Lansing Sch. Educ. Ass'n v. Lansing Bd. of Educ.

Decision Date31 July 2010
Docket NumberDocket No. 138401.,Calendar No. 3.
Citation263 Ed. Law Rep. 360,792 N.W.2d 686,487 Mich. 349
PartiesLANSING SCHOOLS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, MEA/NEA, Cathy Stachwick, Penny Filonczuk, Elizabeth Namie, and Ellen Wheeler, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. LANSING BOARD OF EDUCATION and Lansing School District, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, P.C. (by Michael M. Shoudy, Okemos, and Dena Lampinen Lorenz), for plaintiffs.

Thrun Law Firm, P.C. (by Margaret M. Hackett), East Lansing, for defendants.

Neil S. Kagan, for amicus curiae National Wildlife Federation.

Clark Hill PLC (by David D. Grande-Cassell and Kristin B. Bellar), Lansing, for amicus curiae Michigan Manufacturers Association.

Brad A. Banasik, for amicus curiae Michigan Association of School Boards.

Opinion

CAVANAGH, J.

The issue in this case is whether teachers have standing to sue the school board for failing to comply with its statutory duty to expel students that have allegedly physically assaulted those teachers. We hold that the standing doctrine adopted in Lee v. Macomb Co. Bd. of Comm'rs, 464 Mich. 726, 629 N.W.2d 900 (2001), and extended in later cases, such as Nat'l Wildlife Federation v. Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co., 471 Mich. 608, 684 N.W.2d 800 (2004), lacks a basis in the Michigan Constitution and is inconsistent with Michigan's historical approach to standing. Therefore, we overrule Lee and its progeny and hold that Michigan standingjurisprudence should be restored to a limited, prudential approach that is consistent with Michigan's long-standing historical approach to standing. Under the proper standing doctrine, we further hold that the Court of Appeals erred in determining that plaintiffs lacked standing. Therefore, we reverse and remand to the Court of Appeals to address the parties' remaining issues, including whether plaintiffs meetthe requirements to bring an action for a declaratory judgment under MCR 2.605.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs are the Lansing School Education Association (LSEA), the Michigan and National Education Associations (MEA/NEA), and four teachers who are employed by defendants, the Lansing School District and the Lansing Board of Education. Each of the four teachers alleges that they were physically assaulted in the classroom by a student who was in grade six or higher, and each of the incidents was reported to a school administrator.1 The students were suspended but not expelled. Plaintiff Filonczuk alleges that the assaultive student was returned to her building, but not to her classroom, and none of the other teachers allege that the student was returned to the same classroom or school.

Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that defendants failed to comply with their mandatory duty under MCL 380.1311a(1) to expel students who physically assault ateacher.2 They sought a writ of mandamus and declaratory and injunctive relief. In support of the action, three of the teachers filed affidavits stating that they believe that failing to expel students who physically assault a teacher increases the likelihood of other assaults and threatens the safety of the school environment. Plaintiff Filonczuk further stated that she felt discomfort due to the student's return to her building, and the other two teachers stated that they would have felt unsafe if the students who assaulted them had returned to their buildings.

Defendants moved for summary disposition, arguing that plaintiffs lack standing, the statute does not create a private cause of action, and plaintiffs' claims fail as a matter of law because the school district did not abuse its discretionary authority in determining that none of the students had committed an "assault." The trial court granted the motion, reasoning that the court lacked authority to supervise the school district's exercise of its discretion.

Plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's grant of summary disposition on different grounds. 282 Mich.App. 165, 772 N.W.2d 784 (2009). The Court concluded that plaintiffs lacked standing under Lee and did not reach the case's merits. This Court granted plaintiffs' application for leave to appeal. 485 Mich. 966, 774 N.W.2d 689 (2009).

II. ANALYSIS

The issue in this case is whether the Lee/Cleveland Cliffs majority erred in adopting a standing doctrinethat departed dramatically from Michigan's historical approach to standing. We hold that they did and that Michigan's standing doctrine should be restored to an approach that is consistent with the limited, prudential approach used historically. Under this approach, plaintiffs do not lack standing.

A. THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF MICHIGAN'S STANDING DOCTRINE

The purpose of the standing doctrine is to assess whether a litigant's interest in the issue is sufficient to "ensure sincere and vigorous advocacy." Detroit Fire Fighters Ass'n v. Detroit, 449 Mich. 629, 633, 537 N.W.2d 436 (1995). Thus, the standing inquiry focuses on whether a litigant "is a proper party to request adjudication of a particular issue and not whether the issue itself is justiciable." Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hayes, 442 Mich. 56, 68, 499 N.W.2d 743 (1993) (quotation marks and citations omitted). This doctrine has deep roots in Michigan law, and, although it has been used with increasing frequency in modern jurisprudence, before Lee it remained a limited, prudential doctrine.

