deterred from wrongdoing if
they knew that punitive damages could be assessed against a
municipality. In addition, allowing juries and courts to assess punitive
damages against the municipal official, based on that person's financial
resources, was a more effective means of deterrence because it directly
advanced the public's interest in preventing repeated constitutional
violations. Newport, 453 U.S. at 269.
In sum, the considerations of history and policy did not support
exposing a municipality to punitive damages for the wrongdoing of one of
its officials because absolute immunity from such damages was established
at common law and undisturbed by Congress when enacting § 1983, and
such immunity was compatible with the purposes of § 1983 and the
general principles of public policy. Newport, 453 U.S. at 271.
Citing to Newport and its general proposition that punitive damages are
not recoverable against a municipality absent express statutory
authority, some district courts have found that punitive damages are not
allowed in a Title IX claim. See Booker v. Boston, 2000 WL 1868180 (D.
Mass. Dec. 12, 2000); Morlock v. West Cen. Educ. Dist., 46 F. Supp.2d 892,
924 (D. Minn. 1999); Crawford v, Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia, 1998 WL
288288 (E.D. Pa. June 3, 1998); Doe v. Londonderry Sch. Dist.,
970 F. Supp. 64, 76 (D. N.H. 1997).
In Franklin, the Court addressed the availability of damage awards
under Title IX, the same statute at issue in the present claim. The
Franklin Court found that a damages remedy is available for an action to
enforce Title IX. Franklin, 503 U.S. at 76. The Court stated that the
general rule "is that absent clear direction to the contrary by
Congress, the federal courts have the power to award any appropriate
relief in a cognizable cause of action brought pursuant to a federal
statute." Franklin, 503 U.S. at 70-71. After reviewing two amendments to
Title IX enacted after Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677
(1979), the Court found that "Congress did not intend to limit the
remedies available in a suit brought under Title IX." Franklin, 503 U.S.
at 72. The Court concluded that "a damages remedy is available for an
action brought to enforce Title IX." Franklin, 503 U.S. at 76.
Citing Franklin, some district courts have found that punitive damages
are available in a Title IX action. See Henkle v. Gregory, 2001 WL 213005
(D. Nev. Feb. 28, 2001); Canty v. Old Rochester Reg. Sch. Dist.,
54 F. Supp.2d 66, 70 (D. Mass. 1999); see also Waid v. Merrill Area
Public Sch., 91 F.3d 857, 861 (7th Cir. 1996) (Waid) (citing Franklin,
the Court noted that Title IX provided "extensive remedies."
Plaintiff argues that Franklin's holding that "Congress did not intend
to limit the remedies available . . . under Title IX" is applicable to
the award of punitive damages against a municipality. However, while the
Franklin Court did hold that an action under Title IX included a remedy
for monetary damages (Franklin, 503 U.S. at 76), the Franklin Court did
not specify whether such remedy includes punitive damages against a
In addition, the Franklin Court did not indicate that its prior holding
in Newport would not apply to an award of damages pursuant to Title IX.
An analysis of the present issue under both Newport and Franklin leads to
the conclusion that punitive damages are not allowed against a
municipality in a Title IX action.
As in Newport, Congress did not expressly waive the long-established
common law principle that punitive damages may not be awarded against a
municipality when enacting or amending Title IX. And while Congress did
not intend to limit the remedies available in a Title IX suit (Franklin,
503 U.S. at 72), and the remedies available are extensive (Waid, 91 F.3d
at 8621), punitive damages are not remedial and are not intended to
compensate the injured party. Instead, punitive damages are vindictive
damages that are awarded to punish the wrongdoer. Newport, 453 U.S. at
263, 265-67. A plaintiff may be awarded all available compensatory
damages for a violation of Title IX "`to make good the wrong done,'"
(Franklin, 503 U.S. at 66, quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684
(1946); but an award of punitive damages goes beyond such remedy and is,
therefore, not recoverable against a municipality absent express
statutory authority (Newport, 453 U.S. at 263-64).
In addition, consideration of public policy fails to dictate that
punitive damages should be allowed against a municipality in a Title IX
action. As in Newport, an award of punitive damages against a
municipality would only punish the taxpayer who took no part in the
wrongdoing. The municipality may already be found liable for compensatory
damages — any additional damages imposed on the municipality would
be a windfall to the plaintiff. Newport, 453 U.S. at 267. Exposing
municipalities to such liability falls to advance the retributive purpose
of a punitive damage award and imposes an unreasonable burden on the
taxpayers who support them.
Furthermore, such liability also fails to prevent future misconduct. A
municipality official's knowledge that large punitive awards could be
assessed based on the municipality's wealth is unlikely to deter that
official from misconduct. In fact, the opposite is more likely true given
that the municipality would satisfy a judgment for punitive damages
returned jointly against the municipality and the wrong-doing official.
The more effective means of deterring an official's misconduct would be
to assess the punitive damages against the offending official based on
that person's financial resources. The possibility of such an award
provides sufficient protection against the prospect that the official may
commit recurrent violations of Title IX by reason of his or her office.
See Newport, 453 U.S. at 269.
In conclusion, the considerations of common law history, public
policy, and Supreme Court precedent do not support exposing a municipality
to punitive damages for the misconduct of its officials pursuant to Title
IX. Accordingly, defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Punitive Damage
Claims is granted.
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