Martinez v. Malloy

Citation350 F.Supp.3d 74
Decision Date28 September 2018
Docket NumberCivil No. 3:16-cv-1439(AWT)
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
Parties Jessica MARTINEZ, on Behalf of Herself and Her Minor Son, Jose Martinez, Dahlia Bryan, on Behalf of Herself and Her Minor Children, Jorr Moorley, Curtis Moorley, Alec Patterson and Jaidyn Bryan, Leslie Rodriguez, on Behalf of Herself and Her Minor Granddaughter, Nina Martinez, and Frankie Frances, on Behalf of Himself and His Minor Son, Dylon Frances, Plaintiffs, v. Dannel P. MALLOY, in His Official Capacity as Governor of Connecticut, Dianna Wentzell, in Her Official Capacity as Commissioner of Education, Kevin Lembo, in His Official Capacity as State Comptroller, Denise Nappier, in Her Official Capacity as State Treasurer, and Denise W. Merrill, in Her Official Capacity as Secretary of State, Defendants.

Joshua S. Lipshutz, Pro Hac Vice, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Washington, DC, Kevin M. Smith, Wiggin & Dana, New Haven, CT, Marcellus McRae, Pro Hac Vice, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., Pro Hac Vice, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Los Angeles, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Darren P. Cunningham, Attorney General's Office, Michael Skold, Office of the Attorney General, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.


Alvin W. Thompson, United States District Judge

Defendants Dannel Malloy, in his official capacity as Governor of Connecticut, Diana Wentzell, in her official capacity as Commissioner of Education, Kevin Lembo, in his official capacity as State Comptroller, Denise Nappier, in her official capacity as State Treasurer, and Denise W. Merrill, in her official capacity as Secretary of State, move to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. The defendants argue that the plaintiffs lack standing, that the plaintiffs' suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and that the statutes at issue should be subject to rational basis scrutiny, which they survive. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint is being granted, except as to Claim Six, but the defendants are hereby granted leave to file a supplemental motion to dismiss as to that claim.


The plaintiffs allege that, for decades, Connecticut public schools have failed to provide a minimally adequate education to inner-city students. The plaintiffs allege that Connecticut compels thousands of schoolchildren to attend "severely underperforming schools," Compl. ¶ 30, citing data indicating that inner-city schools, in particular, perform far below state targets for academic performance. The plaintiffs allege that their experiences at their respective schools "exemplify [the] pervasive chronic failure" reflected in the data. Compl. ¶ 37. They refer to data on each school showing that each of their schools is underperforming.

The plaintiffs allege that in contrast to its inner-city schools, Connecticut's schools serving white and non-low-income student populations "generally perform quite well academically." Compl. ¶ 45. They further allege that the achievement gap is one of the worst in the country, with minority students falling several grades behind more affluent, white students. The achievement gap results in "deeply lopsided" graduation rates, students being poorly prepared for college, and much lower median incomes. Compl. ¶ 47. The plaintiffs allege that the State knows that its underperforming public schools "simply do not provide students with the necessary tools to succeed academically or to become productive members of society." Compl. ¶ 30.

As an alternative to traditional public schools, Connecticut maintains a system of magnet and charter schools, and operates a program that allows students to attend higher-performing traditional public schools in other districts on a space-available basis. The plaintiffs allege that magnet and charter schools and the school choice program allow students to attend higher-performing schools. Despite the existence of these options, the State of Connecticut "has taken steps that prevent these poor and minority children from having viable publicschool alternatives." Compl. ¶ 3. The plaintiffs allege that the status quo is a " ‘state-imposed’ system of discrimination that deprives low-income and minority schoolchildren "of the vital educational opportunities available to their more affluent and predominantly white peers." Compl. ¶ 30.

