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AFRICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE FUND, INC. v. NEW Y

June 8, 1998

AFRICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE FUND, INC., MOTHERS ON THE MOVE, INC., SANDRA GONZALES, individually and in her capacity as natural mother and legal guardian of the minor children, MICHAEL MEJIAS and JONATHAN ORTEZA, students of the New York City Public School System, LILLIAN SANCHEZ, individually and in her capacity as natural mother and legal guardian of the minor children, MIQUEL MARTINEZ, JR. and EDWARD MARTINEZ, students of the New York City Public School System, MICHELLE BEVERHOUDT, individually and in her capacity as natural mother and legal guardian of minor child FREDERICK BEVERHOUDT, student of the New York City Public School System, SANDRA CREDELL, individually and in her capacity as natural mother and legal guardian of the minor child REJEANA CREDELL, student of the New York City Public School System, Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, GOVERNOR GEORGE E. PATAKI, New York State Commissioner of Education, ROGER P. MILLS, BOARD OF REGENTS, individually and collectively as a Board, CARL T. HAYDEN, Chancellor, LOUISE MATTEONI, Vice Chancellor, EMLYN I. GRIFFITH, JORGE L. BATISTA, EDWARD J. MEYER, CARLOS R. CARBALLADA, MIMI LEVIN LIEBER, NORMA GLUCK, ADELAIDE L. SANFORD, WALTER COOPER, DIANA O'NEILL McGIVERN, SAUL B. COHEN, JAMES C. DAWSON, ROBERT M. BENNETT, ROBERT M. JOHNSON, and any other successors, H. CARL McCALL, Comptroller of the State of New York, ASSEMBLYMAN SHELDON SILVER, Speaker of the Assembly, SENATOR JOSEPH L. BRUNO, Majority Leader of the Senate, SENATOR CHARLES D. COOK, Chair of the Standing Committee on Education, ASSEMBLYMAN STEVEN SANDERS, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Education, New York City Board of Education, RUDOLPH F. CREW, Chancellor, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: OWEN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 OWEN, District Judge

 Plaintiff African American Legal Defense Fund is a not-for-profit organization "dedicated to the protection of the legal rights of all people of African Heritage and to the furtherance of the educational opportunities to those of African Heritage". *fn1" The individual plaintiffs are schoolchildren and the parents of schoolchildren -- of Hispanic as well as African-American descent -- who attend public schools in New York City. Defendants are officers *fn2" and agencies of New York State and New York City. Plaintiffs allege that the State's funding of New York City's public schools violates the Education Article and Equal Protection Clause of the New York State Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, *fn3" and Section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, along with its implementing regulations. They also allege a violation of the Voting Rights Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1971 et seq. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted.

 New York State's system for putting funds into public education is similar to systems used throughout the United States. The State provides local school districts with aid, with local districts raising additional funds through local property taxes. According to statistics alleged by plaintiffs, *fn4" approximately 53% of the funding for New York City schools comes from local municipal and school district taxes, 5% comes from the federal government, and 42% comes from the State. Plaintiffs challenge the statutory scheme under which the State portion is distributed to the local districts. Under the State's apportionment system, codified at N.Y. Educ. Law § 3602, aid is distributed to local school districts according to an aggregation of approximately 50 different formulas, encompassing programs including operating aid, extraordinary-needs aid, building aid, and a variety of other grants. Many of the statutory aid formulas include a percentage-equalizing methodology under which the amount of State aid received by each district is determined, in part, by reference to that district's wealth and the district's corresponding ability to obtain school funding on a local level through property taxes. The wealthier the district, the less State aid it receives. For purposes of the percentage-equalizing methodology, the City is considered an average-wealth district.

 According to plaintiffs's statistics, a disproportionate number of the minorities in the State attend New York City public schools: approximately 74% of the entire State's minority public school population attend City public schools, and minority children comprise 81% of the City's public school enrollment, compared to 17% outside the City. Plaintiffs' amended complaint states that in 1992-93 New York City schools received an average of $ 3000 per student in State aid, compared to $ 3,400 per student for schools in other districts. *fn5" However, these figures require adjustment in light of plaintiffs' acknowledgment, elsewhere in the amended complaint, that the State allocates and provides aid on the basis of attendance and not enrollment, and plaintiffs' figures spread the State's payments over all enrolled students, while the facts is, and plaintiffs affirmatively plead, that New York City schools have a very poor attendance record. *fn6" Notwithstanding this, plaintiffs claim that the result of said funding system is that City schools, heavily minority, receive less State aid than non-city schools with lesser minority percentages, and the system therefore discriminates against minority students by providing them with less of an opportunity to meet the State's minimum educational standards than their non-minority peers receive.

