Carson v. Makin, Civil No. 1:18-CV-327-DBH

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine
Writing for the CourtD. Brock Hornby, United States District Judge
Citation401 F.Supp.3d 207
Parties David and Amy CARSON, on their own behalf and as next friends of their child, O.C.; Alan and Judith Gillis, on their own behalf and as next friends of their child, I.G.; and Troy and Angela Nelson, on their own behalf and as next friends of their children, A.N. and R.N., Plaintiffs v. A. Pender MAKIN, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, Defendant
Docket NumberCivil No. 1:18-CV-327-DBH
Decision Date26 June 2019

401 F.Supp.3d 207

David and Amy CARSON, on their own behalf and as next friends of their child, O.C.; Alan and Judith Gillis, on their own behalf and as next friends of their child, I.G.; and Troy and Angela Nelson, on their own behalf and as next friends of their children, A.N. and R.N., Plaintiffs
v.
A. Pender MAKIN, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, Defendant

Civil No. 1:18-CV-327-DBH

United States District Court, D. Maine.

Signed June 26, 2019


Arif Panju, Pro Hac Vice, Institute for Justice, Austin, TX, Jeffrey T. Edwards, Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau, & Pachios, LLP, Portland, ME, Jonathan R. Whitehead, Pro Hac Vice, Law Office of Jonathan R. Whitehead, Michael K. Whitehead, Pro Hac Vice, Law Office of Michael K. Whitehead, Lees Summit, MO, Lea Patterson, Pro Hac Vice, First Liberty Institute, Plano, TX, Timothy D. Keller, Pro Hac Vice, Institute for Justice, Tempe, AZ, Benjamin Bull, First Liberty Institute, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Christopher C. Taub, Sarah A. Forster, Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, ME, for Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON A STIPULATED RECORD

D. Brock Hornby, United States District Judge

401 F.Supp.3d 208

This case concerns the application of the First Amendment religion clauses to Maine's funding of secondary education—namely its exclusion of sectarian schools from its program of paying tuition to parent-chosen private schools when local government does not provide a public school. A number of amici curiae have demonstrated their interest in the issue by filing legal memoranda on both sides, and the United States has filed a statement of interest supporting the plaintiffs. The parties initially filed cross-motions for summary judgment but at oral argument on June 24, 2019, agreed to submit the case as cross-motions for judgment on a stipulated record.1

UNDERLYING FACTS

The parties have stipulated that Maine school administrative units must "either operate programs in kindergarten and grades one to 12 or otherwise provide for students to participate in those grades as authorized elsewhere in this Title."2 Of the 260 school administrative units in Maine, 143 do not operate a secondary school, including those that serve the plaintiffs' towns of residence—Glenburn, Orrington, and Palermo.3 Any school administrative unit like these "that neither maintains a secondary school nor contracts for secondary school privileges pursuant to chapter 115 shall pay the tuition, in accordance with chapter 219, at the public school or the approved private school of the parent's choice at which the student is accepted."4 The school administrative units that serve the plaintiffs' towns "do not contract for secondary school privileges with any particular public or private secondary school for the education of their resident secondary students."5 Those school administrative units therefore "are obligated to pay up to the legal tuition rate ... to the public or private school approved for tuition purposes selected by the resident secondary student's parents."6 But a "private school may be approved for the receipt of funds for tuition purposes only if it ... [i]s a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."7

It is this last requirement—that the parent-selected private school be nonsectarian—that provokes this lawsuit.8

401 F.Supp.3d 209

ANALYSIS

Over the past many years, several court cases have upheld the Maine approach to school choice when the school administrative unit does not provide public secondary education. See Strout v. Albanese, 178 F.3d 57 (1st Cir. 1999) ; Bagley v. Raymond Sch. Dep't, 728 A.2d 127 (Me. 1999) ; Anderson v. Town of Durham, 895 A.2d 944 (Me. 2006) ; Joyce v. State, 951 A.2d 69 (Me. 2008). The latest federal case to do so is Eulitt ex rel. Eulitt v. Maine, Dep't of Educ., 386 F.3d 344 (1st Cir. 2004), aff'g 307 F. Supp. 2d 158 (D. Me. 2004). All those cases ruled in favor of the state against First Amendment or Equal Protection challenges. What provokes renewal of the dispute now, in the face of those many past decisions, is a 2017 United States Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 2012, 198 L.Ed.2d 551 (2017). In Trinity Lutheran, the Supreme Court held that it is a violation of the First Amendment's free exercise clause to deny a generally available subsidy for rubberized playground surfaces at preschool and daycare facilities solely on the ground that a church operates the facilities. According to the plaintiffs, some of the amici , and the United States, Trinity Lutheran has radically changed the constitutional landscape of First Amendment free exercise challenges and finally makes Maine's approach unconstitutional.

But Maine's Attorney General says that, notwithstanding Trinity Lutheran, these plaintiffs (the parents of secondary school students) have no standing to challenge the Maine law because there is no substantial likelihood that the sectarian schools to which they want to send their children—Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy—will even apply for state approval under section 2951(2). The Attorney General gives two reasons: first, the schools have not said they will apply, only that they might "consider" doing so, Def.'s Mot. For Summ. J. at 13 (ECF No. 29), citing Joint Stipulated Facts ¶¶ 128, 182; second, that if they receive public funds, the Maine Human Rights Act will prohibit them from considering sexual orientation in their employment decisions, and they have said they are unwilling to alter their employment practices, id., citing Joint Stipulated Facts ¶¶ 127, 184.

The Attorney General's arguments about the schools pursuing state approval are plausible. I am doubtful, for example, of the plaintiffs' interpretation of the Maine Human Rights Act. They argue that because section 4554(4) defines employer to exclude nonprofit religious organizations (except in cases of disability discrimination) and section 4573-A(2) allows religious entities to give preference in employment to people of their own religion and to require applicants and employees to conform to their religious tenets—neither provision refers to receipt of public funds—religious schools are altogether exempt from the prohibition on considering sexual orientation in employment. But the 2005 law, Public Law of 2005 chapter 10, that added sexual orientation as a prohibited form of discrimination, stated that "a religious corporation, association or organization that does not receive public funds is exempt from this provision with respect to ... [e]mployment" (codified as 5 M.R.S.A. § 4553(10)(G) (emphasis added)).9 It is certainly

401 F.Supp.3d 210

arguable that this is a narrower exemption and exempts only religious organizations that do not receive public funds when it...

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1 practice notes
  • United States v. Perez, CRIM. NO. 2:20-CR-39-DBH-01
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • July 14, 2021
    ...cites cases accordingly. In any event, the First Circuit has not revisited its holding in Eatherton since Gant. In Carson v. Makin, 401 F. Supp. 3d 207, 211 (D. Me. 2019), I addressed "my role as a federal trial judge" in such circumstances:As a federal trial judge, I must follow any decisi......
1 cases
  • United States v. Perez, CRIM. NO. 2:20-CR-39-DBH-01
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • July 14, 2021
    ...cites cases accordingly. In any event, the First Circuit has not revisited its holding in Eatherton since Gant. In Carson v. Makin, 401 F. Supp. 3d 207, 211 (D. Me. 2019), I addressed "my role as a federal trial judge" in such circumstances:As a federal trial judge, I must follow any decisi......

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