Historically, the standing doctrine grew out of cases where parties were seeking writs of mandamus to compel a public officer to perform a statutory duty. See, e.g., People ex rel. Ayres v. Bd. of State Auditors, 42 Mich. 422, 429-430, 4 N.W. 274 (1880); People ex rel. Drake v. University of Mich. Regents, 4 Mich. 98, 101-102 (1856). Standing was a prudential limit, which is to say that the court's decision to invoke it was "one of discretion and not of law." Ayres, 42 Mich. at 429, 4 N.W. 274. See, also, Toan v. McGinn, 271 Mich. 28, 33-34, 260 N.W. 108 (1935); Thompson v. Secretary of State, 192 Mich. 512, 522, 159 N.W. 65 (1916); Drake, 4 Mich. at 103. The general rule was that a court would not hear a case where "an individual citizen, who is onlyinterested in common with all other citizens of the state in the subject matter of [the] complaint," was suing a public entity to force compliance with a legal duty. Drake, 4 Mich. at 101-102. Generally, the court exercised its discretion to hear a case if the citizen had "some individual interest in the subject matter of [the] complaint which is not common to all the citizens of the state...." Id. at 103. This was sometimes articulated as a special or specific injury or interest. Inglis v. Pub. Sch. Employees Retirement Bd., 374 Mich. 10, 13, 131 N.W.2d 54 (1964); Hastings Bd. of Ed. v. Gilleland, 191 Mich. 276, 278, 157 N.W. 609 (1916); Brophy v. Schindler, 126 Mich. 341, 347, 85 N.W. 1114 (1901).

This rule was eventually applied in other cases where a party sought enforcement of a public right without a clear cause of action under the law, including where a plaintiff was seeking an injunction against a state agency on the basis that the agency's actions were unconstitutional. Home Tel. Co. v. Michigan R Comm., 174 Mich. 219, 223-226, 140 N.W. 496 (1913). See, also, Gilleland, 191 Mich. at 278, 157 N.W. 609, listing remedies to which the rule had been extended. Notably, these cases only discussed the doctrine when no cause of action was clearly provided under law and the Court was deciding whether, within its discretion, to allow the party to bring the claim despite the lack of an express cause of action. Further, the standing inquiry was distinct from the merits of the case. Thus, although the Court sometimes reached the merits of a case despite concluding that a party lacked standing, the Court did not find it necessary to determine whether a party's claim had merit in order to determine whether a party had standing.

References to standing became more frequent in Michigan's modern jurisprudence, and the doctrine was developed more extensively but remained a prudentiallimit that could, within the Court's discretion, be ignored. 3 Further, the factthat there was a cause of action under law, or the Legislature expressly conferred standing, was sufficient to establish standing.4 Where a party was seeking declaratory relief, the Court repeatedly held that meeting the requirements of the court rule governing declaratory actions was sufficient to establish standing. House Speaker v. Governor, 443 Mich. 560, 572-573, 506 N.W.2d 190 (1993); Allstate, 442 Mich. at 69-70, 499 N.W.2d 743; Sloan v. Madison Hts., 425 Mich. 288, 294-295, 389 N.W.2d 418 (1986). See, also, East Grand Rapids Sch. Dist. v. Kent Co. Tax Allocation Bd., 415 Mich. 381, 392-395, 330 N.W.2d 7 (1982); Workman v. Detroit Auto. Inter-Ins. Exch., 404 Mich. 477, 492 n. 1, 274 N.W.2d 373 (1979); Shavers v. Attorney General, 402 Mich. 554, 588-592, 267 N.W.2d 72 (1978). The Court also reaffirmed that "[s]tanding does not address the ultimate merits of the substantive claims of the parties." Detroit Fire Fighters Ass'n, 449 Mich. at 633, 537 N.W.2d 436 (opinion by Weaver, J.). See alsoEide v. Kelsey-Hayes Co., 431 Mich. 26, 50 n. 16, 427 N.W.2d 488 (1988) (opinion by Griffin, J.), treating standing as an inquiry that was distinct from whether the plaintiff's requested remedy was available.

While the doctrine continued to serve the purpose of ensuring "sincere and vigorous advocacy" by litigants, over time the test for satisfying this requirement was further developed. In cases involving public rights, the Court held that a litigant established standing by demonstrating a "substantial interest [that] will be detrimentally affected in a manner different from the citizenry at large." House Speaker, 443 Mich. at 572, 506 N.W.2d 190 (quotation marks and citations omitted). Additionally, however, the Court recognized that even if a statute did not expressly grant standing, it...

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