 In addition, plaintiffs challenge the State statutory system by which members of the local school governing boards -- New York City's Board of Education and Community School Boards -- are selected. By State law, the members of the Board of Education are appointed by the City's mayor and borough presidents. See N.Y. Educ. Law § 2590-b(1). In contrast, other cities and towns within the State elect their boards directly. See, e.g., N.Y. Educ. Law § 1702. By State law, the members of the Community School Boards are elected by proportional representation. See N.Y. Educ. Law § 2590-c(7).

 At the outset, the New York City defendants move to dismiss, asserting that plaintiffs' complaint alleges causes of actions only against the State, not the City. At oral argument, plaintiffs admitted as much but claimed that "the city would need to be a necessary party depending on whether or not the Court could fashion a remedy for the plaintiffs". However, the City should not be required to expend its resources defending an action which challenges a state of affairs for which it bears no responsibility. *fn7" Accordingly, all claims against New York City's Board of Education and Chancellor Rudolph Crew are dismissed.

 Turning to the New York State defendants, the Eleventh Amendment provides:

 
The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

 U.S. Const. amend. XI. In Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 33 L. Ed. 842, 10 S. Ct. 504 (1890), the Supreme Court interpreted the Eleventh Amendment to bar as well actions against a state by a citizen of that same state. Thus, unless a state has consented to be sued, see Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984), or Congress has abrogated state sovereign immunity through a clear and unequivocal statement, see, e.g., Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 786, 115 L. Ed. 2d 686, 111 S. Ct. 2578 (1991), an action against the state or its agencies will not lie.

 An exception exists for actions against state officials who act in violation of the Constitution or federal law. See Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 52 L. Ed. 714, 28 S. Ct. 441 (1908). However, the Supreme Court has held that a federal action does not lie against a state official 'where it is claimed the state official has violated state law. See Pennhurst, supra, at 106. *fn8" Accordingly, plaintiffs' claims under the Education Article and the Equal Protection Clause of the New York State Constitution are dismissed.

 Plaintiffs next challenge the State's funding scheme, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under established authority, the appropriate standard to be applied to the challenged legislation is rational basis review. "Equal protection analysis requires strict scrutiny of a legislative classification only when the classification impermissibly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right or operates to the peculiar disadvantage of a suspect class." Massachusetts Bd. of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 312, 49 L. Ed. 2d 520, 96 S. Ct. 2562 (1976) (emphasis supplied). *fn9"

 In San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 36 L. Ed. 2d 16, 93 S. Ct. 1278 (1973), the Supreme Court, addressing an Equal Protection challenge to Texas's statutory scheme for funding its public schools, declined to apply strict scrutiny, observing that a group "unified only by the common factor of residence in districts that happen to have less taxable wealth than other districts", even where the record indicated that the composition of the group was approximately 90% Mexican-American and 6% black, did not constitute a suspect class. See Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 28. Moreover, the Court held that education was not a fundamental right. See Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 35. Lastly, the Court held that the Texas statute had a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. Here, as was true in Rodriguez, the legislation at issue does not implicate a suspect class because it distinguishes only on the basis of geographical district, nor, under Rodriguez, does it interfere with a fundamental right. *fn10"

 The question thus becomes whether New York State's statutory scheme "bears some rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose". Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 44. Some of the alleged deficiencies of the legislation, such as the absence of provisions for staff development and the failure to foster interagency collaboration, are not grounded in any recognized legal right. Other allegations are merely conclusory. In Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 92 L. Ed. 2d 209, 106 S. Ct. 2932 (1986), the Supreme Court, on an appeal from a motion to dismiss another challenge to a state statute regarding school funding, acknowledged the possibility, left open in Rodriguez, that there might be a fundamental right to "a minimally adequate education". Papasan, 478 U.S. at 285. However, the Court found no need to reach that issue, stating:

 
Although for purposes of this motion to dismiss we must take all the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. . . . The petitioners do not allege that schoolchildren in the [petitioners' districts] are not taught to read or write; they do not allege that they receive no instruction on even the educational basics; they allege no actual facts in support of their assertion that they have been deprived of a minimally adequate education. As we ...

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