Judicial Cases Reviewed for Awards of Damages, Attorneys' Fees, and Nonmonetary Remedies in Special Education Lawsuits Brought Under Public Law 94-142

Gao ID: HRD-85-44 March 12, 1985

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed several lawsuits filed under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act to determine: (1) whether successfully litigated cases were brought by an individual or a class; (2) the attorneys' fees awarded, if any, and who paid them; (3) the amount of damages awarded, if any, and who paid them; and (4) the nature of each case and the reasons for litigation.

GAO found that the 23 successfully litigated cases it reviewed included 5 class action suits and 18 individual suits. All of the class action suits involved the award of attorneys' fees, and the fees totalled over $500,000, with awards ranging from $65,000 to $211,000. Of the 18 individual suits, attorneys' fees were awarded to parents in 10 cases. Attorneys' fees awarded in 6 of 10 cases totalled over $63,000, with awards ranging from $2,000 to $36,000. In the remaining four cases, fees were awarded to the plaintiffs, but information was not readily available on the amounts of the awards. All of the class action suits were limited to awarding nonmonetary relief to rectify past actions or practices regarding the plaintiffs' efforts to obtain a free, appropriate public education. These included two consent decrees, two injunctions, and one case in which a representative of the court was appointed to establish and oversee a detailed remedial plan. Of the individual cases, 13 were limited to nonmonetary remedies. In another case, the state provided the necessary remedy before the court decision. In the other four suits, plaintiffs were awarded damages totalling about $13,000, with awards ranging from $1,200 to $5,700. Furthermore, courts have awarded damages to cover private school tuition expenses, transportation costs, and physical therapy services. In addition, GAO has identified a case on appeal to the Supreme Court that involves the award of damages to parents under the act.

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