Petrella, et al v. Brownback, et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying 28 Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction; granting in part and denying in part 36 State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, 38 Board Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and 88 Board Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Party; denying 90 Motion to Dismiss or stay filed by the Board Defendants and Intervenors; denying 93 Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge John W. Lungstrum on 10/29/2013. (ses)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
DIANE PETRELLA, et al.,
SAM BROWNBACK, Governor of Kansas,
in his official capacity, et al.,
Case No. 10-2661-JWL
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter presently comes before the Court on the following motions: the State
defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. # 36); the Board defendants’ motions to dismiss
(Doc. ## 38, 88); the motion to dismiss or stay filed by the Board defendants and
intervenors (Doc. # 90); plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction (Doc. # 28); and
plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 93). As more fully set forth below, the
Court rules as follows: plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction and for summary
judgment are denied; defendants’ motions for a stay are denied; and defendants’
motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs’ due process
claim and their claims based on an application of strict scrutiny or a denial of
fundamental rights are dismissed, and defendants’ motions to dismiss are granted to that
extent; defendants’ motions are otherwise denied.
Plaintiffs are students and parents of students in the Shawnee Mission Unified
School District No. 512. On December 10, 2010, plaintiffs filed this action against the
State defendants (the Governor, Attorney General, and Treasurer of the State of Kansas)
and the Board defendants (the Kansas Commissioner of Education and the members of
the Kansas State Board of Education). By their complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
plaintiffs claim that the Local Option Budget (“LOB”) cap, found in K.S.A. § 726433(b), which limits the funds that a school district may raise by local tax, violates the
Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to
the United States Constitution. In addition to seeking declaratory relief, plaintiffs also
seek to enjoin the enforcement of the LOB cap. Plaintiffs also filed a motion for a
preliminary injunction to the same effect. The defendants filed motions to stay or to
dismiss the action on various grounds.1
By Memorandum and Order of March 11, 2011, the Court dismissed this action
on the basis that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing, for the particular reason that
plaintiff’s alleged injury—the inability of the school district to raise additional funds
through a local tax—would not be redressed by a favorable decision because the LOB
cap is not severable from the state’s statutory school funding scheme, striking down the
After a hearing on January 18, 2011, the Court allowed a group of students and
parents of students from a few other school districts to intervene as defendants in this
cap would mean invalidating the entire scheme, and the school district would thus have
no authority to impose a tax. See Petrella v. Brownback, 2011 WL 884455 (D. Kan.
Mar. 11, 2011). On October 18, 2012, the Tenth Circuit reversed that decision and
remanded the case. See Petrella v. Brownback, 697 F.3d 1285 (10th Cir. 2012). The
Tenth Circuit agreed with plaintiffs’ argument—asserted for the first time on
appeal—that their alleged injury was not the inability to raise funds through a tax but
rather unequal treatment generally, which could be redressed, for instance, by
invalidation of the entire funding scheme. See id. at 1295-96.
Upon remand, the Magistrate Judge conducted a scheduling conference and
issued a scheduling order. The parties were ordered to file supplemental briefs in
support of the pending motions to dismiss, motions to stay, and motion for preliminary
injunction, and deadlines were set for those briefs and for any new motions. The
Magistrate Judge also stayed discovery pending the resolution of a forthcoming motion
for a stay of discovery. The Board defendants and intervenors subsequently filed
additional motions to dismiss or to stay the case; the State defendants supplemented their
motion to dismiss; and plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs did not
supplement the briefing on their pending motion for preliminary injunction.
Dismissal and Summary Judgment Standards
The Court will dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim only when the
factual allegations fail to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), or when an issue of law is
dispositive, see Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989). The complaint need not
contain detailed factual allegations, but a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of
entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions; a formulaic recitation of
the elements of a cause of action will not do. See Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. The
Court must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, see
id., and view all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff, see Tal
v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252 (10th Cir. 2006). Viewed as such, the “[f]actual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell
Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. The issue in resolving a motion such as this is “not whether
[the] plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer
evidence to support the claims.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002)
(quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is
“no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and that it is “entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In applying this standard, the court views the
evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Burke v. Utah Transit Auth. & Local 382, 462 F.3d 1253, 1258 (10th
Motions to Stay the Litigation
Defendants argue that this Court should abstain from deciding this action or issue
a stay pursuant to Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941),
pending resolution of the Gannon case presently on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.
“Under Pullman abstention, a district court should abstain if three conditions are
satisfied: (1) an uncertain issue of state law underlies the federal constitutional claim; (2)
the state issues are amenable to interpretation and such an interpretation obviates the
need for or substantially narrows the scope of the constitutional claim; and (3) an
incorrect decision of state law by the district court would hinder important state law
policies.” See Lehman v. City of Louisville, 967 F.2d 1474, 1478 (10th Cir. 1992). In
Gannon, the Kansas Supreme Court will likely rule on the constitutionality of the Kansas
statutory school funding scheme, and defendants argue that that ruling will affect and
may obviate the need for a ruling on the constitutionality of the LOB cap.
