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Friends of the Eudora Public School Dist. v. Beebe

October 31, 2007

FRIENDS OF THE EUDORA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
v.
MIKE BEEBE, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Webber Wright United States District Judge

ORDER

On February 24, 2006, Plaintiffs*fn1 filed a petition for declaratory judgment, temporary and permanent injunctive relief; stay of execution of further implementation of all state annexation or consolidation authority; or, alternatively, temporary restraining order; compensatory relief where appropriate; and other specific or non-specific relief as the Court deems proper. The action stems from the State Board of Education's February 13, 2006, decision to consolidate the Eudora School District with the Lakeside School District of Chicot County, Arkansas.*fn2 Plaintiffs contend that the consolidation of the school districts is based on impermissible racial considerations, and violates their constitutional and statutory rights.

On September 1, 2006, the Court*fn3 abstained from further action in the case and administratively terminated this action, pending the completion of proceedings in the Lake View case before the Arkansas Supreme Court.*fn4 The Court retained jurisdiction and stated that the Plaintiffs would have thirty days after conclusion of the Arkansas Supreme Court proceedings to file a motion to reopen.*fn5

At the time the case was administratively terminated, Defendants' motions to dismiss were pending.*fn6 In their motions, Defendants asserted that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by sovereign immunity, that certain claims presented no justiciable case or controversy, that Plaintiffs lacked standing as to alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act, and that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief.

On May 31, 2007, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued its final decision in the Lake View case. Lake View Sch. Dist. No. 25 of Phillips County, Arkansas v. Huckabee, No. 01-836, 2007 WL 1560547 (Ark. May 31, 2007). The court found the public school financing system to be in constitutional compliance. Id. at 5. On June 9, 2007, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a Rule16 status hearing, motion for trial schedule and discovery cut-off, and motion for other relief.*fn7 The Court will construe the motion as a motion to reopen.

Defendants have not responded to the motion. They seek to renew their motions to dismiss. At the time Defendants filed their motions to dismiss, they did not raise the effect of the state court proceedings.

The Court is guided by a recent decision in a similar case, Friends of the Lake View Sch Dist. Inc. v. Huckabee, 2:04CV00184WRW. In Friends of Lake View, the plaintiffs alleged that the consolidation of the former Lake View school district into the Barton-Lexa school district violated the Arkansas and United States Constitutions, the Voting Rights Act, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. The court administratively terminated the case in September, 2005, pending the conclusion of the proceedings before the Arkansas Supreme Court. At the time of the termination, the defendants' motion to dismiss was pending. As in the case at bar, the plaintiffs in Friends of Lake View filed a motion to reopen after the Arkansas Supreme Court issued its final decision in May 2007.

In their motion to dismiss, in addition to the same arguments as those raised in the case at bar, the State defendants in Friends of Lake View asserted that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the claims were barred by either the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel.*fn8 Judge Wilson reopened the case for the limited purpose of determining subject-matter jurisdiction and claim preclusion under the Full Faith and Credit Statute.*fn9

Plaintiffs in this action are part of the class certified in the Lake View case. The effect of the Lake View state court proceedings should be addressed. See Long v. Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 236 F. 3d 910, 916 (8th Cir. 2001) (question of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised sua sponte at any time). The state court rulings may very well affect whether the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction. See Skit Int'l, Ltd. v. DAC Technologies of Arkansas, Inc., 487 F. 3d 1154, 1156 (8th Cir. 2007) (Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits federal court from exercising appellate review of state court judgment).

The Court is of the opinion that the original motions to dismiss should be denied without prejudice. Defendants may file a new motion to dismiss within twenty days of this Order which addresses, in addition to any other arguments, the effect of the state court proceedings on this litigation.

Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motions for a Rule 16 status hearing, motion for trial schedule and discovery cut-off, and motion for other relief (docket nos. 34 and 39) are granted only to the extent that the case is reopened; in all other respects they are denied without prejudice. The motions to dismiss (docket nos. 11, 13, and 14) are denied without prejudice. The motions to renew the motion to dismiss (docket nos. 40 and 42) are denied.

IT IS SO ORDERED this 31st day of ...


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