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Friends of the Lakeview School District Incorporation No. 25 of Phillips County v. Huckabee

August 26, 2005



On October 25th, plaintiffs filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, remedial and monetary relief and all other proper dispositions. They state that they are all residents of the Lakeview School District No. 25 of Phillips County ("District") and are either (a) taxpayers without children or wards actually going to school in the District; (b) taxpayers with children or wards attending school in the District; (c) patrons of the District; (d) parents of children attending the District; or (e) duly elected board members of the District. For their causes of action, plaintiff assert that Act 60 of the Second Extraordinary Session of the Arkansas General Assembly of 2003 violates the 1964 Civil Right Act and the equal protection and due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; voting rights violation; Act 60 is unconstitutionally vague and overboard; Act 60 violates the constitutional prohibition against illegal exaction and taxation without representation; Act 60 deprives plaintiffs of equal protection under federal law; specific violation of Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964; Act 59 and Act 60 unconstitutionally denied them prevailing party status; Act 59 is unconstitutional per se and in its implementation; injunctive relief to permanently enjoin enforcement of Act 60; declaration that Article 14 of the Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 40, Amendment 59 and Amendment 74 are unconstitutional; and violation of the separation of powers' doctrine. Among their prayer for relief, they ask that the present system of public funding for schools be declared unconstitutional; recompense the plaintiffs and the District an amount of funding that would equate to the average funding level of white school districts/students without a statute of limitations from 1938; find that the District property is the private asset of the District and not force consolidation or seizure absent due process; find Act 59 and Act 60 unconstitutional; institute studies regarding educational needs; and stay any further execution of Act 60.

Defendants filed a motion on December 15th to dismiss asserting that the claims based on the Arkansas constitution and laws are barred by sovereign immunity; the §1983 claims against the state and the Governor are barred by sovereign immunity; the §1983 claims against the Governor present no justiciable case or controversy; lack of standing to assert violations of the Voting Rights Act; complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or, in the alternative, barred by res judicata.

On March 15th, plaintiff responded the Eleventh Amendment does not bar declaratory and injunctive relief and the compensation requested is ancillary to enforcement that relief; §1983 claims can be brought against state officials in their official capacity for prospective injunctive relief; the Governor is the executive branch through the Department of Education authorized by statute to implement Act 60; immunity has been waived by the state's acceptance of federal funds under Title VI; they have standing under the Voting Rights Act by being within the zone of interest due to having fewer opportunities to elect candidates of their choice; there has been a waiver of sovereign immunity; and Rooker-Feldman does not apply as the state courts have not reached a decision on the merits as to Act 59 and Act 60, voting rights or taking of property.

Defendants filed a reply on March 31st that prospective injunctive relief is permitted in only very limited circumstances and defendants have not waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity; a state is not a person under §1983, damages are being sought, and Title VI abrogation of immunity does not extend to §1983 actions; the Governor has no direct authority over the execution or enforcement of school laws and so there is no special relation to Act 60 and no actual controversy with him; this Court recently recognized that an allegation of diminished influence in local school board matters as a result of consolidation is not sufficient to place a party in the zone of protected interests under the Voting Rights Act; there is no basis for plaintiffs to litigate the rights of the District; and plaintiffs were afforded multiple opportunities to litigate their claims and did so.

On June 13th, plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent further execution and implementation of Act 59 and Act 60 by requiring the State of Arkansas to fully finance the Lakeview School system for the year 2005-06 at the level of funding appropriate to constitutional standards; immediately rescind the non renewal of staff contracts; allow the District to operate independent of the Barton-Lexa School District ("Barton-Lexa" or "Barton") during the interim of the lawsuit; reinstate the authority of the elected District which was in place prior to the insertion of Act 60; and stay the application of any and all other laws that may apply to render the District incapable of operating on the same basis as any other active school districts within the state. They state that they objected to the closing of the District at a hearing conducted on May 17, 2004, but the District was consolidated with the Barton-Lexa School District, the school campus of which is 15 plus miles away, where the students are overwhelmingly majority white and almost completely Caucasian in its staffing and administration with the emphasis being Eurocentric and only one African-American board member out of seven.

Plaintiffs assert irreparable harm to their constitutional rights by the closing of the school as it will eliminate from their control and direction the educational guidance available through the maintenance of the District; the children's self-esteem, ethic pride, psychological balance and ability to receive an education will be destroyed; and money damages cannot compensate for the closing of the District in their claim that they are entitled to uninterrupted maintenance of that facility, even a short period of closure would destroy continuity of the faculty, staff and established teaching patterns and educational goals and damage to the physical structure.

