Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273 (2002)

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certiorari to the supreme court of washington

No. 01-679. Argued April 24, 2002—Decided June 20, 2002

As a student at petitioner Gonzaga University, a private educational institution in Washington State, respondent planned to become a public elementary schoolteacher in that State after graduation. Washington at the time required all new teachers to obtain an affidavit of good moral character from their graduating colleges. Petitioner League, Gonzaga's teacher certification specialist, overheard one student tell another that respondent had engaged in sexual misconduct. League then launched an investigation; contacted the state agency responsible for teacher certification, identifying respondent by name and discussing the allegations; and, finally, told him that he would not receive his certification affidavit. Respondent sued Gonzaga and League in state court under, inter alia, 42 U. S. C. 1983, alleging a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), 20 U. S. C. 1232g, which prohibits the federal funding of schools that have a policy or practice of permitting the release of students' education records without their parents' written consent. A jury awarded respondent compensatory and punitive damages on the FERPA claim. The Washington Court of Appeals reversed in relevant part, concluding that FERPA does not create individual rights and thus cannot be enforced under 1983. Reversing in turn, the State Supreme Court acknowledged that FERPA does not give rise to a private cause of action, but reasoned that the nondisclosure provision creates a federal right enforceable under 1983.

Held: Respondent's action is foreclosed because the relevant FERPA provisions create no personal rights to enforce under 1983. Pp. 278-291.

(a) This Court has never held, and declines to do so here, that spending legislation drafted in terms resembling FERPA's can confer enforceable rights. FERPA directs the Secretary of Education to enforce its nondisclosure provisions and other spending conditions, 1232g(f), by establishing an office and review board to investigate, process, review, and adjudicate FERPA violations, 1232g(g), and to terminate funds only upon determining that a recipient school is failing to comply substantially with any FERPA requirement and that such compliance cannot be secured voluntarily, 1234c(a), 1232g(f). In Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U. S. 1, the Court made clear that unless Congress "speak[s] with a clear voice," and manifests an


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