E.L. v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER... IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19 ) is GRANTED. An appropriate Judgment and Order of Dismissal is filed herewith. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 10 ) is DENIED as moot. Signed by District Judge Ronnie L. White on 7/15/2016. (NEB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
E.L., a minor, by LA'SHEIKA WHITE the
Mother, legal guardian, and next friend ofE.L., )
Case No. 4:16CV629 RLW
VOLUNTARY INTERDISTRICT CHOICE
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No.
10) and Defendant Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation' s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19).
These matters are fully briefed and ready for disposition.
La' Shieka White alleges that she moved with her husband and three children from the City
of St. Louis to the St. Louis County suburb of Maryland Heights because of the "rampant crime" in
(ECF No. 1,
5). The family' s St. Louis County residence is zoned for the
Pattonville School District. (ECF No. 1, ~~5 , 6). Ms. White' s oldest child, E.L., is a minor and
E.L. is currently a third grade student at Gateway Science Academy
("Gateway") in the City of St. Louis. Gateway is a charter school in the City of St. Louis, not a
(ECF No. 20 at 8).
Defendant Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation
("VICC") is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, organized under the laws of the State of Missouri.
(ECF No. 1, ~7). VICC is responsible for administering the St. Louis Student Transfer Program
("Transfer Program"), including the transfer of non-African-American St. Louis County students
to public schools within the City of St. Louis. (ECF No. 1, ~7).
Under the current VICC policy, only African-American students residing within the City
of St. Louis are eligible to transfer to a school district in the County of St. Louis. (ECF No. 1, ~8).
Conversely, under the current VICC policy, only white students residing in St. Louis County are
eligible to transfer to a public school in the City of St. Louis. (ECF No. 1, ~9) .
Plaintiff has not alleged that she asked Gateway for a waiver for the school residency
requirement as authorized by R.S. Mo. §167.020.2(2). Such a waiver may be granted on the
"basis of hardship or good cause." R.S. Mo. §167.020.3.
Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief because VICC ' s "race-based transfer rules currently
discriminate against Plaintiffs [sic] on the basis of race, and they will continue to do so in the
foreseeable future. " (ECF No. 1, ~38). Plaintiff also seeks declaratory relief and alleges a claim
for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution and 42 U.S.C. §§1981 , 1983.
PRIOR LITIGATION CREATING VICC AND MAGNET SCHOOLS
The Eighth Circuit has held that race-based interdistrict transfer of black City students to
the predominantly white St. Louis County school districts, and of white County students to magnet
schools in the predominantly black City district, is an appropriate, "constitutional" and
"necessary" remedy for the adjudicated unconstitutional race-based school segregation in the City.
Liddell v. State of Mo., 731F.2d1294, 1318 (8th Cir. 1984) (Liddell VII) (" [w]e approve ... [t]he
voluntary transfers of students between the city and suburban schools and the establishment of
additional magnet schools . . . in the City School District as necessary to the successful
desegregation of the city schools"); Liddell v. Bd. of Educ. of City of St. Louis, No. 4:72CV100
SNL, 1999 WL 33314210, at *2, *9 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 12, 1999)(approving "maintaining the magnet
school program" and "continuing voluntary transfer plan" as "fair, reasonable, adequate and
The 1999 Settlement Agreement (often called "Settlement Agreement" or "Agreement"),
approved by the Honorable Stephen M. Limbaugh, Sr., provided for a continuation of the remedial
efforts originally approved by the Eighth Circuit in Liddell VII. See Liddell v. Bd. ofEduc. ofCity
ofSt. Louis, No. 4:72CV100 SNL, 1999 WL 33314210, at *4, *9 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 12, 1999). The
Settlement Agreement called for the continued funding and maintenance of magnet schools and
County-to-City transfers would continue at a substantial level. Under the Agreement, VICC was
established as the entity to administer the interdistrict transfer program. (ECF No. 20 at 7).
VICC arranges for transportation of students participating in the City-to-County and
County-to-City transfer programs authorized by the Agreement and acts as an agent for the
purpose of distributing funding to the school districts educating those students. (ECF No. 20 at
VICC notes that, as contemplated by the 1999 Settlement Agreement, the County-to-City
magnet transfer program is phasing out. (ECF No. 20 at 5-6). VICC has recently promulgated a
strategic plan for fully phasing out the race-based transfer program. (ECF No. 20 at 6).
Motion to Dismiss
In ruling on a motion to dismiss or a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court must
view the allegations in the complaint liberally in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Eckert v.
Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801 , 806 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Luney v. SGS Auto Servs., 432 F.3d
866, 867 (8th Cir. 2005)). Additionally, the Court "must accept the allegations contained in the
complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Coons v.
Mine ta, 410 F .3d 1036, 1039 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell
At!. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (abrogating the "no set of facts" standard for Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). While a complaint
attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a
plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief "requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do."
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Huang v. Gateway Hotel Holdings, 520 F. Supp. 2d 1137, 1140 (E.D.
B. Complaint Fails to State a Claim
1. Unitary status
VICC contends that where there is a court-ordered, race-based program to remedy an
adjudicated violation of the Equal Protection Clause, the program cannot be challenged on equal
protection grounds unless and until there has been a declaration of unitary status. Here, VICC
argues that the transfer program cannot be challenged because there has been no declaration of
"unitary status" in Liddell. See Bd. ofEduc. ofOklahoma City Pub. Sch. , Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 89,
Oklahoma Cty. , Oki. v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237, 246 (1991) (before a court-ordered school
desegregation remedy may be "terminated or dissolved," the parties are "entitled to a rather precise
statement" that the district has achieved "unitary status"); Hampton v. Jefferson County Bd. of
Educ., 72 F. Supp. 2d 753 (W.D. Ky. 1999) (plaintiffs could not challenge remedial race-based
student assignment because "Court requires proof of the Board's good faith and of an absence of
vestiges to the extent practicable"). VICC maintains that the County-to-City magnet program is a
continuing remedial program for adjudicated violations of the Equal Protection Clause. (ECF No.
20 at 11 ). VICC asserts that unless there has been a clear finding of "unitary status," then the
transfer program should continue as a matter of settled law without risk of violating the Equal
In response, Plaintiff argues that a "unitary status" finding is not a prerequisite to
challenging discriminatory terms in a settlement. (ECF No. 22 at 2). Plaintiff asserts that the
Ninth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits have all permitted challenges to race-based terms in a
consent decree under the Equal Protection Clause. (ECF No. 22 at 2-3 (citing Ho by Ho v. San
Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 147 F.3d 854, 859 (9th Cir. 1998); Dean v. City of Shreveport, 438
F.3d 448, 456-57 (5th Cir. 2006); Detroit Police Officers Ass'n v. Young, 989 F.2d 225, 227 (6th
Cir. 1993); In re Birmingham Reverse Discrimination Employment Litig., 20 F.3d 1525, 1544
(11th Cir. 1994). Further, Plaintiff claims that the Court can address whether VICC's ban on
black student transfers serves to remedy past discrimination against black students without
addressing whether St. Louis schools are unitary. (ECF No. 22 at 3). Plaintiff claims that the
only case that supports VICC' s position mandating a finding of unitary status is one out-of-circuit
district case that has not been followed. (ECF No. 22 at 4-5 (citing Hampton , 72 F. Supp. 2d
753)). Plaintiff states that if the Court follows Hampton, then the Court should invite Plaintiff to
file a motion to modify the settlement, not dismiss the case. (ECF No. 22 at 5).
The Court agrees that there has never been an express declaration of unitary status in
Liddell or any subsequent declaration. See Bd. of Educ. of Oklahoma City Pub. Sch. , Indep. Sch.
Dist. No. 89, Oklahoma Cty., Oki. v. Dowell, 498 U.S. at 246. Rather, all of the orders from courts
in this district and the Eighth Circuit have discussed the need for remedial efforts to seek
integration of the public school systems. See Liddell VII, 731 F.2d at 1318; Liddell v. Bd. of Educ.
of City ofSt. Louis, No. 4:72CV100 SNL, 1999 WL 33314210, at *4, *9.
The Court further notes that none of the cases cited by Plaintiff support her claim that a
finding of unitary status is unnecessary in a school desegregation lawsuit such as this case. See
ECF No. 24 at 2-3. None of the cases cited by Plaintiff involved a challenge to a court-imposed
remedy for an adjudicated violation of the Equal Protection clause in a contested de Jure school
segregation class action. Most of the cases cited by Plaintiff involve consent decrees adopted to
address claims of employment discrimination that were never proven to a court. Only two cases
cited by Plaintiff involve race-based student assignments in schools, but neither of those cases
involved an adjudication of a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Parents Involved in Cmty.
Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007) is inapposite because the "school districts in
[those] cases voluntarily adopted student assignment plans that rely upon race to determine which
public schools certain children may attend." Id. at 709-10. Unlike the present case, the Supreme
Court noted "Seattle has never operated segregated schools-legally separate schools for students
of different races-nor has it ever been subject to court-ordered desegregation. It nonetheless
employs the racial tiebreaker in an attempt to address the effects of racially identifiable housing
patterns on school assignments." Id. , 551 U.S. at 712. Likewise, in Ho by Ho v. San Francisco
Unified Sch. Dist., 147 F.3d 854 (9th Cir. 1998), the parties had entered into a consent decree prior
to an adjudication of a violation. See San Francisco NAA CP v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist,
413 F. Supp. 2d 1051 , 1054 (N.D. Cal. 2005) (noting the parties entered into a consent decree prior
to adjudication). Thus, unlike the cases cited by Plaintiff, in Liddell both the violation of the
Equal Protection clause and the remedy were vigorously litigated by the parties. See Adams v.
United States, 620 F.2d 1277, 1280 (8th Cir. 1980) (the Board of Education failed to take adequate
steps "to disestablish the existing segregated school system"); Liddell v. State of Mo., 731 F .2d
1294, 1308 (8th Cir. 1984) ("The violation scarred every student in St. Louis for over five
generations and it gained legitimacy through the State Constitution and through the State's
preeminent role in education."). Further, it was adjudicated that "[e]xamination of voluntary
interdistrict transfers confirms that, as a remedy for an intradistrict violation, such transfers
comply with constitutional standards." Liddell v. State of Mo. , 731 F .2d 1294, 1305 (8th Cir.
1984). Barring any finding contrary to this, the Court holds that the remedial means are still
necessary, unitary status has not been achieved, and Plaintiffs claims should be dismissed.
Finally, the Court determines that VICC is not required to prove "narrowly tailoring" to
justify the race-based transfer program. (ECF No. 24 at 6). The Court has already approved the
remedies imposed to address the adjudicated Equal Protection violations. See Liddell v. Bd of
Educ. of City of St. Louis, No. 4:72CV100 SNL, 1999 WL 33314210, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 12,
1999) ("This remedy has been funded by the State and the City Board of Education, and has been
supervised by this Court on an ongoing basis with the assistance of various Court-appointed
advisors and monitors."); Liddell VII, 731 F.2d at 1305 (meets constitutional standards); see also
Vaughnsv. Bd ofEduc. ofPrince George's Cty., 742 F. Supp. 1275, 1296-97 (D. Md. 1990)(Strict
scrutiny did not apply to equal protection challenge to Board's faculty assignment policy because
it was "not deal with a plan independently and voluntarily conceived and executed by a school
board .. .. Rather, there exists a court-ordered plan[.]"). Therefore, the Court does not apply strict
scrutiny to this case and dismisses Plaintiffs action.
2. Judgment Preclusion
VICC argues that Plaintiffs lawsuit is an improper collateral attack on Judge Limbaugh's
final judgment approving the provisions of the Settlement Agreement as "constitutionally
permissible." Liddell v. Bd of Educ. of City of St. Louis, No. 4:72CV100 SNL, 1999 WL
33314210, at *9 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 12, 1999). Likewise, VICC contends that this lawsuit is a
"frontal assault on the Eighth Circuit's en bane holdings that the ' utility and propriety of magnets
as a desegregation remedy is beyond dispute ' and that the transfer program ' compl[ies] with
constitutional standards. "' (ECF No. 20 at 11 (citing Liddell VII, 731 F .2d at 1305). VICC argues
that the "policy arguments against collateral attacks are particularly compelling" given that this is
a court-approved class-action settlement in a school desegregation case. (ECF No. 20 at 12
(citing Garcia v. Bd. of Ed., Sch. Dist. No. 1, Denver, Colo., 573 F.2d 676, 679 (10th Cir. 1978)).
In response, Plaintiff maintains that she cannot be held to the terms of a voluntary
settlement of which she was not a part. (ECF No. 22 at 5 (citing Martin v. Wilks, 490 U.S. 755,
109 S. Ct. 2180, 104 L. Ed. 2d 835 (1989); Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32, 40 (1940)).
The Court holds that Plaintiffs claims are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel
pursuant to the Eighth Circuit's rulings in Liddell. The Court notes that neither Martin nor
Hansberry, cited by Plaintiff, was a class action involving school desegregation. Liddell is a
class-action desegregation lawsuit and its holdings are binding on the entire class, including "those
who were either not born or not yet in school at that time." Bronson v. Bd. of Ed. ofSch. Dist. of
City of Cincinnati, 510 F. Supp. 1251, 1272 (S.D. Ohio 1980). The Court, therefore, holds it is
bound by the prior adjudications holding the desegregation programs are constitutional. The
Court dismisses Plaintiffs action also on this basis.
