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Granville v. Minneapolis School District

June 27, 2006

DAVID GRANVILLE AND MARLYSS GRANVILLE, AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF KAILYNN GRANVILLE, A MINOR, RESPONDENTS (A05-1377), JACQUELINE JOHNSON, AS PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF SHANEL ANDREWS, A MINOR, RESPONDENT (A05-1378),
v.
MINNEAPOLIS SCHOOL DISTRICT, SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, APPELLANT.



Hennepin County District Court File Nos. 02-10663 & 02-10664.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Because Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a (2002), which provides immunity from tort liability to all school districts that are unable to obtain liability insurance for an average rate of $1.50 or less per pupil, treats all school districts and their students similarly, the statute does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of either the United States or Minnesota Constitution.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willis, Judge

Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*fn1

OPINION

Appellant school district challenges an order denying its motion for summary judgment based on its claim of immunity from tort liability under Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a (2002), which provides immunity to school districts that are unable to obtain liability insurance for an average rate of $1.50 or less per pupil. The district court, applying both federal and state rational-basis analyses, concluded that the statute's $1.50 classification is arbitrary in light of current market conditions and "not genuine or relevant to the purpose of the law" and that, therefore, the "operation of the statute . . . violates the equal protection guarantees of the federal and state constitutions." Because the record shows that all school districts in Minnesota may apply for and receive immunity from tort liability under Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a, and that, therefore, this statute treats all school districts and their students similarly, we conclude that the $1.50 classification does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of either the United States or Minnesota Constitution.

FACTS

In November 2001, Loring Elementary School students Kailynn Granville and Shanel Andrews were injured when they collided while participating in a game of flashlight tag in a completely dark gymnasium during physical-education class. In June 2002, respondents David and Marlyss Granville and Jacqueline Johnson, the parents of the children, sued appellant Minneapolis Public Schools, Special School District No. 1 (the school district), to recover damages for their children's personal injuries. The school district moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that it was immune from tort liability under Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a (2002), which provides immunity to school districts that are unable to obtain liability insurance for an average rate of $1.50 or less per pupil. Respondents countered that Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a, violates the equal-protection clauses of the United States and Minnesota constitutions by creating an unconstitutional racial classification and by depriving students of the fundamental right to seek redress for injuries caused by another. Respondents argued that because the school district's student population is 45 percent African American and the school district is the only school district in the state to request and receive the certification necessary to claim immunity from tort liability, the application of the statute created a class of African American students who are prevented from exercising their right to sue the school district. In November 2002, the district court granted the school district's motion to dismiss, applying a rational-basis test to the statute and concluding that it was constitutional.

Respondents appealed to this court, arguing that the district court erred by failing to apply the strict-scrutiny standard to the statute. This court affirmed in part, concluding that strict scrutiny did not apply because the statute did not create a racial classification or infringe on a fundamental right, and reversed in part because the record did "not permit the determination of whether Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a, passes the rational-basis test." Granville v. Minneapolis Pub. Sch., Special Sch. Dist. No. 1 (Granville I), 668 N.W.2d 227, 232-35 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Nov. 18, 2003). This court stated that there was "insufficient evidence from which the district court [could] determine whether the legislature's choice of a rate of $1.50 per student [was] arbitrary under current market conditions, as [plaintiffs] assert, or, on the contrary, creates a constitutional classification that is relevant to the statute's purpose." Id. at 234-35. This court remanded for further proceedings, concluding that "[i]n order to decide whether the statute meets the federal and state rational-basis tests, evidence demonstrating whether immunity triggered by the $1.50 per pupil rate permits constitutional operation of the statute is required" and that "[w]ithout such analysis, the district court's conclusion that the school district [was] entitled to immunity [was] erroneous." Id. at 235.

In December 2004, the school district moved the district court for summary judgment, arguing again that it was immune from tort liability under Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a. Respondents argued that, inter alia, Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a, is not rationally related to the legitimate governmental purpose of protecting schools that cannot obtain liability insurance at reasonable market rates. On May 13, 2005, the district court issued an order denying summary judgment and concluding that, inter alia, Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a, is unconstitutional under both the federal and state rational-basis tests. The school district appeals.

ISSUE

Does Minn. Stat. § 466.12, subd. 3a (2002), violate the equal-protection clauses of the United States and Minnesota constitutions?

ANALYSIS

A party may appeal immediately from an order that denies an immunity defense. Anderson v. City of Hopkins, 393 N.W.2d 363, 364 (Minn. 1986). When reviewing a summary-judgment ruling that denies immunity, this court makes two determinations: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law. See Thompson v. City of Minneapolis, 707 N.W.2d 669, 673 (Minn. 2006). Whether an ...


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