The Court rejects this request for Pullman abstention. First, the Tenth Circuit has
noted the Supreme Court’s preference for certification of questions over the use of
Pullman abstention. See Kansas Judicial Review v. Stout, 519 F.3d 1107, 1119 (10th
Cir. 2008) (citing, inter alia, Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 76
(1997)). The doctrine is to be applied narrowly. See Reetz v. Bozanich, 397 U.S. 82, 86
(1970). In this case, there is no unsettled question of state law that should first be
addressed by the state courts. Plaintiffs have disavowed any claim here that school
funding is inadequate in violation of the Kansas Constitution, and they claim only that
the LOB cap violates the federal Constitution. The fact that a ruling in Gannon could
potentially affect the LOB cap or this suit does not provide a basis for Pullman
abstention. Defendants’ motions are denied with respect to this issue.
Colorado River Abstention
Similarly, the Court denies the Board defendants’ motion for dismissal or a stay,
in light of the pending Gannon case, based on Colorado River abstention. See Colorado
River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). In Colorado
River, the Supreme Court provided a basis for federal court abstention in deference to
a parallel state court proceeding, based on factors such as the inconvenience of the
federal forum, the desire to avoid piecemeal litigation, and the order in which jurisdiction
was obtained by the concurrent forums. See id. at 818. The balance of these factors is
heavily weighted in favor of the exercise of federal jurisdiction, and “only the clearest
of justifications will warrant dismissal.” See Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp. v. Mercury
Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 16 (1983) (quoting Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 818-19).
Although both this case and Gannon relate to the same statutory scheme, they are
distinct, as the federal constitutionality of the specific statutory provision concerning the
LOB cap—the narrow issue here—is not at issue in Gannon, and thus these cases are not
actually parallel in the sense contemplated by this doctrine.
extraordinary circumstances needed for Colorado River abstention are not present here.
Inherent Power to Stay
The Board defendants also ask the Court to issue a stay pending resolution of
Gannon pursuant to the Court’s inherent power to control its docket, as recognized in
Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248 (1936). In Landis, however, the Supreme
Court emphasized that the party requesting the stay “must make out a clear case of
hardship or inequity in being required to go forward,” see id. at 255, and the Tenth
Circuit has noted that, under Landis, a plaintiff’s right to proceed “should not be denied
except under the most extreme circumstances.” See Commodity Futures Trading
Comm’n v. Chilcott Portfolio Mgmt., Inc., 713 F.2d 1477, 1484 (10th Cir. 1983) (quoting
Klein v. Adams & Peck, 436 F.2d 337, 339 (2d Cir. 1971)). For the same reasons cited
above, the Court declines to exercise its discretion to impose a stay here.
The State defendants also argue that the Court should dismiss this action under
principles of comity pursuant to Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc., 560 U.S. 413 (2010).
The Court rejects this argument as well. Levin is clearly distinguishable, as that case
turned on the Supreme Court’s disfavor of the federal courts’ interference with state
taxation schemes. See id. Although a particular tax is at issue in this case, it is only a
part of the school funding scheme, and the Court is not being asked to review an entire
scheme of taxation. Thus, the concerns present in Levin are not found here.
The Court also rejects the Board defendants’ motion to dismiss this action for lack
of ripeness. Defendants argue that because the status of the statutory school funding
scheme is contingent on the outcome of the Gannon case, the operation of the LOB cap
may not occur. As plaintiffs point out, however, the fact that the Kansas Supreme Court
may declare the scheme unconstitutional as a whole does not make the present
controversy unripe, and defendants have provided no authority to support its novel
interpretation of the ripeness doctrine.
Defendants also suggest that, in light of the district court decision in Gannon,
plaintiffs cannot show that any harm was caused by the LOB cap and not by inadequate
funding generally. This is matter of proof, however, and the Court is not persuaded that
the case’s ripeness turns on such an issue of proof.2
The Board defendants argue that they are not proper defendants in this suit
because they are not involved in enforcement of the LOB cap. In their opinion in this
case, however, the Tenth Circuit held that these defendants were proper defendants in
this type of suit. See Petrella, 697 F.3d at 1293-94. In their supplemental briefing, the
Board defendants do not address that holding by the Tenth Circuit, but argue that the
The Board defendants have requested that discovery be stayed until resolution
of defendants’ motions to dismiss and to stay. As the Court is presently resolving those
motions, the request for a stay of discovery is denied as moot.
complaint does not state sufficient facts concerning their involvement in enforcement of
the cap. In light of the Tenth Circuit’s holding, however, the Court concludes that these
defendants are proper parties to this suit and that plaintiffs’ allegations are sufficient in
that regard. This portion of the Board defendants’ motion to dismiss is therefore denied.