3. 1999 Settlement Agreement
VICC contends that Plaintiffs cause of action is precluded by the express release
provisions of the Agreement. VICC notes that the Agreement was adopted by this Court as a
means to end litigation regarding the transfer program. (ECF No. 20 at 12). The Agreement
provides that the "taking of any ... action at any time authorized in accordance with the rights and
options granting in [this Agreement] shall not serve as the basis for any claim or lawsuit against
any County District or New Entity," and further provides that "the future continuation of any
conduct, custom or practice permissible under the 1983 Settlement Agreement shall also not serve
as the basis for any claim or lawsuit against any County District or the New Entity." (ECF No. 20
at 12). These limitations and releases were approved and incorporated by this Court's order and
final judgment. (ECF No. 20 at 12 (citing Liddell, 1999 WL 33314210, at *9). VICC argues that
this case must be dismissed because VICC' s extensions and current continuation of the transfer
program "shall not serve as the basis for any claim or lawsuit against [VICC]." (ECF No. 20 at 13
(citing the Agreement).
In response, Plaintiff argues that VICC cannot satisfy the constitutional requirements of
"strict scrutiny" to support the program that prohibits African-American children in St. Louis
County from transferring to magnet schools in the City of St. Louis. (ECF No. 22 at 6-7).
As the Court previously discussed, the Court does not apply strict scrutiny to the
desegregation plan at issue here because it has already been approved by the Court. See Liddell v.
Bd. ofEduc. of City ofSt. Louis, No. 4:72CV100 SNL, 1999 WL 33314210, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Mar.
12, 1999); Liddell v. State of Mo., 731F.2d1294, 1305 (8th Cir. 1984); see also Vaughns, 742 F.
Supp. at 1296-97. Plaintiff has provided no basis for challenging the Settlement, other than strict
scrutiny, which does not apply to a judicially-created remedial action such as this. Indeed, the
Agreement approved by this Court released VICC from the type of claim alleged in this case and
precludes Plaintiffs action against VICC. Accordingly, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs claim on
this basis as well.
C. Plaintiff Lacks Standing
"Article III standing is a threshold question in every federal court case." United States v.
One Lincoln Navigator 1998, 328 F .3d 1011 , 1013 (8th Cir.2003). "The exercise of judicial power
under Art. III of the Constitution depends on the existence of a case or controversy." Preiser v.
Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 , 95 S.Ct. 2330, 45 L.Ed.2d 272 (1975). A central component of the
"case or controversy" requirement is standing, "which requires a plaintiff to demonstrate the
now-familiar elements of injury in fact, causation, and redressability." Lance v. Coffman, 549 U.S.
437, 439, 127 S.Ct. 1194, 167 L.Ed.2d 29 (2007); Hammer v. Sam's E., Inc., 754 F.3d 492, 497
(8th Cir. 2014).
VICC contends that Plaintiff lacks Article III standing because E.L.' s injury is not
redressable by VICC. (ECF No. 20 at 16).
Redressability is the "likelihood that the requested
relief will redress the alleged injury." Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab. , Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 934
(8th Cir. 2012). VICC asserts that "as a matter of Article III jurisdiction, there is no sufficiently
pled present case or controversy to litigate between plaintiff and VICC." (ECF No. 20 at 16
(citing Lujan v. Deft. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992) ("there must be a causal connection
between the injury and the conduct complained of').
Plaintiff asserts that, under VICC policy, if E.L. were any race other than
African-American, he could enroll in Gateway. (ECF No. 22 at 9). Plaintiff argues that VICC's
policy denies equal protection by withholding a governmental benefit to E.L. because he is
African-American. Thus, Plaintiff asserts that E.L. has suffered the injury because he is ineligible
to attend Gateway or to attend a magnet school in the City of St. Louis, even though his white
neighbors are given that opportunity. (ECF No. 22 at 9). Plaintiff claims that it is "of no
moment that E.L. has yet to apply to a magnet school" because his is "able and ready" to apply to
magnet schools. (ECF No. 22 at 9 (citing Ne. Florida Chapter ofAssociated Gen. Contractors of
Am. v. City ofJacksonville, Fla., 508 U.S. 656, 666 (1993)). Plaintiff claims he is not required to
submit an application before challenging the constitutionality of the laws governing applications.
