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Adkisson v. Blytheville School District No. 5

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

December 2, 2014



KRISTINE G. BAKER, District Judge.

Plaintiffs bring this action against defendant Blytheville School District No. 5 (the "BSD"), alleging through 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that the BSD violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and through the Arkansas Civil Rights Act ("ACRA"), Ark. Code Ann. §§ 16-123-105 and -107, that the BSD violated the Arkansas Constitution by declaring an exemption to interdistrict school transfers under the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013 (the "2013 Act") (Dkt. No. 32). As relief, plaintiffs request a declaration and permanent injunction against the BSD, as well as damages allegedly stemming from their due process claims and punitive damages for the BSD's purportedly race-based conduct (Dkt. Nos. 32, 75).

Before the Court are plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 50) and motion in limine (Dkt. No. 77) and the BSD's motion for leave to file first amended answer to amended and supplemental complaint (Dkt. No. 56) and counter-motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 59). For the following reasons, the Court denies plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 50) and grants the BSD's counter-motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 59). Plaintiffs' motion in limine and the BSD's motion for leave to file first amended answer to amended and supplemental complaint are denied as moot (Dkt. Nos. 77, 56).

I. Statutory Background

Generally, the 2013 Act requires each school district in Arkansas to participate in the public school choice program. The 2013 Act contains two limitations as set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated § 6-18-1906(a) and (b) that may apply to a resident district to restrict or defeat a student's right to transfer to a nonresident district. Plaintiffs contend that only the second limitation is at issue here.

The first limitation, as set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated § 6-18-1906(a), provides: "If the provisions of [the 2013 Act] conflict with a provision of an enforceable desegregation court order or a district's court-approved desegregation plan regarding the effects of past racial segregation in student assignment, the provisions of the order or plan shall govern" ("Limitation (a)"). Plaintiffs characterize the second limitation as an "opt-out" provision set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated § 6-18-1906(b) ("Limitation (b)"). Limitation (b) states as follows:

(b) (1) A school district annually may declare an exemption under this section if the school district is subject to the desegregation order or mandate of a federal court or agency remedying the effects of past racial segregation.
(2) (A) An exemption declared by a board of directors under this subsection is irrevocable for one (1) year from the date the school district notifies the Department of Education of the declaration of exemption.
(B) After each year of exemption, the board of directors may elect to participate in public school choice under this section if the school district's participation does not conflict with the school district's federal court-ordered desegregation program.
(3) A school district shall notify the department by April 1 if in the next school year the school district intends to:
(A) Declare an exemption under this section; or
(B) Resume participation after a period of exemption.

Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-1906(b).

The 2013 Act requires a school district to notify the Arkansas Department of Education ("ADE") "by April 1 if in the next school year the school district intends to" declare an exemption or resume participation in the 2013 Act after a period of exemption. Id. § 6-18-1906(b)(3). On May 1, 2013, the ADE released a memo that stated:

As noted above, Act 1227 did not become effective until April 16, 2013. However, the Act sets April 1 as the date by which a school district must notify the ADE of its intention to declare an exemption for participation in public school choice under the Act. The ADE will not attempt to reestablish a deadline that is set in law. However, so school districts and the ADE can properly administer all aspects of Act 1227 in an orderly fashion and so that parents, students, patrons and school district leaders may be aware of those school districts which are subject to desegregation orders or federal agency mandates remedying the effects of past racial segregation, the ADE requests that school districts notify the ADE of any exemption by Friday, May 17, 2013.

(Dkt. No. 60, at 14).

Further, under the 2013 Act, the parents of students seeking to transfer to attend a school in a nonresident district must submit an application to the nonresident district with a copy to the resident district on a form approved by the ADE and postmarked no later than June 1 of the year in which the student seeks to begin the fall semester at the nonresident district. Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-1905(a). By August 1 of the school year in which the student seeks to enroll in a nonresident district, the superintendent of the nonresident district shall notify the parent and the resident district in writing as to whether the student's application has been accepted or rejected. Id. § 6-18-1905(b)(1). If the application is accepted, the notification letter must include the deadline by which the student shall enroll in the nonresident district, after which the acceptance is null, and instructions for the renewal procedure established by the nonresident district. Id. § 6-18-1905(b)(3). If the application is rejected, the notification letter shall state the reason for the rejection. Id. § 6-18-1905(b)(2).