Law of the Case
Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ allegations are not sufficient to state plausible
claims. Plaintiffs argue that the Tenth Circuit implicitly rejected that argument in its
opinion in this case and that this Court therefore should not consider defendants’
arguments under the “law of the case” doctrine. See Copart, Inc. v. Administrative
Review Bd., 495 F.3d 1197, 1201-02 (10th Cir. 2007) (under law of the case doctrine,
issue may have been implicitly resolved in a prior appeal). The Court rejects this
argument by plaintiffs. The Tenth Circuit did not offer any opinions concerning the
sufficiency or plausibility of plaintiff’s allegations or otherwise concerning the merits
of plaintiffs’ claims. The Tenth Circuit’s opinion was limited to the issue of Article III
standing; thus, consideration of the sufficiency of plaintiffs’ allegations was not a
necessary step in resolving the appeal, and the Court’s consideration of those allegations
now would not abrogate the Tenth Circuit’s decision concerning standing. See id.
(listing possible grounds for the conclusion that an issue was implicitly resolved in a
prior appeal). Similarly, the Court does not agree that the Tenth Circuit’s remand of the
case “for a consideration of the merits” was intended to foreclose valid challenges to the
sufficiency of the complaint.
Accordingly, the Court will consider defendants’
assertions that plaintiffs have failed to state cognizable and plausible claims.
Infringement of a Fundamental Right
With respect to the merits of plaintiff’s equal protection claim, the first question
is to determine the applicable level of scrutiny. Plaintiffs assert that the Court should
apply a standard of strict scrutiny—that is, determining whether the statute is narrowly
tailored to serve a compelling state interest—because the LOB cap operates as an
infringement on their fundamental rights. See Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456, 461 (1988)
(classifications affecting fundamental rights are given strict scrutiny). Plaintiffs’
substantive due process claim also depends on the abridgement of a fundamental right.
See Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719 (1997) (Due Process Clause protects
against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests).
Plaintiffs allege the abridgement of three fundamental rights or liberties: (1) the right
of parents to direct and participate in the upbringing and education of their children; (2)
the right of parents and others in the school district to spend their own money on
improved public education; and (3) the right under the First Amendment to assemble,
associate, and petition for the advancement of the educational interests of their children
through a popular vote on increased local taxes.
The Court rejects application of the strict scrutiny standard in this case. First,
plaintiffs have not provided any authority declaring one of these interests to be a
fundamental right in this context of seeking the ability to conduct an election to approve
the imposition of a tax. The Court will not declare a new fundamental right in the
absence of such authority.
Moreover, the Supreme Court’s discussion in San Antonio Independent School
District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973), concerning the proper level of scrutiny supports
rejection of a strict scrutiny standard in this case. In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court
rejected an equal protection challenge, under a rational basis review, to Texas’s statutory
school funding scheme that included reliance on local property taxation. See id. The
Supreme Court concluded that although it had proclaimed the importance of public
education in prior opinions, there is no fundamental right to public education under the
United States Constitution. See id. at 29-39.
Plaintiffs suggest that Rodriguez does not necessarily control here because they
have argued for slightly different fundamental rights. In Rodriguez, however, the Court
also noted that a less-stringent test was appropriate because the attack was on the way
in which Texas raised and disbursed state and local tax revenues, which meant that the
Court was being asked to intrude in an area in which the Court has traditionally deferred
to state legislatures. See id. at 40-44. The Court noted that it had “often admonished
against such interferences with the State’s fiscal policies under the Equal Protection
Clause.” See id. at 40. The Court further stated: “In such a complex arena in which no
perfect alternatives exist, the Court does well not to impose too rigorous a standard of
scrutiny lest all local fiscal schemes become subjects of criticism under the Equal
Protection Clause.” See id. at 41. Thus, the Supreme Court has counseled against using
strict scrutiny in this area of public school funding, in which the federal courts lack the
expertise and familiarity with the issues possessed by the state legislature.
An examination of each of the particular interests asserted by plaintiffs also
supports rejection of the strict scrutiny standard in favor of the rational basis test. First,
plaintiffs claim that strict scrutiny is warranted here by the infringement of their
fundamental right as parents to direct and participate in the upbringing and education of
their children. In support of this argument, plaintiffs have cited various instances in
which the Supreme Court has noted the fundamental right of parents concerning the care,
custody, and control of their children. See, e.g., Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66
(2000). More specifically, the Supreme Court has noted its recognition of a fundamental
liberty interest “to direct the education and upbringing of one’s children.”
Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720 (1997) (citing Meyer v. Nebraska, 262
U.S. 390 (1923), and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)). The cases cited
by plaintiffs concerning education, however, are easily distinguished. Meyer concerned
the violation of a statute forbidding the teaching of a foreign language prior to graduation
from eighth grade. See Meyer, 262 U.S. 390. Pierce concerned the violation of a statute
requiring education at public schools instead of private schools. See Pierce, 268 U.S.
510. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), concerned a statutory requirement to
attend school until age 16. See id. In none of those cases did the Supreme Court
recognize a parent’s fundamental right to control all aspects of public education. See
Swanson ex rel. Swanson v. Guthrie Independent Sch. Dist. No. I-L, 135 F.3d 694, 699
(10th Cir. 1998) (“parents simply do not have a constitutional right to control each and
every aspect of their children’s education and oust the state’s authority over that
subject”). In particular, the Court has not recognized the right of parents to control how
a State funds public education, including the right to attempt to compel a vote seeking
to authorize a local tax to force others (as well as themselves) to use their money to fund
public education. Such a broadly ranging right may not be inferred from a more specific
fundamental right relating to parents’ ability to have their children learn a particular
subject or to choose to have them educated in a private school or at home.
In addition, this right to control one’s child’s education must be considered in the
context of the Supreme Court’s holding that there is no fundamental right to public
education. Thus, in the present case, plaintiffs are not so much trying to retain the right
to decide how to educate their children, as much as they are trying to assert a right to
more and better-funded public education. That claim treads closer to Rodriguez, in
which the strict scrutiny standard was rejected, than to the right to control education, and
the Court therefore rejects this basis for application of strict scrutiny here.
Second, plaintiffs argue in favor of parents’ fundamental right to spend their own
money on their children’s education. In support of such a right, plaintiffs cite only a
statement in a concurring opinion in Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio, 431 U.S.
494 (1977), a case concerning a single-family zoning requirement, in which Justice
Stevens noted the long-recognized common-law “basic right” of an owner “to decide
best how to use his own property.” See id. at 513 (Stevens, J., concurring). Justice
Stevens, however, did not recognize or cite authority for a fundamental right, for
purposes of a claim under the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause, to
spend money however one wishes, without limits. Thus, this Court will not create a
hitherto unrecognzied unlimited fundamental right to spend one’s money on education
without restriction. Certainly, plaintiffs have not provided any authority recognizing a
specific right to attempt to compel a vote seeking to authorize a local tax to fund public
education. Moreover, plaintiffs seek to spend not only their own money, but that of their
neighbors in the school district as well, and plaintiffs have not cited any support for a
fundamental right to spend others’ money on their children’s education.
Further, even if such a fundamental right to spend one’s own money on education
did exist, the LOB cap does not abridge that right. Plaintiffs are not being prevented
from using their money to fund their children’s education, as they can send their children
to private schools or donate their money to the local school district. Plaintiffs respond
that it is absurd to talk about private donations, which cannot possibly be expected to
provide the needed revenue. The unlikelihood that plaintiffs will effect change by giving
their own money, however, does not bear on the question of whether plaintiffs’ right to
spend their money (assuming there is such a right) is being abridged here. Plaintiffs are
not being prevented from giving as much as they wish to their school district or
otherwise in furtherance of their children’s education; therefore, there is no abridgement
of the right asserted by plaintiffs here.
Third, plaintiffs assert the abridgement of fundamental rights under the First
Amendment, including the right to associate and to petition the government. Plaintiffs
cite Citizens Against Rent Control/Coalition for Fair Housing v. City of Berkeley, 454
U.S. 290 (1981). In that case, the Court held that a statute’s limit on campaign
contributions to committees concerning ballot measures, as opposed to contributions to
individuals, limited speech and violated the First Amendment’s right of association. See
id. That case is clearly distinguishable, however, as the statute at issue limited the
exercise of an existing ballot measure provision. In the present case, plaintiffs are
essentially arguing in favor of a fundamental right to associate to pursue a particular
voter initiative in a manner not presently authorized under Kansas law (i.e., approving
a tax in excess of the statutory cap). The Tenth Circuit, however, has explicitly rejected
the concept of a fundamental right to pursue a voter initiative. See Save Palisade
FruitLands v. Todd, 279 F.3d 1204, 1210-11 (10th Cir. 2002) (“[N]othing in the
language of the Constitution commands direct democracy, and we are aware of no
authority supporting this argument. In fact, every decision of which we are aware has
held that initiatives are state-created rights and are therefore not guaranteed by the U.S.
Constitution.”). Otherwise, plaintiffs’ right to associate has not been abridged, as they
are free to join together, for instance, to petition the Kansas Legislature to repeal the
LOB cap. Thus, the Citizens case does not support heightened scrutiny here.
Plaintiffs also argue that the LOB cap infringes their right under the First
Amendment to seek better education for their children. As noted above, however, the
Supreme Court has concluded that there is no fundamental right to public education.
Plaintiff cite Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265 (1986), in which the Supreme Court noted
that Rodriguez had not completely foreclosed the possibility of applying strict scrutiny,
based on an argument that some minimal amount of education is necessary to the
meaningful exercise of the right to exercise free speech or to vote, in an instance of a
“radical denial of educational opportunity.” See id. at 284. In Papasan, as in Rodriguez,
however, rational basis scrutiny was appropriate because there were no allegations that
such a minimally adequate education had been denied, such that students could not read
or write, or were not given basic instruction. See id. at 285-87. In attempting to invoke
this possible exception noted in Rodriguez and Papasan, plaintiffs argue that the Kansas
Supreme Court has held in the past that previous school funding schemes did not provide
for adequate public education, in violation of the Kansas Constitution. Plaintiff also cite
to statistics placing the funding for their school district in the lower portion of rankings
of districts in Kansas. Plaintiffs, however, have not made any showing—or even alleged
in their complaint—that the statutory funding scheme in general and the LOB cap in
particular cause children in Kansas or in their district to be so under-educated to
constitute a “radical denial of educational opportunity” as necessary to the meaningful
exercise of the right to free speech. In short, the Court is not persuaded that this case
should be treated differently from Rodriguez and Papasan, in which rational basis
review was deemed appropriate.
In summary, plaintiffs have not provided authority for the recognition of a
fundamental right in this context of seeking the ability to approve a tax, and this Court
will not recognize such a right for the first time in this case, particularly in light of the
Supreme Court’s application of a rational-basis standard in Rodriguez and Papasan.
Accordingly, plaintiffs cannot maintain their claim for a violation of substantive due
process, and defendants’ motions to dismiss are granted to that extent. Similarly,
because the Court concludes that plaintiffs’ equal protection claim must be considered
under a rational basis standard, defendants are entitled to dismissal of plaintiffs’ equal
protection claim to the extent that it is asserted under the strict scrutiny standard.
Correspondingly, plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is denied with respect to
Equal Protection Claim – Rational Basis Review
Because heightened scrutiny is not appropriate, the Court reviews the LOB cap
under the rational basis standard, which requires only that the means be rationally related
to a conceivable and legitimate state end. See, e.g., Nguyen v. INS, 533 U.S. 53, 77
(2001). “The fact that other means are better suited to the achievement of governmental
ends therefore is of no moment under rational basis review.” Id. The Supreme Court has
described this inquiry as follows:
Whether embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment or inferred from
the Fifth, equal protection is not a license for courts to judge the wisdom,
fairness, or logic of legislative choices. In areas of social and economic
policy, a statutory classification that neither proceeds along suspect lines
nor infringes fundamental constitutional rights must be upheld against
equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of
facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification. Where there
are plausible reasons for Congress’ action, our inquiry is at an end. This
standard of review is a paradigm of judicial restraint. The Constitution
presumes that, absent some reason to infer antipathy, even improvident
decisions will eventually be rectified by the democratic process and that
judicial intervention is generally unwarranted no matter how unwisely we
may think a political branch has acted.
See FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 313-14 (1993) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).
Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment in their favor on their equal
protection claim. Because the Court concludes that plaintiffs have not established a
violation of equal protection as a matter of law at this stage, as explained below, the
Court denies their motion for summary judgment. At the same time, the Court declines
the State defendants’ invitation to award defendants summary judgment on this claim
despite the absence of any motion by defendants pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. In ruling
on plaintiffs’ motion, the Court is obliged to draw all inferences in defendants’ favor,
and thus it assumes for purposes of that motion that the Kansas Legislature enacted the
LOB cap in furtherance of the interests asserted by defendants. That same inference may
not be drawn in considering judgment in defendants’ favor, however, and defendants
have not yet provided record evidence establishing as a matter of uncontroverted fact
that the Legislature in fact acted in furtherance of those interests (and not for some
improper discriminatory purpose, for instance). For that reason, the Court will not enter
judgment in defendants’ favor at this time. Moreover, for that same reason, and because
plaintiffs have adequately pleaded a violation of the Equal Protection Clause by alleging
that the Legislature acted without a rational basis, the Court denies defendants’ motions
to dismiss for failure to state a claim as they relate to this particular claim.
The Court first considers the most relevant Supreme Court cases, the import of
which the parties dispute. In Rodriguez, as noted above, the Supreme Court rejected an
equal protection challenge, under a rational basis review, to Texas’s statutory school
funding scheme that included reliance on local property taxation. See Rodriguez, 411
U.S. 1. In a footnote in that opinion, the Supreme Court noted the dissenting opinion’s
reference to the statutory funding scheme’s cap on the local school district tax, and it
concluded that the constitutionality of that cap was not before the Court “and must await
litigation in a case in which it is properly presented.” See id. at 50 n.107. The Court
then included a “Cf.” cite to the case of Hargrave v. Kirk, 313 F. Supp. 944 (M.D. Fla.
1970), vacated sub. nom Askew v. Hargrave, 401 U.S. 476 (1971). In Hargrave, the
district court concluded that a cap similar to the LOB cap violated the Equal Protection
Clause. Plaintiffs argue that the Supreme Court effectively endorsed the district court’s
ruling in Hargrave by its citation to that opinion. The Court flatly rejects that argument.
In Rodriguez, the Supreme Court expressly refused to address the issue of a cap’s
constitutionality. Moreover, the Court also cited its vacating of the district court’s
opinion in Hargrave. See Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 50 n.107. Finally, in the course of
vacating that opinion, the Supreme Court commented that the district court improperly
decided the issue only on the basis of the pleadings and an affidavit that merely verified
those pleadings. See Askew, 401 U.S. at 478-79. Thus, there is no basis to infer that the
Supreme Court effectively endorsed the ruling of the Hargrave district court by its
citation to that case in a footnote in Rodriguez.