As to likelihood of success, plaintiffs contend there is a very high likelihood of success referring to their arguments here and the attached exhibits and pointing out that on the issue of inequity of the taxes paid by Lake View as opposed to Barton-Lexa there is no argument that the imbalance is unconstitutional just as there are no serious contention that the voting rights have been seriously diluted by Act 60. They continue that a likelihood of success as to lack of due process in the District's property being confiscated and the administration of Act 60 violates equal protection.

Addressing the balancing of equities, plaintiffs argue there are no equities in allowing defendants to close the District and take their property without due process, allow white voters to maintain dominance over the voters in the District, required the people of the District to pay more taxes within the consolidated district, requiring the District's students to travel long distance, to allow the destruction of the African-American staff at the District and the transfer of students to basically a foreign teaching staff.. They assert that they are being punished for prevailing in the state lawsuits as to financial equity and adequacy.

As to the factor of public interest, they argue that there is no public interest in enforcing state laws on a totally racial discriminatory basis.

Attached to the brief is an affidavit by Henrietta J. Wilson and Linell Lewis approving the factual allegations in the complaint and continuing that based upon the best information that all the staff of the District except three staffers have been fired due to the consolidation, that the District school campus is to be closed pursuant to the April 12th Barton-Lexa board minutes; the curriculum will remain exclusive of African American academic subject matter; each child from the Lake View community who attended Barton-Lexa in the 2004-05 school year suffered academic, social and disciplinary problems which affected their educational achievements; as a result of the September 2004 school board election, Lake View citizens have paid a higher rate of taxes than the citizens of the Barton-Lexa District 2003-2005; the consolidation eliminated representation in the school board as a practical matter; and that under Act 60 the state defendants are again empowered to select who would represent the District. Also as exhibits are the real and personal taxation chart for Phillips County school millages 2004-2005; the order establishing the interim board, a listing of chartered schools; minutes of the Barton-Lexa school district of April 12, 2005; exemplars of non-renewal letters to District staff; letter from the Barton-Lexa Superintendent after consolidation that in 2004-05 Lake View school would remain at Lake View with only those students who want to attend Barton would come, but beginning with 2005-06 most likely the Lake View campus will be closed with all students coming to the Barton campus and that the racial make-up would be approximately 61.5% white and 38.5% black; a hate letter received by the District after consolidation; the procedure for consolidation; a copy of the Arkansas Attorney General opinion via the District's consolidation; a memo allegedly indicating bias by the state school board members to certain small school districts; order of consolidation of the District; and examples of election returns illustrating block voting.

Defendants responded on July 11th that plaintiffs are not wanting to maintain the status quo, but instead to upset the status quo as this complaint was filed after the state board consolidated the District into the Barton-Lexa district, the motion was not filed until two months after the Barton-Lexa board voted to close the District's campus buildings and after employees were notified that their contracts would not be renewed so that the relief they are seeking is the ultimate relief sought by the lawsuit itself. They contend that the Barton-Lexa school district and its officials should be named as defendants since a preliminary injunction would rescind their decisions.

Defendants argue that plaintiffs have not demonstrated irreparable harm as their contention that they have a right to a separate school district and a specific campus is not supported by the law as discussed in the motion to dismiss. In balancing the alleged injury with the injury resulting from an injunction, while plaintiffs' children will not be attending the campus of their choosing, the granting of relief would result in the Barton-Lexa board and administration having to quickly reopen and restaff a campus when the employees have already been notified as to whether they would be employed and what campus and the reestablishment of the District would create greater chaos and confusion.

Defendants incorporate their arguments contained in the motion to dismiss as to the factor of probability that plaintiffs will succeed on the merits. Finally, they argue that it is not in the public interest to grant relief as the District ceased to exist more than one year ago and the new district has already made plans for the upcoming school year.

On July 26th, plaintiffs filed a reply that defendants have not submitted counter exhibits nor that there were promises that the campus would not be closed. They state that the Barton-Lexa district only has the power to close the campus because of state authority and action and the promise of non-closing came in 2005 after the filing of the lawsuit. Plaintiffs contend that they are requesting the independent operation of the campus be maintained so continuity would not be destroyed and the students, parents and taxpayers suffer irreparable harm. They state they had no reason to file a lawsuit until consolidation was ordered on May 17, 2004 over the District's protest and Barton-Lexa is ...

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