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United States v. Junction City School District

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

March 8, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
JUNCTION CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 75, et al. DEFENDANTS ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and ARKANSAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION INTERVENORS

          ORDER

          SUSAN O. HICKEY CHIEF, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Motion for Stay Pending Appeal and to Expedite (ECF No. 50) filed by Intervenors Arkansas Department of Education and Arkansas State Board of Education. (“ADE and SBE”). Defendant Junction City School District (“Junction City”) has responded. (ECF No. 54). The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 17, 2019, the Court entered an order (the “modification order”) modifying a desegregation order (“the 1970 Order”) that applies to Junction City to explicitly prohibit the segregative interdistrict transfer of students from Junction City to other school districts, unless such a transfer is requested for education or compassionate purposes and is approved by Junction City's school board on a case-by-case basis.[1] (ECF No. 47). On February 15, 2019, the ADE and SBE filed a notice of appeal as to the modification order. That same day, the ADE and SBE filed the instant motion, asking the Court to issue a stay of the modification order pending the outcome of the appeal and asking the Court to shorten the other parties' time to respond to the instant motion. On February 20, 2019, the Court denied the ADE and SBE's request to shorten the other parties' response time. (ECF No. 52.) On March 1, 2019, Junction City filed a response opposing the instant motion. (ECF No. 54).

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the ADE and SBE have not met their burden to receive a temporary administrative stay of the modification order or a full stay pending the appeal of the modification order.

         II. DISCUSSION

         In deciding whether to grant a motion to stay an order pending appeal, the Court considers the following four factors: (1) the likelihood of the movant's success on the merits of the appeal; (2) whether the movant will be irreparably harmed absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay would substantially injure the non-moving party; and (4) where the public interest lies.[2] Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 776 (1987). Courts must consider the relative strength of the four factors, balancing them all, with the most important factor being the likelihood of success on appeal. Brady v. Nat'l Football League, 640 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir. 2011). As the moving parties, the ADE and SBE bear the burden of proving that the weight of the four factors warrant a stay. See James River Flood Control Ass'n v. Watt, 680 F.2d 543, 544 (8th Cir. 1982) (per curiam). With this standard in mind, the Court will now address each of the four factors as they relate to the instant motion for a stay pending appeal.

         A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         The first factor asks whether the moving party is likely to succeed on appeal. Hilton, 481 U.S. at 776. The moving party need not establish an absolute certainty of success. Iowa Utils. Bd. v. F.C.C., 109 F.3d 418, 423 (8th Cir. 1996).

         The modification order found that modification of the 1970 Order was proper because a significant change in law warranted revision of the order and because the proposed modification was suitably tailored to the changed circumstance. In the present motion, the ADE and SBE advance three arguments as to why the Court's ruling is likely to be reversed on appeal: (1) that no significant change in law occurred to warrant modification and that the Court misinterpreted the 1970 Order, (2) that the modification was not suitably tailored because it imposed an impermissible interdistrict remedy, and (3) the modification order unlawfully violates students' equal protection rights. The Court will separately address each of these arguments.

         1. Significant Change in Facts or Law

         The ADE and SBE's first argument is that the changes to the relevant Arkansas school choice statutes was not a significant change in law justifying modification because the 1970 Order did not explicitly concern the interdistrict transfer of students from Junction City to elsewhere. Specifically, the ADE and SBE argue that the relevant statutory changes were not significant changes in law because Junction City did not show that the law had an actual effect on the 1970 Order, thereby making it unworkable. This argument is repetitive of an argument that the ADE and SBE previously made in the underlying briefing that gave way to the Court's modification order, and that the Court expressly considered and rejected. Without restating the entire modification order, the Court found[3] that “changes in the governing school-choice statutory framework-and the ensuing requirements and limitations-have an actual effect on Junction City's ability to comply with the 1970 Order.” (ECF No. 47, p. 13). The Court reasoned that the 2017 Act requires that, for Junction City to receive an exemption from school choice, the 1970 Order must contain specific restrictive language that was not required from the time the 1970 Order was entered up until the 2017 Act was put into effect. Thus, the 2017 Act prevents Junction City from claiming an exemption from participating in school choice, thereby presenting a change in law that justified modification of the order.