In fact, consideration of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Rodriguez seems to
weigh against plaintiffs’ claim here. In that case, the Supreme Court noted that the
Texas system, like almost every state’s, was intended to create a statewide system of
funding public education while continuing an element of local participation and control.
See Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 47-49. The Court noted that some resulting disparity was not
sufficient to make the scheme unconstitutional; nor should the scheme be condemned
just because it was imperfect or other methods would have been better. See id. at 50-51.
The Court stressed that the Texas system was not the result of hurried, ill-conceived
legislation, and was not intended to discriminate against any particular class. See id. at
55. The Court stated:
We are unwilling to assume for ourselves a level of wisdom superior to
that of legislators, scholars, and educational authorities in 50 States,
especially where the alternatives proposed are only recently conceived and
nowhere yet tested. The constitutional standard under the Equal Protection
Clause is whether the challenged state action rationally furthers a
legitimate state purpose or interest. We hold that the Texas plan
abundantly satisfies this standard.
See id. (citation omitted). As a “cautionary postscript,” the Court noted that a contrary
result would have caused a great upheaval in public education, that there is nothing
certain in trying to predict the outcome of employing a different scheme, and that such
considerations highlight the “wisdom of the traditional limitations” on the Court’s
function. See id. at 56-58. Thus, in Rodriguez the Supreme Court stressed the
importance of the federal courts’ deference to the judgment of legislators regarding
public school funding. The need for such deference undermines plaintiffs’ claim seeking
to invalidate as irrational one provision of the comprehensive statutory school funding
scheme enacted by the Kansas Legislature.
After Rodriguez, the Supreme Court again considered the constitutionality of a
school funding scheme in Papasan. In Papasan, the district court dismissed the claims
at the pleading stage as barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and the Fifth Circuit agreed
with that ruling and also ruled that dismissal was proper because the scheme was not
unconstitutional under Rodriguez. See Papasan, 478 U.S. at 275. The Supreme Court
reversed, holding that the equal protection claim was not barred by the Eleventh
Amendment and that Rodriguez did not require dismissal of that claim at the pleading
stage. See id. at 276-92. The Court distinguished Rodriguez as follows:
[A]s to this claim, we are unpersuaded that Rodriguez resolves the equal
protection question in favor of the State. The allegations of the complaint
are that the State is distributing the income from [certain lands] unequally
among the school districts, to the detriment of [certain schools] and their
students. . . . This case is therefore very different from Roriguez, where
the differential financing available to school districts was traceable to
school district funds available from local real estate taxation, not to a state
decision to divide state resources unequally among school districts. The
rationality of the disparity in Rodriguez, therefore, which rested on the fact
that funding disparities based on differing local wealth were a necessary
adjunct of allowing meaningful local control over school funding, does not
settle the constitutionality of disparities alleged in this case . . . .
See id. at 287-88. Based on that reasoning, plaintiffs argue that its claim is more like the
one in Papasan than the one in Rodriguez because the disparity from which they allege
harm resulted not from the differing local wealth but from the State’s affirmative
decision to limit additional local funding by imposition of the LOB cap.
Plaintiffs’ comparison of this case to Papasan, however, is not completely apt,
as the State has not decided in this case simply to allocate different amounts of money
to different school districts. The challenged LOB cap does not represent a state-created
disparity, as discussed in Papasan; rather, it represents an attempt to limit the disparity
that may result from an unlimited ability of school districts to provide additional funding.
Thus, the Court does not agree that this case is more akin to Papasan than to Rodriguez.
Moreover, even if this case were similar to Papasan, that case would not compel
judgment in plaintiffs’ favor at this stage. In Papasan, the Court did not hold that the
statute was unconstitutional; rather, the Court, after distinguishing Rodriguez, remanded
the case for litigation of the equal protection claim under the rational basis standard. See
id. at 292. In the present case, then, if Rodriguez does not require a ruling in defendants’
favor, it at least compels further litigation of the claim, as in Papasan. The Supreme
Court’s decision in Papasan certainly does not provide a basis for finding a
constitutional violation as a matter of law at this stage.
Plaintiffs argue that equity—the attempt here to limit the amounts that richer
school districts can raise from the LOB, and thus limit the resulting disparity among
districts that could occur without a cap—is not a legitimate governmental interest.
Plaintiffs argue that a disparity in favor of richer districts would be constitutionally
permitted under Rodriguez, and that therefore the State is not required to try to address
that disparity by limiting the cap.
Plaintiffs also point to the Kansas Supreme Court’s decisions in the Montoy case.
