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Cruz-Guzman v. State

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 25, 2018

Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, as guardian and next friend of his minor children, et al., Appellants/Cross-Respondents,
v.
State of Minnesota, et al., Respondents/Cross-Appellants, and Higher Ground Academy, et al., Defendants-Intervenors.

          Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Daniel R. Shulman, Joy Reopelle Anderson, Richard C. Landon, Kathryn E. Hauff, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; John G. Shulman, Jeanne-Marie Almonor, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Mel C. Orchard, III, The Spence Law Firm, LLC, Jackson, Wyoming; and James Cook, Law Office of John Burris, Oakland, California, for appellants/cross-respondents.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Karen D. Olson, Deputy Attorney General, Kathryn M. Woodruff, Kevin A. Finnerty, Assistant Attorneys General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondents/cross-appellants.

          Jack Y. Perry, Michael W. Kaphing, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and John Cairns, John Cairns Law, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amici curiae Higher Ground Academy, et al.

          Teresa J. Nelson, John B. Gordon, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and William Z. Pentelovich, Jesse D. Mondry, Maslon LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

          Will Stancil, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amici curiae Concerned Law Professors.

          Eli M. Temkin, Jones Day, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Todd R. Geremia, James M. Gross, Jones Day, New York, New York; David G. Sciarra, Education Law Center, Newark, New Jersey; and Derek W. Black, Columbia, South Carolina, for amici curiae Education Law Center and the Constitutional and Education Law Scholars.

          Lewis A. Remele, Jr., Kate L. Homolka, Bassford Remele, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amici curiae Tiffini Flynn Forslund, et al.

          Myron Orfield, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Myron Orfield.

          Dissenting, Anderson, J., Gildea, C.J. Took no part, Thissen, J.

         SYLLABUS

         1. Appellants' claims alleging violations of the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1, are justiciable.

         2. Appellants' claims alleging violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. I, §§ 2, 7, are justiciable.

         3. The protections of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. IV, § 10, do not extend to claims that the Legislature has violated its duty under the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1, or violated the Equal Protection or Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. I, §§ 2, 7.

         4. The district court did not err when it denied the State's motion seeking to dismiss the complaint for failure to join school districts and charter schools as parties.

          OPINION

          HUDSON, JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we must decide whether claims alleging that the State has failed to provide students with an adequate education are justiciable. Appellants, who are primarily parents of children enrolled in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, brought a putative class-action complaint on behalf of their children against respondents State of Minnesota and other State entities and officials. Appellants claim that the State has violated the Education, Equal Protection, and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. The State moved to dismiss the complaint on multiple grounds. The district court partially granted and partially denied the State's motion. The State filed an interlocutory appeal, and the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the complaint's claims present a nonjusticiable political question. We hold that separation-of-powers principles do not prevent the judiciary from ruling on whether the Legislature has violated its duty under the Education Clause or violated the Equal Protection or Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. We also hold that the district court did not err when it denied the State's motion seeking to dismiss the complaint based on legislative immunity and the failure to join necessary parties. We therefore reverse the decision of the court of appeals.

         FACTS

         In November 2015, appellants Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, et al., [1] commenced an action against respondents State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Senate, the Minnesota House of Representatives, the Minnesota Department of Education, and Dr. Brenda Cassellius, the Commissioner of Education (collectively, the State).[2] Appellants seek to represent "a class of children enrolled, or expected to be enrolled during the pendency of this action, in the Minneapolis Public Schools, Special School District No. 1, and the Saint Paul Public Schools, Independent School District 625." When we review the denial of a motion to dismiss, we consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, and we accept those facts as true. See Gretsch v. Vantium Capital, Inc., 846 N.W.2d 424, 429 (Minn. 2014).

         The complaint contains copious data demonstrating a "high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status" in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools. The public schools in Minneapolis and Saint Paul that appellants' children and other school-age children attend are "disproportionately comprised of students of color and students living in poverty, as compared with a number of neighboring and surrounding schools and districts." These segregated and "hyper-segregated" schools have significantly worse academic outcomes in comparison with neighboring schools and suburban school districts in measures such as graduation rates; pass rates for state-mandated Basic Standards Tests; and proficiency rates in math, science, and reading. Appellants describe these racially and socioeconomically segregated schools as "separate and unequal" from "neighboring and surrounding whiter and more affluent suburban schools" and detail the extensive harms of racial and socioeconomic segregation.

         Appellants highlight several practices by the Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, other school districts, charter schools, and the State as contributing to school segregation and inadequate educational outcomes. The practices include boundary decisions for school districts and school attendance areas; the formation of segregated charter schools and the decision to exempt charter schools from desegregation plans; the use of federal and state desegregation funds for other purposes; the failure to implement effective desegregation remedies; and the inequitable allocation of resources.