         The ADE and SBE also argue that the Court misinterpreted the 1970 Order. They argue that this case and the 1970 Order have nothing to do with the interdistrict transfer of students, and the parties involved and the Court itself did not believe that the 1970 Order encompassed that subject. Thus, they argue that the Court erred by looking beyond the four corners of the 1970 Order and finding that the intent of the 1970 Order was to prohibit student transfers which result in the segregation of Junction City's student body.

         The Court's modification order considered and rejected this argument, finding that the1970 Order “clearly intended to prohibit any racial discrimination occurring within Junction City, including preventing student transfers which result in segregation of Junction City's student body.” (ECF No. 47, p. 12). In reaching this conclusion, the Court was mindful of the Eighth Circuit's instruction that courts interpreting a consent decree “are not to ignore the context in which the parties were operating, nor the circumstances surrounding the order.” United States v. Knote, 29 F.3d 1297, 1300 (8th Cir. 1994). Although the Court noted that the 1970 Order did not expressly prohibit the interdistrict transfer of students, the Court also considered the context in which the parties were operating and the circumstances surrounding the order, thereby finding that it was unnecessary for 1970 Order to be drafted “in a way that explicitly barred segregative inter-district student transfers because inter-district student transfers, such as those contemplated by the 2013 Act, 2015 Act, and 2017 Act, did not exist when the 1970 Order was entered.” (ECF No. 47, p. 12). Thus, the Court did not misconstrue the 1970 Order, but rather interpreted it by looking to its content and language and by properly considering the context and circumstances in which it was entered.[4]

         For the above reasons and for the reasons stated in the modification order, the Court finds that the ADE and SBE are unlikely to succeed on appeal with arguments that the Court previously considered and rejected. Cf. St. Jude Med., Inc. v. Access Closure, Inc., No. 4:08-cv-4101-HFB, 2012 WL 12919351, at *1 (W.D. Ark. Oct. 2, 2012) (“[I]f the Court thought [the movant's] position was likely to succeed on appeal, the Court would not have decided against [the movant] in the first place.”). The ADE and SBE have presented no additional argument or on-point caselaw to cause the Court to reverse course from its prior ruling. Thus, the Court finds that they are unlikely to succeed on appeal with these arguments.

         2. Interdistrict Remedy

         The ADE and SBE further argue that the modification order imposes an impermissible “interdistrict remedy, ” and is, therefore, not suitably tailored to the changed circumstances outlined by the Court. The ADE and SBE assert that the claimed interdistrict remedy is inappropriate because the 1970 Order only concerned alleged intradistrict violations. This line of argument was addressed and found unpersuasive in the modification order. (ECF No. 47, p. 15). Specifically, the Court observed that the modification would not directly restrict any other school district's actions. That being said, the Court noted that the modification would have an indirect impact on other school districts in that they would be unable to receive Junction City students via school choice transfers because Junction City would be barred from granting segregative interdistrict transfers. However, the Court stated that the ADE and SBE had cited no binding authority finding that a remedy like the modification constituted an interdistrict remedy and that the Court was unaware of any such authority.[5] The Court further noted instances in which courts had found that the remedy implemented was interdistrict, such as forced consolidation of school districts, imposition of an interdistrict magnet school plan, and creation of an interdistrict student bussing plan.[6] (ECF No. 47, p. 16).

         The ADE and SBE now attempt to re-litigate this issue. To the extent that the ADE and SBE present the same or substantially similar arguments as previously addressed by the modification order, the Court again finds those arguments unpersuasive. The ADE and SBE, however, do present one new, though similar, argument that was not raised in the briefing of the underlying motion. Specifically, the ADE and SBE assert that the granted modification is impermissible because it had an “interdistrict purpose, ” arguing that a remedy that has an interdistrict purpose “is impermissible in cases with no interdistrict violation.” (ECF No. 51, pp. 11-12). The ADE and SBE state that:

The Court's Modification Order undoubtedly has such an “interdistrict purpose.” Indeed, its express purpose is to affect the racial demographics of Junction City relative to the surrounding districts. Because the Modification Order's purpose is to affect the racial makeup of Junction City relative to the surrounding schools by preventing student ...

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