In Montoy II, the supreme court held that the statutory school funding scheme in effect
at that time failed to comply with the Kansas Constitution’s requirement that the
Legislature “make suitable provision for finance” of public schools. See Montoy v. State
(Montoy II), 278 Kan. 769 (2005). The court stated that the “equity with which the funds
are distributed” was a critical factor for the Legislature to consider in providing suitable
funding. See id. at 775. In Montoy III, the supreme court held that new legislation
enacted in response to Montoy II was not sufficient. See Montoy v. State (Montoy III),
279 Kan. 817 (2005). The court noted in that opinion that the Legislature’s increase in
the LOB cap exacerbated wealth-based disparities between school districts. See id. at
834. Finally, in Montoy IV, the supreme court held that new legislation was sufficient
to satisfy the requirements of the Kansas Constitution. See Montoy v. State (Montoy IV),
282 Kan. 9 (2006). In that opinion, the court noted that the Kansas Legislature had
responded to its concerns about “wealth-based disparities inherent in the LOB” by
adjusting a component of that provision. See id. at 23.
Plaintiffs argue that, in the Montoy cases, the supreme court did not necessarily
require equity in all situations, but that any equity considerations related only to the
achievement of suitability under the Kansas Constitution. Thus, plaintiffs appear to
argue that equity is not required if suitability is already achieved, and that therefore
equity is not a legitimate interest here.
This analysis by plaintiffs is not sound. Even if plaintiffs were correct that the
State was not required to seek equity among school districts in order to be constitutional,
either under Rodriguez or the Montoy cases, that does not mean that pursuing equity is
not a legitimate governmental interest as a matter of policy. Notably, plaintiffs have not
cited any cases, or offered any persuasive reasoning, to support the argument that equity
is not a legitimate governmental interest with respect to funding public education.3
Plaintiffs argue that one may not seek to achieve equity at the sake of violating the Equal
Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, or by discriminating against a class
such as wealthier school districts. It is elemental, however, that the Equal Protection
Clause does not forbid all discrimination or unequal treatment, but only forbids unequal
treatment that does not pass the rational basis test (in the absence of a fundamental right).
Thus, a state may, under the Equal Protection Clause, discriminate against wealthier
districts if the measure is rationally related to a legitimate purpose. Moreover, as
defendants note, the pursuit of a claim under the Equal Protection Clause based on the
argument that equity is not a legitimate governmental interest seems inherently
In addition, plaintiffs’ argument concerning the Montoy cases appears at least a
Plaintiffs argue that the LOB cap serves only to disadvantage school districts that
wish to spend more money on schools, and they state that the Supreme Court has
repeatedly rejected such “disadvantaging” justifications as illegitimate. In support of
that statement, however, plaintiffs cite only cases that involve the fundamental right of
free speech under the First Amendment, which cases are therefore easily distinguished
from the present case.
little disingenuous in light of the complaint’s allegation that suitability has not been
achieved in Kansas. Furthermore, at the time that the LOB cap was enacted in its present
form, the Legislature was attempting to address the Kansas Supreme Court’s holding that
funding was not suitable. In Montoy IV, the supreme court noted the change in the LOB
and cap provisions and held that the legislature had adequately addressed the problem
of the local wealth disparity. Thus, the court effectively required the Kansas Legislature
to consider equity with respect to the LOB cap in order to achieve compliance with the
Kansas Constitution. In Papasan, the United States Supreme Court stated that if the
state’s action was dictated by a requirement of federal law—if the state effectively “had
no choice in the matter”—that requirement would provide a rational reason for the
funding disparity there. See Papasan, 478 U.S. at 289. Similarly here, the Kansas
Supreme Court’s dictates to the Kansas Legislature to consider equity with respect to
LOB cap in order to ensure compliance with the Kansas Constitution would provide a
rational basis for the Legislature’s subsequent legislation.
Plaintiffs also contend that the LOB cap fails the rational basis test because it does
not serve equity but actually harms equity, in the sense that their school district receives
lower funding than other districts and cannot supplement that funding through an
unlimited LOB to catch up. Thus, plaintiffs argue that educational quality is harmed,
based on their allegations that quality is tied to funding and that their school district has
had to close schools and increase class sizes. Plaintiffs further argue that the LOB cap
does not promote equity because there is no reason to believe that wealth-based
disparities would occur without the cap. Plaintiffs argue that any such effect is pure
speculation, particularly with respect to arguments that wealthier districts would be able
to hire the best teachers by offering more money. Plaintiffs note defendants’ statement
that, if there were no cap and wealthier districts raised more money, the State would be
required to pay out more supplemental aid to the other districts; thus, plaintiffs argue that
no disparity would occur.
These arguments are not persuasive. First, any such factual disputes concerning
plaintiffs’ actual harms and the causes therefor preclude summary judgment in plaintiffs’
favor. Moreover, defendants argue that the harm plaintiffs allege (less money, closing
of schools) is not caused by the LOB cap, which is applied in the same manner to all
school districts, but rather that any disparity in funding results from the entire
scheme—attacks on which plaintiffs have consistently disclaimed in this Court, in the
course of its “surgical” attack on the LOB cap. Finally, these arguments by plaintiffs fail
to address the governing principle of law, set forth above, that a measure may be
reasonably related to achieving the legitimate interest even if it does not succeed or
provide the best method for achieving it. Plaintiffs essentially argue that the State did
not choose the best way to achieve equity, but that fact (even if true) does not mean that
equal protection has been violated. In summary, plaintiffs have not shown that equity
in school funding is not a legitimate state interest or that the LOB cap is not rationally
related to that interest.