Students whose applications for transfer are rejected by the nonresident district may request a hearing before the Arkansas State Board of Education to reconsider the transfer. Id. § 6-18-1907(b)(1). The 2013 Act requires that a student request in writing an appeal hearing within 10 days after the student or student's parent receives the notification letter. Id. § 6-18-1907(b)(2)(A). "As part of the review process, the parent may submit supporting documentation that the transfer would be in the best educational, social, or psychological interest of the student." Id. § 6-18-1907(b)(2)(B). The State Board of Education may overturn the nonresident district's decision on appeal and, if it does so, must notify "the parent, the nonresident district, and the resident district of the basis for the state board's decision." Id. § 6-18-1907(b)(3).

II. Factual Background

Unless otherwise noted and specified by citation, the following facts are undisputed and taken from plaintiffs' statement of undisputed material facts in support of motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 52), the BSD's response to plaintiffs' statement of undisputed material facts (Dkt. No. 61), the BSD's statement of material facts as to which no genuine disputes exist to be tried (Dkt. No. 62), and plaintiffs' response to the BSD's statement of undisputed material facts (Dkt. No. 68).

As of April 29, 2013, plaintiffs Health and Lori Adkisson, Ryan and Melissa Braswell, Oliver and Tracy Coppedge, George and Stephanie Hale, and Jeff and Missy Langston were residents of and had children who resided in the BSD. Between April 19, 2013, and April 26, 2013, each plaintiff submitted an application on behalf of one of their children for transfer from the BSD to a nonresident district under the 2013 Act for the school year beginning in fall of 2013. Each child for whom a transfer was sought is Caucasian. The BSD received plaintiffs' applications between April 22, 2013, and April 26, 2013.

Although absent from their summary judgment filings, plaintiffs state in their trial brief that the BSD scheduled a special meeting of its Board of Directors for April 29, 2013, giving notice of the meeting only to certain media outlets (Dkt. No. 75, at 1). At that special meeting, the BSD's Board of Education adopted a resolution by a vote of six to zero to declare the BSD exempt under the 2013 Act. Richard Atwill, Superintendent of the BSD, informed the ADE of the resolution and exemption by letter dated May 9, 2013, received by the ADE on May 14, 2013. On March 31, 2014, the BSD renewed its claim of exemption under the 2013 Act.

The BSD declared the exemption in April 2013 based in part on Franklin v. Board of Education of Blytheville School District No. 5, U.S.D.C. No. J-71-C-35. In Franklin, African American parents filed suit against the BSD seeking to enjoin the BSD from continuing to operate a dual school system and requiring it to implement a unitary school system. On August 19, 1971, the district court in Franklin entered an order approving the BSD's desegregation plan, with the exception of certain identified issues, ending its "freedom of choice" plan that was previously rejected by the U.S. Department of Health and Welfare ("HEW") and Department of Justice ("DOJ") (Dkt. No. 52-1, at 24-25). On May 31, 1973, the HEW sent a letter to the ADE advising that the BSD "must modify its plan as may be ordered by the court to remain in compliance" ( Id. at 38). On June 21, 1973, the district court entered an order closing the case but retaining jurisdiction. The district court stated in this order that,

[o]n the basis of correspondence with counsel for the parties, the Court concludes that issues reserved in the Court's order [approving the BSD's desegregation plan] are no longer a subject of controversy. There being no pending issues in this preceding, it is ordered that this case be, and it is hereby, closed but that the Court retain jurisdiction of this cause and of the parties hereto for necessary and appropriate purposes.

( Id. at 26). On December 7, 1978, the district court entered an order dismissing the case because, since closing it, "the Court ha[d] received no further communication concerning this case" ( Id. at 27). Three days later, on December 9, 1978, plaintiffs' counsel sent the district judge a letter that stated:

The Court sua sponte closed this case. I am writing to remind the Court that there is no finding by the Court that a unitary school system has been achieved....
With respect to the establishment of a unitary school system, I think the obligation of the Court is to make some further inquiry and to also insure that faculty and staff desegregation principles are clearly expressed.
I am bringing these matters to the Court's attention in the hope that the Court will rescind its order and judgment filed December 7 and substitute an order requiring the defendants to provide the Court something in the nature of a comprehensive final report which relates to students, staff, programs and facilities.

( Id. at 28).

All students in the BSD attend the same public schools. In 2009, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved an open-enrollment charter school-KIPP Delta Academy ("KIPP"). KIPP educates about 250 students, most of whom come from the BSD and the majority of whom are African American or other minorities. BSD did not attempt to block transfers of any children, regardless of race, to KIPP on the basis of any alleged desegregation order or remedy.

III. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th Cir. 2008). "The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the dispute must be outcome determinative under the prevailing law." Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366 (8th Cir. 1989). However, parties opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v. Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish that there is a genuine issue to be ...

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