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Ex. v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 27, 2017

EX., a minor, by La' Sheika White the Mother, legal guardian, and next friend of E.L. Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: April 5, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before COLLOTON, BEAM, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         On behalf of E.L., her minor son, La'Shieka White sued the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC), alleging its race-based, school-transfer policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court[1] granted VICC's motion to dismiss. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

         I.

         E.L. is an African-American boy entering fifth grade. From kindergarten through third grade, he lived in the City of St. Louis, attending Gateway Science Academy, a charter school there. During third grade, his family moved to St. Louis County, in the Pattonville School District. His mother asked Gateway to enroll him in fourth grade even though they no longer lived in the city limits. Gateway declined, providing a copy of its policy that African-American students who live outside the city are not eligible for enrollment.

         E.L. sued, alleging equal protection violations. He did not name Gateway as a defendant, but sued only VICC, a non-profit corporation created by a 1999 settlement agreement in the long-standing Liddell litigation. The federal lawsuit, filed in 1972 by African-American parents, alleged St. Louis operated segregated schools in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. In 1983, a district court approved a desegregation settlement agreement. See Liddell v. Board of Educ. of City of St. Louis, State of Mo., 567 F.Supp. 1037 (E.D. Mo. 1983), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 731 F.2d 1294 (8th Cir. 1984) (en banc). The agreement-funded by the defendants (the state of Missouri and the City Board of Education)-provided capital improvements of city schools, establishment of city magnet schools, and a voluntary interdistrict transfer plan. The transfer plan, at issue here, allowed African-American students living in the city to transfer to the county, and white students living in the county to transfer to the city.

          In 1996, the state of Missouri moved for a declaration that St. Louis no longer operated a segregated, dual public school system. The court appointed a settlement coordinator to negotiate a resolution. In 1999, the parties settled again. See Liddell v. Board of Educ. of City of St. Louis, 1999 WL 33314210, at *9 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 12, 1999) (approving settlement agreement). The 1999 agreement established VICC to administer the voluntary interdistrict transfer program, including: (1) arranging transportation for students in the transfer program; (2) distributing funding to participating schools; and (3) disseminating information about eligibility requirements (taken primarily from the 1983 agreement). The 1999 agreement permits only the sending and receiving districts to modify the eligibility requirements.

         The district court granted VICC's motion to dismiss on four alternative grounds: (1) E.L. lacks standing; (2) he fails to state a claim; (3) the 1999 agreement precludes his claims; and (4) the 1999 agreement releases VICC from liability. E.L. appeals.

         II.

         This court reviews "a decision dismissing a complaint for lack of standing de novo, construing the allegations of the complaint, and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, most favorably to the plaintiff." Miller v. City of St. Paul, 823 F.3d 503, 506 (8th Cir. 2016). "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). Standing requires three elements: (1) "injury in fact"; (2) "a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of"; and (3) the likelihood "that the injury will be 'redressed by a favorable decision.'" Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992), quoting Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 38 (1976).

          A.

         An injury in fact requires that a plaintiff demonstrate he or she is "able and ready" to apply for an educational opportunity and "a discriminatory policy prevents [them] from doing so on an equal basis." Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 262 (2003), quoting Northeastern Fla. Chapter, Associated Gen. Contractors of Am. v. Jacksonville, 508 U.S. 656, 666 (1993). "It is well established that intent may be relevant to standing in an equal protection challenge." Id. at 261. Under Gratz, individuals must show that they intend to apply to a school in order to have standing to challenge a discriminatory admissions policy. See id. at 260-61. See also Shea v. Kerry, 796 F.3d 42, 50 (D.C. Cir. 2015) ("Gratz controls our inquiry. Like [the Gratz plaintiff], [the plaintiff here] alleges that he possessed ...


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