Conn. Parents Union v. Wentzell

Decision Date26 May 2020
Docket NumberNo. 3:19-cv-247 (SRU),3:19-cv-247 (SRU)
Citation462 F.Supp.3d 167
Parties CONNECTICUT PARENTS UNION, Plaintiff, v. Dianna WENTZELL, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

Scott William Sawyer, The Jill S. Sawyer Bldg, New London, CT, Joshua P. Thompson, Mollie Rebekah Williams, Timothy R. Snowball, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA, Oliver James Dunford, Pacific Legal Foundation, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, for Plaintiff.

Darren P. Cunningham, Office of the Attorney General, Ralph E. Urban, Attorney General's Office, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.


Stefan R. Underhill, United States District Judge

The Connecticut Parents Union ("CTPU") filed the instant suit against Dianna Wentzell, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education; Allan B. Taylor, in his official capacity as Chairperson of the Connecticut State Department of Education's Board of Education; Ned Lamont, in his official capacity as Governor of Connecticut; and William Tong, in his official capacity as Connecticut Attorney General (collectively, "Defendants"). As set forth in its complaint, CTPU claims that Connecticut's statewide racial quota for interdistrict magnet schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Defendants have moved to dismiss CTPU's complaint on the ground that CTPU lacks standing. For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ motion is granted.

I. Standard of Review

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

The party who seeks to invoke a court's jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction. Thompson v. Cnty. of Franklin , 15 F.3d 245, 249 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Warth v. Seldin , 422 U.S. 490, 518, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975) ). To survive a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(1), a plaintiff must allege facts demonstrating that the plaintiff is a proper party to seek judicial resolution of the dispute. Id. "A district court properly dismisses an action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if the court ‘lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it,’ " such as when "the plaintiff lacks constitutional standing to bring the action." Cortlandt Street Recovery Corp. v. Hellas Telecommunications , 790 F.3d 411, 416–17 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted). "The plaintiff bears the burden of ‘alleg[ing] facts that affirmatively and plausibly suggest that it has standing to sue.’ " Id. (internal citations omitted). "[S]tanding cannot be ‘inferred argumentatively from averments in the pleadings,’ but rather ‘must affirmatively appear in the record.’ " Martinez v. Malloy , 350 F. Supp. 3d 74, 84 (D. Conn. 2018) (citing FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas , 493 U.S. 215, 232, 110 S.Ct. 596, 107 L.Ed.2d 603 (1990) ).

In considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of standing, the Second Circuit construes "the complaint in [the] plaintiff's favor and accept[s] as true all material factual allegations contained therein." Donoghue v. Bulldog Inv'rs Gen. P'ship , 696 F.3d 170, 173 (2d Cir. 2012) ; see also Wiltzius v. Town of New Milford , 453 F. Supp. 2d 421, 429 (D. Conn. 2006) ("In considering such a motion, the court accepts the factual allegations alleged in the complaint as true and draws all inferences in the plaintiff's favor.") (internal citations omitted). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, courts may refer to evidence outside the pleadings. Amidax Trading Grp. v. S.W.I.F.T. SCRL , 671 F.3d 140, 145, 146 (2d Cir. 2011) (per curiam).

II. Background
A. Factual Allegations 1

After the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in Sheff v. O'Neill that the Connecticut Constitution required the state to provide students a "substantially equal educational opportunity," the parties to that case negotiated a settlement that imposed a 75% cap on Black and Hispanic student enrollment in Hartford and surrounding interdistrict magnet schools. Sheff v. O'Neill , 238 Conn. 1, 23, 678 A.2d 1267 (1996) ; Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 11. Enacted in 2017, Public Act 17-172 ("the Act") applied that quota to all interdistrict magnet schools throughout the state. Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 13, 15. Under the Act, interdistrict magnet schools must reserve at least 25% of their seats for "reduced-isolation student[s]." Id. at ¶¶ 1, 13. A "reduced-isolation student" is defined as a student who "[i]s Native American, Asian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander, White and/or Two or More Races white and Asian (any combination other than Black/African American or Hispanic)" and "[i]s not Black/African American, Hispanic and/or Two or More Races (any combination of Black/African American or Hispanic)." Ex. 1 to Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 1.

Since the Act's statewide implementation, Black and Hispanic students have been "denied admission to interdistrict magnet schools in favor of white and Asian students." Compl., Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 21. In addition, at least one interdistrict magnet school has closed. Id. at ¶ 16. Specifically, Dr. Cortlandt V.R. Creed Health & Sports Sciences High School, an interdistrict magnet school in New Haven, was closed permanently after incurring over $100,000 in sanctions for failing to comply with the quota. Id.