         Appellants assert that the State has violated its constitutional duty under the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1. Appellants contend that in addition to failing to fulfill its constitutional duty under the Education Clause, the State has violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. I, §§ 2, 7, by enabling school segregation and depriving students of their fundamental right to an adequate education.

         The complaint requests declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, appellants have asked the district court to permanently enjoin the State from "continuing to engage in the violations of law," to order the State to "remedy the violations of law," and to order the State "to provide the [students] forthwith with an adequate and desegregated education." Appellants did not bring any direct claims against either the Minneapolis Public Schools or the Saint Paul Public Schools, and do not directly seek any remedies from any school district or charter school.

         The State moved to dismiss the complaint on multiple grounds, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and failure to join all interested persons. The district court concluded that Skeen v. State, 505 N.W.2d 299 (Minn. 1993), had "already held that Minnesota's Education Clause creates a fundamental right to education which will subject any state action that allegedly violates that right, including action by the legislature, to strict judicial scrutiny." The district court dismissed certain defendants from the action and dismissed the claims brought under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, but otherwise denied the motion to dismiss.

         The State filed an interlocutory appeal, raising the following issues: (1) whether the district court erred by refusing to dismiss the complaint for lack of justiciability; (2) whether the district court erred by refusing to dismiss the claims against the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives based on legislative immunity; and (3) whether the district court erred by refusing to dismiss the complaint for failure to join individual school districts and charter schools as parties.

         The court of appeals reversed, holding that appellants' claims "present a nonjusticiable political question." Cruz-Guzman v. State, 892 N.W.2d 533, 541 (Minn.App. 2017). While acknowledging that segregation claims are justiciable, the court decided that all of appellants' claims are "rooted in a purported right to an education of a certain quality." Id. at 536-37 n.1. The court concluded that resolving appellants' claims would "require[] establishment of a qualitative educational standard, which is a task for the legislature and not the judiciary." Id. at 541. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order refusing to dismiss appellants' case for lack of justiciability. Id. Because the court's ruling on justiciability was dispositive, the court did not address the State's other arguments concerning legislative immunity or the failure to join necessary parties. See id. at 536, 541.

         We granted appellants' petition for further review, which raised the justiciability issue. We also granted the State's request for conditional cross-review, which asked us to review the legislative immunity and joinder issues.

         ANALYSIS

         This case comes to us on the State's appeal from the district court's order denying the State's motion to dismiss. A district court order denying a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is generally not immediately appealable as of right. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03; Kokesh v. City of Hopkins, 238 N.W.2d 882, 884 (Minn. 1976).[3] Immediate appellate review is available, however, for orders denying a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, government immunity, or the nonjoinder of necessary parties. See Kastner v. Star Trails Ass'n, 646 N.W.2d 235, 238 (Minn. 2002) (explaining that interlocutory appeal is available to review issues of subject matter jurisdiction and government immunity); Hunt v. Nev. State Bank, 172 N.W.2d 292, 301 (Minn. 1969) (holding that there is "an appeal of right" from an order denying a motion to dismiss for nonjoinder of an indispensable party). We review de novo the district court's decision on the State's motion to dismiss. Park Nicollet Clinic v. Hamann, 808 N.W.2d 828, 831 (Minn. 2011). We "consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, accepting those facts as true[, ] and must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Bodah v. Lakeville Motor Express, Inc., 663 N.W.2d 550, 553 (Minn. 2003).

         I.

         We turn first to the justiciability of appellants' claims that the State has failed to meet its obligations under the Education Clause, Article XIII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution.

         The presence of a justiciable controversy is "essential to our exercise of jurisdiction." Bicking v. City of Minneapolis, 891 N.W.2d 304, 308 (Minn. 2017) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Justiciability is separate and distinct from the merits of the case. See McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing, 808 N.W.2d 331, 341 (Minn. 2011). The State argues that appellants' claims present a political question that is not justiciable-that is, not "appropriate or suitable for adjudication by a court." Justiciability, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Justiciability is a question of law that we review de novo. McCaughtry, 808 N.W.2d at 337. In addition, the interpretation of the constitution is a purely legal issue that we review de novo. Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, 903 N.W.2d 609, 617 (Minn. 2017).

         The complaint specifies that appellants brought this lawsuit under the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, which provides:

The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1. Appellants assert that the Legislature has violated the duty imposed upon it by the Education Clause.

         Although we have not had many occasions to interpret or apply the Education Clause, we have consistently adjudicated claims asserting violations of the Clause. In the earliest case, decided almost 150 years ago, we stated that the object of the constitutional clause on education "is to ensure a regular method throughout the state, whereby all may be enabled to acquire an education which will fit them to discharge intelligently their duties as citizens of the republic." Bd. of Educ. of Sauk Ctr. v. Moore, 17 Minn. 412, 416 (1871).

