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Henry v. Clarksdale Municipal Separate School District

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Delta Division

October 19, 2017




         Plaintiffs have filed a motion for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction against various state defendants, arising out of their opposition to the State's planned establishment of a charter school in Clarksdale. Acknowledging that the instant desegregation action filed in 1964 against the Clarksdale Municipal School District (“CMSD”) lacks many of the necessary plaintiffs and defendants in which to seek such injunctive relief, plaintiffs have filed a separate motion for leave to add those parties to this lawsuit. This court concludes that plaintiffs' motion for leave to add parties is not well taken, and, after conducting an emergency hearing on their TRO motion, it concludes that it should likewise be denied.

         A TRO or preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary remedy, ” Lakedreams v. Taylor, 932 F.2d 1103, 1107 (5th Cir. 1991), and the four elements for such relief are as follows: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a substantial threat of irreparable injury if the injunction is not issued, (3) that the threatened injury if the injunction is denied outweighs any harm that will result if the injunction is granted, and (4) that the grant of an injunction will not disserve the public interest. Janvey v. Alguire, 647 F.3d 585, 595 (5th Cir. 2011). To justify entry of a TRO or preliminary injunction, plaintiffs must “clearly carr[y] the burden of persuasion on all four elements.” PCI Transp., Inc. v. Fort Worth & W. R.R. Co., 418 F.3d 535, 545 (5th Cir. 2005) (citation and quotations omitted).

         In this case, the immediate “injury” which plaintiffs seek to prevent is the State of Mississippi's issuance of ratings of public schools, which (by this court's understanding) is currently set to occur on October 19, 2017, i.e. today.[1] In their motion for leave to file, plaintiffs assert that:

The state has changed its criteria 3 times in 3 years. It is scheduled to release another rating on October 19, 2017. We pray this court to issue a TRO with notice so as to freeze and/or maintain the status quo until this court can review violations of constitutional rights of black citizens of Clarksdale Mississippi.

[Motion for leave to file at 6]. Although the pleadings are somewhat unclear on this point, it appears that the issue of school ratings is tied to that of the charter school based on the fact that the State's decision to place a school in Clarksdale over local objections is based largely on a conclusion that the public schools in that city have been underperforming, as evidenced by prior substandard ratings. Thus, plaintiffs apparently believe that if they can stop the State's rating of schools from going forward this week, then this may assist them in their opposition to the establishment of a charter school.

         Given the timing of plaintiffs' motion and the fact that this court has conducted a trial in a different matter this week, it has had an undesirably brief period of time in which to consider and rule upon these matters. In fact, this court began to harbor concerns about its basic jurisdiction to consider these issues only after it held a TRO hearing yesterday. In particular, this court has developed concerns regarding whether the CMSD, which is a defendant in this case, is actually the party which would have standing to contest the procedures by which the State of Mississippi rates schools in this state. After all, it is the CMSD whose schools will be rated, and it is far from clear to this court that, say, a member of the Clarksdale general public would suffer a sufficiently individualized harm from these ratings to confer standing upon him to seek to enjoin the State's rating process from going forward.

         The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the “irreducible constitutional minimum” of standing consists of three elements. The plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016)(citations omitted). While the CMSD is clearly in agreement with plaintiffs that the proposed charter school would harm local schools, it has not formally joined their motions and its counsel chose not to attend the TRO hearing yesterday. In light of these facts, this court has serious doubts whether the CMSD would itself choose to file a lawsuit against the State of Mississippi seeking to prevent its ratings process from going forward. In the court's view, the fact that the party with the most obvious standing to oppose the State's actions has chosen not to file suit to stop them raises clear jurisdiction concerns regarding whether members of the general public may do so.

         This court also has concerns arising from the third or “redressability” prong of the Supreme Court's standing jurisprudence, which is a rather stringent one. See, e, g. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 506, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2209 (1975)(finding that plaintiffs in a zoning action had failed to demonstrate that the requested relief would benefit them in a tangible way and thus lacked standing.). This court's concerns in this regard arise from the fact that it is far from clear that, even if it were to enjoin the State's rating process from going forward, this would prevent the charter school opposed by plaintiffs from being built. Indeed, this court's understanding is that the Clarksdale charter school has already been approved by the State, [2] and its establishment seems to be widely regarded as a “done deal.” This raises the question of whether, assuming a particular plaintiff is deemed to have properly alleged a personal “injury in fact” from the establishment of the charter school, that harm would be redressed by the injunctive relief he seeks. Plaintiffs' motion for leave to add additional plaintiffs does not allege facts sufficient to assuage this court's concerns on this issue, and this fact clearly militates against granting that motion.