Defendants also point to the State’s legitimate governmental interest in limiting
property tax rates. See Lynch v. State of Alabama, No. 08-S-450-NE, 2011 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 155012, at *1184-85 (N.D. Ala. Nov. 7, 2011) (cap on property taxes for funding
school districts rationally related to legitimate governmental interest in maintaining
lower property tax rates). Plaintiffs distinguish Lynch on the basis that the present case
involves a desired tax increase, which would be approved by the voters and thus would
represent taxation with representation. Of course, any LOB tax is also imposed on those
who have voted against the tax, and the Kansas Legislature—a representative
body—would have a legitimate interest in limiting taxes imposed on its citizens for
economic reasons. Plaintiffs have not shown that the LOB cap could not be rationally
related to such a legitimate interest.
Accordingly, plaintiffs have not established a violation of equal protection under
the rational basis test as a matter of law. The Court therefore denies plaintiffs’ motion
for summary judgment.
In the early stages of this action, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary
injunction barring enforcement of the LOB cap. Although the Court took evidence and
conducted a hearing on that motion, its dismissal of the case for lack of standing
prevented it from reaching the merits of the preliminary injunction motion. Upon
remand from the Tenth Circuit, plaintiffs have not submitted supplemental briefing or
otherwise sought to obtain a ruling on that motion. Nevertheless, because plaintiffs have
not withdrawn the motion, it remains pending, and the Court will address it here.
“Under the traditional four-prong test for a preliminary injunction, the party
moving for an injunction must show: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a
likely threat of irreparable harm to the movant; (3) the harm alleged by the movant
outweighs any harm to the non-moving party; and (4) an injunction is in the public
interest.” See Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114, 1128 (10th Cir.
2013). If a movant can show that the last three requirements “tip strongly” in its favor,
the movant may meet the first requirement regarding success on the merits “by showing
that questions going to the merits are so serious, substantial, difficult, and doubtful as to
make the issue ripe for litigation.” See Oklahoma ex rel. Okla. Tax Comm’n v.
International Registration Plan, Inc., 455 F.3d 1107, 1113 (10th Cir. 2006).
The Court concludes that plaintiffs have failed to satisfy this test for a preliminary
injunction. First, the Court concludes that plaintiffs have not shown a likelihood of
success on the merits of their equal protection claim. For the reasons set forth by the
Court in denying plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs are not likely to
succeed in showing that the LOB cap is not rationally related to the pursuit of a
legitimate state interest in maintaining equity among school districts with respect to
Moreover, plaintiffs are not entitled to a relaxed standard for showing likelihood
of success on the merits because the other requirements for a preliminary injunction do
not weigh strongly in plaintiffs’ favor. Specifically, the Court concludes that plaintiffs
cannot show that their alleged harm in being subject to the LOB cap outweighs the harm
to the State and to the public from an injunction against enforcement of the cap. The
Court has previously analyzed the issue and concluded that the LOB cap is not severable
from the rest of the statutory school funding scheme under Kansas law.4 Thus, because
the school funding scheme may not be applied without the LOB cap, the injunction
sought by plaintiffs would also completely upend the entire system of public education
in Kansas. Such a result would work a tremendous hardship on public-school students
and the rest of the public throughout Kansas, and that potential hardship easily outweighs
plaintiffs’ alleged harm from continued enforcement of the LOB cap pending the
outcome of this litigation. Accordingly, the Court denies plaintiffs’ motion for a
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED BY THE COURT THAT the State defendants’
motion to dismiss (Doc. # 36) and the Board defendants’ motions to dismiss (Doc. ## 38,
88) are granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs’ due process claim and their
In reversing this Court’s dismissal of the case for lack of standing, the Tenth
Circuit stated that because plaintiffs’ alleged injury went beyond the inability to hold an
election to approve a local tax and included having to suffer discrimination in violation
of the Constitution (an argument raised for the first time on appeal), this Court’s
consideration of the severability issue was premature. See Petrella, 697 F.3d at 1296.
The severability issue is relevant, however, to plaintiffs’ pending motion for a
preliminary injunction, as it bears on the potential harm suffered by the State and the
public if enforcement of the LOB cap is enjoined. Accordingly, the Court must resolve
the issue at this time, and it reaffirms its prior ruling that the cap is not severable. See
Petrella, 2011 WL 884455, at *3-6.
claims based on an application of strict scrutiny or a denial of fundamental rights are
dismissed, and defendants’ motions to dismiss are granted to that extent; defendants’
motions are otherwise denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED BY THE COURT THAT the motion to dismiss or
stay filed by the Board defendants and intervenors (Doc. # 90) is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED BY THE COURT THAT plaintiffs’ motion for
summary judgment (Doc. # 93) is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED BY THE COURT THAT plaintiffs’ motion for
preliminary injunction (Doc. # 28) is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 29th day of October, 2013, in Kansas City, Kansas.
s/ John W. Lungstrum
John W. Lungstrum
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?