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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court dismisses school finance plaintiffs' arguments

In Joseph and LaTanya Bonner, et al v. Mitch Daniels, et al, a 14-page, 4-1 opinion, Justice Dickson writes:

The plaintiffs/appellants, a group of Indiana public school students, appeal the trial court's dismissal of their complaint, which sought a declaratory judgment to establish that the Indiana Constitution imposes an enforceable duty on state government to provide a standard of quality education to public school students and that such duty is not being satisfied. The Court of Appeals reversed. Bonner v. Daniels, 885 N.E.2d 673 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). We granted transfer and now affirm the trial court. Although recognizing the Indiana Constitution directs the General Assembly to establish a general and uniform system of public schools, we hold that it does not mandate any judicially enforceable standard of quality, and to the extent that an individual student has a right, entitlement, or privilege to pursue public education, this derives from the enactments of the General Assembly, not from the Indiana Constitution.
The Court relies on " Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) [which] permits dismissal for '[f]ailure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.'" From the end of the majority opinion:
By its own terms, Article 8, concerning education, does not speak in terms of a right or entitlement to education. * * * To the extent that an individual student may have a right, entitlement, or privilege to pursue public education, any such right derives from the enactments of the General Assembly, not from the Indiana Constitution.

We conclude that the framers and ratifiers certainly sought to establish a state system of free common schools but not to create a constitutional right to be educated to a certain quality or other output standard. In the absence of such a constitutional right to receive an adequate public education, the plaintiffs are not entitled to the declaratory relief sought regarding the Equal Privileges or Due Course of Law Clauses of the Indiana Constitution.

Conclusion. We hold that the facts stated by the plaintiffs' complaint, even if taken as true, would not support the relief requested and we therefore affirm the trial court's judgment granting the defendants' motion to dismiss.

Shepard, C.J., and Sullivan, J., concur.
Boehm, J., concurs in result with separate opinion. [which begins on p. 10]
Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion. [which begins on p. 13]

[Justice Boehm's concurring opinion concludes:] In sum, the problems of Indiana’s system of funding public schools may be as severe as the plaintiffs allege, but I see no reasonable prospect of a judicial remedy that would be effective and properly balance the many considerations involved in redesigning the state’s educational system. The most the courts could order would be to direct the legislative and executive branches to go back to the drawing board and try again to construct an improved and constitutionally acceptable system of common schools. Because we are unable to articulate any clear or even vague direction as to what standards to apply in that endeavor, the courts should acknowledge that adequacy of education, like the level of taxation, is a matter the Constitution reserves to the legislative branch. I therefore concur in the majority’s ruling that this complaint must be dismissed.

[Justice Rucker's dissent concludes:]
I readily concede that whether plaintiffs can prevail in a trial on the merits of their complaint, or indeed whether they can survive summary judgment, is an open question. But to say in effect that plaintiffs have not presented a justiciable issue is simply wrong in my view. I would therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and allow this matter to proceed.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 2, 2009 12:26 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions