680 So.2d 400 (Fla. 1996), 85375, Coalition for Adequacy and Fairness in School Funding, Inc. v. Chiles

Docket Nº:85375.
Citation:680 So.2d 400, 21 Fla. L. Weekly S 271
Party Name:COALITION FOR ADEQUACY AND FAIRNESS IN SCHOOL FUNDING, INC., et al., Appellants, v. Lawton CHILES, Governor of the State of Florida and Presiding Officer of the State Board of Education; Douglas Jamerson, Commissioner of Education of the State of Florida; State Board of Education, a public Florida corporation; Pat Thomas, as President of the Florid
Case Date:June 27, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Florida

Page 400

680 So.2d 400 (Fla. 1996)

21 Fla. L. Weekly S 271



Lawton CHILES, Governor of the State of Florida and Presiding Officer of the State Board of Education; Douglas Jamerson, Commissioner of Education of the State of Florida; State Board of Education, a public Florida corporation; Pat Thomas, as President of the Florida Senate; and Bolley L. Johnson, as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Appellees.

No. 85375.

Supreme Court of Florida.

June 27, 1996

Rehearing Denied Oct. 2, 1996.

Page 401

Opinion of Overton, J., Concurring

C. Graham Carothers and John T. Beranek of Macfarlane, Ausley, Ferguson & McMullen, Tallahassee; Claude H. Tison, Jr. and T. Terrell Sessums of Macfarlane, Ausley, Ferguson & McMullen, Tampa; Raymond Ehrlich of Holland & Knight, Jacksonville; A. Lamar Matthews, Jr. and Arthur S. Hardy of Matthews, Hutton & Eastmoore, Sarasota; and Frank P. Scruggs, II of Steel, Hector & Davis, Miami, for Appellants.

W. Dexter Douglass and Deborah K. Kearney, Executive Office of the Governor, Tallahassee, on behalf of Governor Lawton Chiles; D. Stephen Kahn, General Counsel, Tallahassee, on behalf of the Senate President; Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, and Joseph C. Mellichamp, III, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, on behalf of State Board of Education and Commissioner of Education; Michael H. Olenick, General Counsel, Florida Department of Education, Tallahassee, on behalf of Commissioner of Education; and Robert L. Shevin and Richard B. Simring of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Miami; Daniel C. Brown of Katz, Kutter, Haigler, Alderman, Marks, Bryant & Yon, P.A., Tallahassee; B. Elaine New, General Counsel and Gerald B. Curington, Deputy General Counsel, Tallahassee, on behalf of the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, for Appellees.

Mary M. Gundrum, Alice K. Nelson and Jodi Siegel of Southern Legal Counsel, Inc., Gainesville; Christina A. Zawisza and John M. Ratliff of the Children First, Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., Miami; Ann Piccard and Gale Pinkston, Bay Area Legal Services, Inc., Tampa; Deborah Weissman, Legal Services of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC; Lisa Carmona, Florida Rural Legal Services, Lake Worth; Wayne L. Thomas of Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler, Tampa; and Stefan Rosenzweig, Public Advocates, Inc., San Francisco, CA, for N.A.A.C.P., et al., Amici Curiae.

Page 402


In a one-count complaint, appellants 1 sought declaratory relief against the appellees and asked the trial court to declare that an adequate education is a fundamental right under the Florida Constitution, and that the State has failed to provide its students that fundamental right by failing to allocate adequate resources for a uniform system of free public schools as provided for in the Florida Constitution. In support of their action, appellants alleged: (1) Certain students are not receiving adequate programs to permit them to gain proficiency in the English language; (2) Economically deprived students are not receiving adequate education for their greater educational needs; (3) Gifted, disabled, and mentally handicapped children are not receiving adequate special programs; (4) Students in property-poor counties are not receiving an adequate education; (5) Education capital outlay needs are not adequately provided for; and (6) School districts are unable to perform their constitutional duties because of the legislative imposition of noneducational and quasi-educational burdens.

The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. 2 Upon appeal, all parties filed a joint suggestion that the First District certify this case to be one of great public importance requiring immediate resolution by this Court. The First District certified this case to this Court and we granted jurisdiction pursuant to the provisions of article V, section 3(b)(5) of the Florida Constitution. While not agreeing with all of the reasons advanced by the trial court, we affirm the order of dismissal.