         That brings this court to the fact that the lawsuit in which plaintiffs chose to file their motions actually has nothing to do with the process by which the State of Mississippi rates its schools or with the planned establishment of a charter school in Clarksdale. Rather, this is a desegregation case filed in 1964 against the CMSD which, while not completely dormant, appears to be on its last legs. Acknowledging the absence of key parties regarding their motion to enjoin state defendants, plaintiffs ask this court to allow joinder of the real parties in interest and/or the addition of necessary parties, including a number of additional plaintiffs and state defendants. This court finds this request to be without merit, since it would involve transposing what is essentially an entirely new lawsuit upon a decades old litigation which is basically completed. This strikes this court as being a recipe for judicial and procedural chaos, and it can discern no advantage whatsoever which would be gained by such a procedure.

         In their motion, plaintiffs cite a wide range of procedural vehicles for adding various parties to this case, including FRCP 17, 19, 21, 23 and 24, but they fail to address the specific requirements of any of these provisions. Plaintiffs' failure to offer specific arguments in this regard is reason enough to defeat their motion, since they have the burden of proving that joinder should be allowed. This court will not argue with itself on this issue, particularly considering the time constraints resulting from plaintiffs' choice to file their motions at such a late date. This court reiterates, however, that transposing what is essentially a new lawsuit upon a dormant one of ancient vintage serves no valid procedural purpose. Moreover, the conclusory nature of plaintiffs' motion leaves this court with a number of jurisdictional concerns, and it may not disregard these concerns by improperly characterizing the claims of new parties as part of an existing case with an established jurisdictional basis.

         Given the jurisdictional concerns which exist in this context, it seems far preferable for any plaintiffs who feel that they have standing to contest the State of Mississippi's actions in rating schools and/or in establishing a charter school in Clarksdale to file a separate lawsuit setting forth their claims. Any such lawsuit should include clear allegations of standing and should plainly state which provisions of the U.S. Constitution plaintiffs allege are violated by the State's actions. Given that the Eleventh Amendment precludes the recovery of monetary damages against the State in federal court, plaintiffs would presumably be limited to claims for prospective injunctive relief against relevant state officials. See Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). Obviously, any plaintiffs who choose to file suit should serve formal service of process upon all defendants, and there is no indication on the docket that such has occurred here.[3]Indeed, this court cannot help but wonder whether plaintiffs chose to piggyback their motions upon an established case on its docket based upon concerns that they would not be able to demonstrate federal jurisdiction in a separate action or because they simply did not wish to deal with such matters as providing formal notice.

         Having reviewed the plaintiffs' motion for TRO, this court concludes that it fails to adequately tie the relief they seek into the subject matter of the instant lawsuit, which is the desegregation of the CMSD. To the contrary, the motions make it clear that the relief which plaintiffs seek deals with far broader issues which are not germane here. The first paragraph of plaintiffs' TRO motion, for example, asserts that “[p]laintiffs, Dr. Jimmy Wiley and Rena Butler move the Court to hold an expedited hearing prior to October 19, 2017 to restrain and maintain the status quo until this Court hold [sic] a preliminary inunction hearing on the question of ratings of school districts in Mississippi.” Clearly, the question of the “ratings of school districts in Mississippi” is well beyond the scope of this lawsuit, and, once again, this court does not regard this desegregation lawsuit filed in 1964 as being the proper vehicle for the litigation of this issue.

         In order to grant a TRO in this particular case, this court would first need to be persuaded that there was an impending harm which would threaten the desegregation of Clarksdale schools. This court understands that there is opposition from many in Clarksdale to the establishment of a charter school there by the State, and this appears to be based largely on a fear that such a school would take some of the best students and state funding from the existing Clarksdale schools. That is very different, however, than alleging that the establishment of a charter school would tend to re-segregate Clarksdale schools. There was very little testimony on the segregation issue at the TRO hearing, and the limited proof which was offered ...

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