Established in 2011 by Gwendolyn Samuel, CTPU works to ensure that "parents, guardians, and families are connected with the educational resources and support system to protect their child's educational rights," and "collaborates with parents, teachers, and educational advocates across Connecticut to engage decision-makers to achieve educational reform." Id. at ¶ 6. CTPU's mission is "to advocate for equal educational opportunity for all children in Connecticut" and to "prevent children's skin color from determining their educational opportunities." Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22. CTPU has "hosted community events, information sessions, bus tours, and other events in order to educate the public about the statewide racial quota's harmful effects." Id. at ¶ 6.

B. Procedural History

On February 20, 2019, CTPU filed the instant complaint against Wentzell, Taylor, Lamont, and Tong in their official capacities. Compl., Doc. No. 1. As set forth in its complaint, CTPU challenges the Act's implementation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the ground that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Id. at ¶¶ 3–4. CTPU specifically alleges that "[t]he decision to extend the racial quota to all magnet schools in the state was not required to comply with the Sheff decision," and that, in extending that quota, Defendants "are discriminating on the basis of race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. at ¶¶ 14, 30. It seeks permanent injunctive relief enjoining the enforcement of the Act, as well as a declaratory judgment that the Act is unconstitutional. Id. at ¶¶ 18–33.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss CTPU's complaint on March 26, 2019 on the basis that CTPU lacks standing. Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. No. 31. CTPU opposed the motion on April 16, 2019, and Defendants replied on April 30, 2019. See Doc. Nos. 35, 37. I heard oral argument on December 5, 2019.

III. Discussion

A plaintiff must establish that it has standing to bring the cause of action that it asserts. See Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016). The doctrine of standing "limits the category of litigants empowered to maintain a lawsuit in federal court to seek redress for a legal wrong." Id. As opposed to a "technical rule intended to keep aggrieved parties out of court" or a "test of substantive rights[,]" standing is a "practical concept designed to ensure that courts and parties are not vexed by suits brought to vindicate nonjusticiable interests." Econ. Enterprises, Inc. v. T.D. Bank N.A. , 2011 WL 446891, at *2 (D. Conn. Feb. 3, 2011) (internal citations omitted).

To establish the constitutional minimum of standing, a plaintiff must satisfy three elements. Field Day, LLC v. County of Suffolk , 463 F.3d 167, 175 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) ). First, a plaintiff must establish that it "has sustained an ‘injury in fact’ which is both ‘concrete and particularized’ and ‘actual or imminent’ ...." Cortlandt Street Recovery Corp. v. Hellas Telecommunications , 790 F.3d 411, 417 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Lujan , 504 U.S. at 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130 ). A concrete injury is one that "actually exist[s]." Spokeo , 136 S. Ct. at 1548. "For an injury to be ‘particularized,’ it ‘must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.’ " Id. (quoting Lujan , 504 U.S. at 560 n.1, 112 S.Ct. 2130 ). The "mere possibility of future injury, unless it is the cause of some present detriment, does not constitute hardship." Simmonds v. INS , 326 F.3d 351, 360 (2d Cir. 2003).

Second, the plaintiff must establish a "causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of ...." Field Day, LLC , 463 F.3d at 175 (quoting Lujan , 504 U.S. at 560–61, 112 S.Ct. 2130 ). The injury must be "fairly ... trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not ... the result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court." Id. (quoting Lujan , 504 U.S. at 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130 ). Finally, "it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Id. (quoting Lujan , 504 U.S. at 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130 ).

The Supreme Court has recognized that "organizations are entitled to sue on their own behalf for injuries they have sustained." Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman , 455 U.S. 363, 379 n.19, 102 S.Ct. 1114, 71 L.Ed.2d 214 (1982) (internal citation omitted). To establish standing as an organization, the organization must independently satisfy the Article III standing requirements, and must specifically establish the following elements: "(i) an imminent ‘injury in fact’ to itself as an organization (rather than to...

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  • Conn. Parents Union v. Russell-Tucker
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • August 11, 2021
    ...Complaint ¶¶ 35-46. Like the District Court, we construe CTPU's claim as arising under Section 1983. See Connecticut Parents Union v. Wentzell , 462 F. Supp. 3d 167, 171 (D. Conn. 2020) ("CTPU challenges the Act's implementation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the ground that it violates th......

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