e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 46505
Opinion Date : 07/31/2010
e-Journal Date : 08/03/2010
Court : Michigan Supreme Court
Case Name : Lansing Schs. Educ. Ass'n v. Lansing Bd. of Educ.
Practice Area(s) : Litigation, School Law
Judge(s) : Cavanagh, Kelly, Weaver (except for Part II.C - Stare Decisis), and Hathaway; Concurrence - Weaver; Separate Concurrence - Hathaway; Dissent - Corrigan, Young, Jr., and Markman
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

Standing; Lee v. Macomb County Bd. of Comm'rs; National Wildlife Fed'n v. Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co.; Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation v. Nestlé Waters N. Am., Inc.; Associated Builders & Contractors v. Department of Consumer & Indus. Servs. Dir.; Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife; Suit by the plaintiffs-teachers and teachers' unions alleging the defendants-school board and school district failed to comply with a statutory duty to expel students who have allegedly physically assaulted the teachers; The Revised School Code (RSC)(MCL 380.1 et seq.); MCL 380.1311a(1); Action for declaratory judgment; MCR 2.605; Stare decisis; Brown v. Manistee County Rd. Comm'n; Petersen v. Magna Corp.

Summary

Deciding whether the plaintiffs-teachers and teachers' unions had standing to sue the defendant-school board for failing to comply with its statutory duty to expel students who have allegedly physically assaulted the teachers, the court held that the standing doctrine adopted in Lee and extended in later cases (including Cleveland Cliffs) lacked a basis in the Michigan Constitution and was inconsistent with Michigan's historical approach to standing. Thus, the court overruled Lee and its progeny and held that "Michigan standing jurisprudence should be restored to a limited, prudential approach that is consistent with Michigan's long-standing historical approach to standing." The court further held that, under the proper standing doctrine, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding the plaintiffs lacked standing. The court reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to address the parties' remaining issues, including whether plaintiffs met the requirements for bringing a declaratory judgment action under MCR 2.605. Each of the teachers alleged they were physically assaulted in the classroom by a student who was in sixth grade or higher, and each incident was reported to a school administrator. The students were suspended but not expelled. Plaintiffs sued, alleging the defendants failed to comply with their mandatory duty under MCL 380.1311a(1) to expel students who physically assault a teacher. They sought a writ of mandamus and declaratory and injunctive relief. Defendants successfully moved for summary disposition. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that plaintiffs lacked standing under Lee. The court concluded that there was "no support in either the text of the Michigan Constitution or in Michigan jurisprudence" for "recognizing standing as a constitutional requirement or for adopting the federal standing doctrine." Under the "limited, prudential doctrine" of standing that was consistent with Michigan's historical approach, the court held that "a litigant has standing whenever there is a legal cause of action," and "whenever a litigant meets the requirements of MCR 2.605, it is sufficient to establish standing to seek a declaratory judgment." "Where a cause of action is not provided at law, then a court should, in its discretion, determine whether a litigant has standing." A litigant might have standing in this context "if the litigant has a special injury or right, or substantial interest, that will be detrimentally affected in a manner different from the citizenry at large or if the statutory scheme implies that the Legislature intended to confer standing on the litigant." Applying the standing doctrine to the case, the court held that plaintiffs had standing to pursue at least some of their claims, including, inter alia, their claim under the RSC because "they have a substantial interest in the enforcement of MCL 380.1311a(1) that will be detrimentally affected in a manner different from the citizenry at large if the statute is not enforced." The court noted it only held that if a teacher cannot sue the school board for allegedly failing to comply with MCL 380.1311a(1), standing was not the reason why. Defendants raised several other arguments in their summary disposition motion, which the Court of Appeals did not reach because it decided the case based on standing alone.

Justice Weaver concurred in and signed the majority opinion except part II.C, entitled Stare decisis. She wrote separately "to expand on footnote 8 in the majority opinion by providing some of the additional criticisms of" Lee and its progeny mentioned in footnote 8, including her dissenting opinion in Nestlé Waters. The justice also addressed the policy of stare decisis.

Justice Hathaway also fully concurred with the majority opinion's analysis and conclusion and supported overruling Lee. She also agreed with the additional criticisms of Lee articulated by Justice Weaver. The justice wrote separately to express her thoughts on the doctrine of stare decisis, reviewing how the U.S. Supreme Court has treated the doctrine.

The dissent concluded that, contrary to the majority's opinion, the lower courts correctly determined that the teachers had "no statutory right to demand the permanent expulsion of four particular children, and potentially innumerable other children, from all Michigan schools." The justices opined that in "one fell swoop, the majority permits unlimited interference by courts in the local educational process and rewrites the entire constitutionally based legal doctrine governing standing in Michigan." The justices concluded the majority created "a vague new standing ‘test' - which is really no test at all - that violates the constitutional separation of powers mandate and gives courts unbounded discretion to overturn the decisions of other branches of government." They also stated that under "any meaningful test for standing, plaintiffs cannot enlist the courts to compel locally elected school districts to expel students under the circumstances presented here." The justices also opined that "the majority ignores the doctrine of stare decisis while paying lip service to it." The justices would affirm the Court of Appeals decision.

Full Text Opinion