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Forslund v. State

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 22, 2019

Tiffini Flynn Forslund, et al., Appellants,
v.
State of Minnesota, et al., Respondents, St. Paul Public Schools, et al., Defendants.

          Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-16-2161

          Lewis A. Remele, Jr., Kate L. Homolka, Bassford Remele P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Nekima Levy-Pounds, Levy Armstrong, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and James R. Swanson (pro hac vice), Fishman Haygood, L.L.P., New Orleans, Louisiana (for appellants)

          Keith M. Ellison, Attorney General, Jason Marisam, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondents)

          Emily R. Bo dtke, Aaron D. Van Oort, Faeg re Bak er Dan iels LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Mahesha P. Subbaraman, Subbaraman PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Freedom Foundation of Minnesota)

          David M. Aron, Cedrick R. Frazier, Adosh D. Unni, Education Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Education Minnesota)

          Roger J. Aronson, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals)

          Will Stancil, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amici curiae Jim Hilbert and Myron Orfield)

          Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge; Cleary, Chief Judge; and Florey, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         To establish a violation of the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the state has failed or is failing to provide an adequate education.

          OPINION

          SMITH, TRACY M., JUDGE

         In this appeal, the parents of children enrolled in various Minnesota public schools challenge the district court's dismissal, on multiple grounds, of their action seeking to invalidate portions of Minnesota's continuing-contract and teacher-tenure statutes, Minn. Stat. §§ 122A.40, .41 (2018), [1] as violative of the Education and Equal Protection Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. The appeal is before this court for a second time, following a remand from the Minnesota Supreme Court. In a September 2017 opinion, this court affirmed dismissal of appellants' amended complaint under the political-question doctrine. The supreme court granted a petition for further review and stayed the appeal pending its consideration of Cruz-Guzman v. State, 916 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. 2018), which also raised a political-question issue in an Education Clause case. After deciding Cruz-Guzman in July 2018, the supreme court vacated this court's previous opinion in this appeal and remanded for this court's reconsideration of the political-question issue in light of Cruz-Guzman and for consideration, as this court deems necessary, of additional issues raised on appeal but not reached by this court in its previous decision. We now conclude that the claims are justiciable and that appellant-parents have standing to raise them, but we also conclude that the amended complaint fails to state viable claims for relief under the Education and Equal Protection Clauses and that the district court did not abuse its discretion by not addressing appellants' request to amend the complaint. We therefore affirm the district court's judgment dismissing the amended complaint.

         FACTS

         Appellants Tiffini Forslund, Justina Person, Bonnie Dominguez, and Roxanne Draughn each have a child or children enrolled in Minnesota public schools. In their amended complaint, appellants allege that certain provisions of Minnesota's continuing-contract and teacher-tenure laws (together, the challenged statutes) violate their children's rights under the Education and Equal Protection Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. More specifically, appellants challenge what they characterize as the tenure provisions, [2] the dismissal provisions, [3] and the "Last-In, First-Out," or LIFO, provisions[4] of the challenged statutes. Appellants allege that being taught by effective teachers is essential to receiving an adequate education and that the challenged statutes pose "time-consuming and expensive hurdles" that make it "all but impossible" to dismiss ineffective teachers. They allege that their children have been taught, or are at risk of being taught, by ineffective teachers and that the specter of ineffective teaching burdens their constitutional right to an adequate education under the Education Clause and deprives them of equal protection of the laws under the Equal Protection Clause.

         The claims are asserted against respondents the State of Minnesota, the Governor of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), and the Commissioner of Education.[5] Respondents moved to dismiss appellants' claims under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02. Following briefing and argument, the district court dismissed the amended complaint on three separate grounds: that the claims raised a nonjusticiable political question, that appellants lacked standing to assert the claims, and that the amended complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The district court did not address appellants' request to (again) amend if the existing amended complaint was determined to be insufficient.[6]

         This appeal follows.

         ISSUES

         I. Did the district court err by dismissing the amended complaint under the political-question doctrine?

         II. Did the district court err by dismissing the amended complaint based on appellants' lack of standing?

         III. Did the district court err by dismissing the amended complaint for failure to state a claim?

         IV. Did the district court abuse its discretion by not permitting appellants to further amend their complaint?

         ANALYSIS

         This appeal is taken from the district court's grant of respondents' motion to dismiss appellants' amended complaint for lack of justiciability and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(a), (e). We review both types of dismissal de novo. McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing, 808 N.W.2d 331, 337 (Minn. 2011) (justiciability); Bahr v. Capella Univ., 788 N.W.2d 76, 80 (Minn. 2010) (failure to state a claim); see also Edina Comm. Lutheran Church v. State, 673 N.W.2d 517, 521 (Minn.App. 2004) (considering question of standing de novo, "as an aspect of justiciability").

         I. Appellants' claims do not present a ...


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