Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 6 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

The Washington Court of Appeals reversed in relevant part, concluding that FERPA does not create individual rights and thus cannot be enforced under 1983. 99 Wash. App. 338, 992 P. 2d 545 (2000). The Washington Supreme Court reversed that decision, and ordered the FERPA damages reinstated. 143 Wash. 2d 687, 24 P. 3d 390 (2001). The court acknowledged that "FERPA itself does not give rise to a private cause of action," but reasoned that FERPA's nondisclosure provision "gives rise to a federal right enforceable under section 1983." Id., at 707-708, 24 P. 3d, at 400.

Like the Washington Supreme Court and the State Court of Appeals below, other state and federal courts have divided on the question of FERPA's enforceability under 1983.2 The fact that all of these courts have relied on the same set of opinions from this Court suggests that our opinions in this area may not be models of clarity. We therefore granted certiorari, 534 U. S. 1103 (2002), to resolve the conflict among the lower courts and in the process resolve any ambiguity in our own opinions.

Congress enacted FERPA under its spending power to condition the receipt of federal funds on certain requirements relating to the access and disclosure of student educational records. The Act directs the Secretary of Education to withhold federal funds from any public or private "educational agency or institution" that fails to comply with these conditions. As relevant here, the Act provides:

2 Compare Gundlach v. Reinstein, 924 F. Supp. 684, 692 (ED Pa. 1996) (FERPA confers no enforceable rights because it contains "no unambiguous intention on the part of the Congress to permit the invocation of 1983 to redress an individual release of records"), aff'd, 114 F. 3d 1172 (CA3 1997); and Meury v. Eagle-Union Community School Corp., 714 N. E. 2d 233, 239 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) (same), with Falvo v. Owasso Independent School Dist. No. I-011, 233 F. 3d 1203, 1210 (CA10 2000) (concluding that release of records in "violation of FERPA is actionable under . . . 1983"), rev'd on other grounds, 534 U. S. 426 (2002); and Brown v. Oneonta, 106 F. 3d 1125, 1131-1132 (CA2 1997) (same).

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