Appellants assert that the trial court erred in ruling that they had not sufficiently alleged a jurisdictional basis for an action against the defendants in this suit. We agree. See Florida Dep't of Educ. v. Glasser, 622 So.2d 944, 948 (Fla.1993)(declaratory action relating to State's role in education should join "all persons who have an actual, present, adverse, and antagonistic interest in the subject matter"). With the exception of the Governor who, with the consent of appellants, did not file a response in the trial

Page 403

court, all of the named appellees have either taken a present, adverse, and antagonistic position to that espoused by appellants or would be necessary parties to an action to determine the State's responsibility under the controlling constitutional provision. We agree that the Governor, both in his position as chief executive officer and as chairperson of the Board of Education, is an appropriate party because of the nature of the action.

We also agree that the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives, acting through their respective presiding officers, are proper parties. 3 Indeed, both presiding officers have candidly conceded that they have been properly joined but have suggested that this Court might wish sua sponte to add the House and the Senate as formal parties. See also Fla. H.R. Rule 2.4 (1995)(authorizing the Speaker of the House to "initiate, defend, intervene in, or otherwise participate in any suit on behalf of the House"). The Senate has also participated in litigation before this Court through its designated representative where its interests were at stake, see, e.g., Florida Senate v. Graham, 412 So.2d 360 (Fla.1982), as has the House, see e.g., Florida House of Representatives v. Martinez, 555 So.2d 839 (Fla.1990); Dade County Classroom Teachers Ass'n v. Legislature, 269 So.2d 684, 685 (Fla.1972). We find no jurisdictional flaw in appellants' joining the House and Senate by including the presiding officers of those bodies in their respective capacities. Even if the House and Senate were required to be joined in some other manner, this would not be a basis for a dismissal with prejudice.

The trial court also questioned the standing of appellants to bring this action. This Court has held that "a citizen and taxpayer can challenge the constitutional validity of an exercise of the legislature's taxing and spending power without having to demonstrate a special injury." Chiles v. Children A, B, C, D, E & F, 589 So.2d 260, 262 n. 5 (Fla.1991). Furthermore, in Florida, unlike the federal system, the doctrine of standing has not been rigidly followed. Department of Revenue v. Kuhnlein, 646 So.2d 717, 720 (Fla.1994), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2608, 132 L.Ed.2d 853 (1995). Based on the allegations in this complaint, we conclude that all of the appellants have standing. 4


Appellants' request for declaratory judgment is fully consistent with several recent decisions of this Court. See, e.g., Chiles v. Children A, B, C, D, E, & F, 589 So.2d 260 (Fla.1991)(accepting jurisdiction over complaint for declaratory relief by children seeking to declare certain provisions of budgetary scheme unconstitutional); Martinez v. Scanlan, 582 So.2d 1167 (Fla.1991)(accepting jurisdiction in declaratory action to resolve dispute between various groups and Governor over validity of workers' compensation laws); Department of Revenue v. Kuhnlein, 646

Page 404

So.2d 717 (Fla.1994)(granting declaratory relief in action brought by residents alleging that rights under Commerce Clause were being infringed by illegal impact fee), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2608, 132 L.Ed.2d 853 (1995).

As we recently explained in Santa Rosa County v. Administration Commission, Division of Administrative Hearings, "[t]he purpose of a declaratory judgment is to afford parties relief from insecurity and uncertainty with respect to rights, status, and other equitable or legal relations." 661 So.2d 1190, 1192 (Fla.1995). A party seeking declaratory relief must show:

[T]here is a bona fide, actual, present practical need for the declaration; that the declaration should deal with a present, ascertained or ascertainable state of facts or present controversy as to a state of facts; that some immunity, power, privilege or right of the complaining party is dependent upon the facts or the law applicable to the facts; that there is some person or persons who have, or reasonably may have an actual, present, adverse and antagonistic interest in the subject matter, either in fact or law; that the antagonistic and adverse interest[s] are all before the court by proper process or class representation and that the relief sought is not merely giving of legal advice by the courts or the answer to questions propounded from curiosity. These elements are necessary in order to maintain the status of the proceeding as being judicial in nature and therefore within the constitutional powers of the courts.

Id. at 1192-93 (quoting Martinez v. Scanlan, 582 So.2d at 1170).

Applying these legal principles to this case, we conclude that the instant case properly seeks declaratory relief.


Appellants urge us to examine cases from jurisdictions which have considered allegations of failure to ensure constitutional rights to adequate education and have defined adequacy in particular factual contexts. Appellants cite a number of cases where courts have rejected the notion that the judiciary lacks jurisdiction to perform any inquiry into state funding of education. Some have held that the state had failed to meet the constitutional requirements imposed by...

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