         In another early case, we held that the education system provided by the Legislature did not violate the Education Clause when it "afford[ed] upon like terms the means for obtaining a common-school education to all resident scholars of the requisite age" and "ha[d] a general and uniform application to the entire state, so that the same grade or class of public schools [could] be enjoyed by all localities similarly situated." Curryer v. Merrill, 25 Minn. 1, 6 (1878).

         In our most recent case involving the Education Clause, decided 25 years ago, we held that because the plaintiffs were "unable to establish that the basic system [was] inadequate" and "the existing system continue[d] to meet the basic educational needs of all districts," there was no "constitutional violation of the state constitutional provisions which require the state to establish a 'general and uniform system of public schools' which will secure a 'thorough and efficient system of public schools.'" Skeen v. State, 505 N.W.2d 299, 312 (Minn. 1993). In all of these cases, we resolved Education Clause claims; we did not dismiss these claims as nonjusticiable.

         Here, the court of appeals focused on our refusal in those previous cases to "engage in educational-policy determinations" and held that appellants' Education Clause claims present a nonjusticiable political question. Cruz-Guzman, 892 N.W.2d at 540.[4] We have defined a political question as "a matter which is to be exercised by the people in their primary political capacity," or a matter that "has been specifically delegated to some other department or particular officer of the government, with discretionary power to act." In re McConaughy, 119 N.W. 408, 417 (Minn. 1909). Under separation-of-powers principles, the judiciary cannot "exercise any of the powers properly belonging" to the Legislature unless "expressly provided" in the Minnesota Constitution. Minn. Const. art. III, § 1.

         There is no dispute that the Minnesota Constitution assigns to the Legislature responsibility for establishing a public school system. Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1; see Bd. of Educ. of Minneapolis v. Erickson, 295 N.W. 302, 303 (Minn. 1940) ("By our constitution the mandate of establishing a general and uniform system of public schools was directed to the legislature."). To be sure, we have long held that matters of educational policy are matters that fall within legislative authority. Curryer, 25 Minn. at 5. However, we have also explained that the Education Clause constitutes "a mandate to the Legislature," "not a grant of power." Associated Schs. of Indep. Dist. No. 63 v. Sch. Dist. No. 83, 142 N.W. 325, 327 (Minn. 1913); see also State ex rel. Smith v. City of St. Paul, 150 N.W. 389, 391 (Minn. 1914) (describing the provisions of the Education Clause as "mandates" that prescribe a "specified duty"). In fact, the Education Clause is the only section of the Minnesota Constitution that imposes an explicit "duty" on the Legislature. See Skeen, 505 N.W.2d at 313.

         Although specific determinations of educational policy are matters for the Legislature, it does not follow that the judiciary cannot adjudicate whether the Legislature has satisfied its constitutional duty under the Education Clause. Deciding that appellants' claims are not justiciable would effectively hold that the judiciary cannot rule on the Legislature's noncompliance with a constitutional mandate, which would leave Education Clause claims without a remedy. Such a result is incompatible with the principle that where there is a right, there is a remedy. See State v. Lindquist, 869 N.W.2d 863, 873 (Minn. 2015) ("The right to a remedy for wrongs is '[a] fundamental concept of our legal system and a right guaranteed by our state constitution.'" (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Stream, 295 N.W.2d 595, 600 (Minn. 1980))); cf. Associated Schs. of Indep. Dist. No. 63, 142 N.W. at 328 ("The creation of the obligation carries with it by necessary implication the right to its enforcement.").

         Providing a remedy for Education Clause violations does not necessarily require the judiciary to exercise the powers of the Legislature. Appellants stress that their complaint "does not actually ask the court to institute any specific policy." Rather, their prayer for relief asks the district court to find, adjudge, and decree that the State has engaged in the claimed constitutional violations. Although appellants have also asked the district court to permanently enjoin the State "from continuing to engage in" the claimed constitutional violations and to order the State to "remedy" those violations, they "have consistently acknowledged that it is not the court's function to dictate to the Legislature the manner with which it must correct its constitutional violations."

         In essence, appellants' claims ask the judiciary to answer a yes or no question- whether the Legislature has violated its constitutional duty to provide "a general and uniform system of public schools" that is "thorough and efficient," Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1, and "ensure[s] a regular method throughout the state, whereby all may be enabled to acquire an education which will fit them to discharge intelligently their duties as citizens of the republic," Bd. of Educ. of Sauk Ctr., 17 Minn. at 416. To resolve this question, the judiciary is not required to devise particular educational policies to remedy constitutional violations, and we do not read appellants' complaint as a request that the judiciary do so. Rather, the judiciary is asked to determine whether the Legislature has violated its ...


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