(ECF No. 22 at 9 (citing Patsy v. Bd. of Regents of State of Fla., 457 U.S. 496, 516 (1982)
("exhaustion of state administrative remedies should not be required as a prerequisite to bringing
an action pursuant to§ 1983)).
Based upon the allegations in the Complaint, the Court holds that Plaintiff also lacks
standing to bring this action. It is undisputed that VICC has no relationship with the charter
schools, including Gateway. Indeed, VICC only handles certain aspects of the City's magnet
school program. Plaintiff has uniformly asserted that she wants her son to attend Gateway, not
any other magnet school.
See Complaint, if4 ("I want E.L. to remain at Gateway Science
Academy and attend that school through at least the Fifth Grade."). Although Plaintiff now states
that her son is "ready and able" to attend any magnet school, this relief is not sought in the
Complaint. Nowhere in her Complaint does she seek admission for her son at a magnet school.
Further, there is no allegation that Plaintiff or her son has applied for admission to any magnet
school. Likewise, Plaintiff has not shown that VICC can grant Plaintiff a waiver under R.S. Mo.
§167.020(2), which further undercuts any claim that VICC can redress Plaintiffs injury.
Therefore, the Court holds that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring an Equal Protection claim against
VICC with respect to her son' s inadmissibility to Gateway.
2. VICC does not run Gateway
VICC states that it plays no role with respect to the administration or admission at Gateway
or any other charter school. (ECF No. 20 at 14). VICC ' s involvement with schools in the City
includes only the Liddell magnet schools pursuant to the Agreement' s County-to-City magnet
transfer program. (ECF No. 20 at 14). VICC notes that charter schools are independent and
make their own enrollment decisions.
(ECF No. 20 at 14 (citing R.S . Mo. §§160.400.1 ,
160.410)). VICC notes that the Complaint does not allege that Gateway made an enrollment
decision or if Plaintiff requested a waiver of the school residency requirement under R.S. Mo.
§ 167.020.2(2). VICC further asserts that Gateway' s alleged admission policy is contrary to its
statutory obligation "not [to] limit admission based on race." (ECF No. 20 at 15 (citing R.S. Mo.
§160.410.0)). Thus, although VICC admits that there "at least appears to be an issue whether
Gateway has the legal right to deny admission to plaintiffs son as a matter of Missouri statutory
law," but that "is a question that is not properly presented or litigable in this case against VICC,
which is not a charter school[.]" (ECF No. 20 at 15).
In response, Plaintiff claims that E.L. ' s injury is a direct consequence of VICC ' s
discriminatory policy. (ECF No. 22 at 10). Plaintiff admits that VICC 's transfer policy affects
"only" magnet school transfers. (ECF No. 22 at 10). However, Plaintiff asserts that state law
requires charter schools to enroll any student eligible to transfer into a magnet school under
VICC 's discriminatory policy. (ECF No. 22 at 10 (citing R.S. Mo. §160.410(2)). 1 Plaintiff
argues that if VICC did not prohibit black students from transferring to magnet schools, Gateway
would have no discretion but to enroll E.L.
(ECF No. 22 at 10). Plaintiff maintains that
Gateway' s decision to follow VICC guidelines as a matter of state law was not an "unfettered
choice." (ECF No. 22 at 11). Therefore, Plaintiff claims that she has satisfied her "relatively
modest" burden of establishing that E.L. 's injury is fairly traceable to VICC' s discriminatory
policy. (ECFNo. 22at11 (citingBennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 171 (1997)). Further, Plaintiff
contends that E.L. is not required to demonstrate that he has exhausted all possible
remedies-including requesting a waiver-to establish Article III standing. (ECF No. 22 at
As previously alluded to, the Court also holds that Plaintiff lacks standing because VICC
cannot redress Plaintiffs injury. VICC was created out of the Settlement Agreement in order to
administer the magnet school program. It has no involvement in the Charter schools. VICC has
no ability grant Plaintiff to waiver to allow her admission to Gateway, nor can VICC comply with
Gateway' s statutory imperative not to base admission on race. See R.S. Mo. §§167.020 and
160.410. Therefore, the Court holds that VICC cannot redress the injury alleged by Plaintiff and
dismisses her claim for lack of standing.
R.S. Mo. § 160.410(2) provides that "A charter school shall enroll [n]onresident pupils eligible to attend a district's
school under an urban voluntary transfer program."
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation' s
Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED.
An appropriate Judgment and Order of
Dismissal is filed herewith.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF
No. 10) is DENIED as moot.
Dated this 15th day of July, 2016.
RONNIE L. WHITE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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