The plaintiffs allege that "[t]he inexcusable educational inequity and inadequacy in Connecticut is, in substantial part, the result of state laws and policies." Compl. ¶ 30. The plaintiffs challenge three specific state laws and policies in this lawsuit: (1) the moratorium on new magnet schools; (2) the "dysfunctional" state laws that govern public charter schools; and (3) the state's inter-district Open Choice enrollment program, which they define as the "Anti-Opportunity Laws".

A. Magnet School Moratorium

The plaintiffs allege that the most common type of magnet school is a "full-time inter-district magnet school," which is "a publicly funded school designed to promote racial, ethnic, and economic diversity that draws students from more than one school district and offers a special or high-quality curriculum." Compl. ¶ 51. The plaintiffs allege that the State Department of Education completed a study that indicates that "inter-district magnet schools are a superior alternative to its traditional district schools." Compl. ¶ 55. Also, the plaintiffs allege that magnet schools serving predominantly low-income and minority student populations have had remarkable success in maintaining high student performance -- sometimes even higher than the state average. The plaintiffs allege that the State knows that "inter-district magnet schools are a superior alternative to its traditional district schools that are failing to provide thousands of children with a minimally adequate education." Compl. ¶ 55.

In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of Public Act 09-6, a law passed in 2009, which imposed a moratorium "prohibit[ing] the construction of new inter-district magnet schools," until the Connecticut Commissioner of Education "assesses magnet schools' performance and develops a comprehensive statewide magnet school plan." Compl. ¶ 83. The plaintiffs allege that the Commissioner of Education has not yet submitted her plan, and that the moratorium remains in place. Compl. ¶ 84. As a result, new magnet schools have not been able to open in this state. The plaintiffs allege that because magnet schools have a "proven track record of success" and seats at each school are in very high demand, the state's decision to impose a moratorium on the opening of new magnet schools "intentionally impede[s] the availability of such superior alternatives [to traditional district schools] and [compels] students to attend failing traditional district schools that it knows are hurting low-income and minority school children." Compl. ¶ 82.

B. Charter School Funding Scheme

The plaintiffs allege that a charter school is "a public, nonsectarian school that is established under a charter, organized as a nonprofit entity, and operated independently of any local or regional board of education." Compl. ¶ 62. The plaintiffs allege that, "[f]or the 2015-16 school year, 85% of students enrolled in Connecticut charter schools were African-American or Hispanic and 70% were low-income." Compl. ¶ 64. The plaintiffs allege that the State has recognized that "city resident students" who attend charter schools perform measurably better -- and achieve at or above proficiency -- in reading and mathematics than city resident students attending traditional public schools, and that the State "knows that charter schools offer poor and minority students superior educational opportunities as compared to failing traditional district schools." Compl. ¶ 65. The plaintiffs cite to studies demonstrating that students in charter schools often outperform students in traditional public schools in the same district.

The plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the way charter schools are funded. The plaintiffs allege that Connecticut "effectively caps the ability of charter school operators to open new schools and to maintain or expand existing schools in the State." Compl. ¶ 88. The State "effectively caps" charter school funding by forcing them to "depend on the shifting whims of the General Assembly to provide them with the support necessary to keep their doors open." Compl. ¶ 88. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that "the General Assembly must decide whether or not to appropriate funding to charter schools," and some payment installments over the course of the school year are subject to adjustment or are only paid out if the State has sufficient funds. Compl. ¶ 91. The plaintiffs further allege that even if a new charter school obtains a charter from the State Board of Education, it is uncertain whether the General Assembly will appropriate funds for the school.

The plaintiffs allege that Connecticut's approach to funding charter schools disincentivizes charter school operators from trying to open new charter schools in the state. To illustrate this assertion, the plaintiffs allege that national charter school networks, such as the Knowledge is Power Program and Uncommon Ground, operate dozens of schools in surrounding states, but zero in Connecticut. As a result, "Connecticut has far fewer charter schools per student than other states," and "thousands of students are stuck on charter-school waitlists, trying to gain admission and escape the failing traditional schools they would otherwise be forced to attend." Compl. ¶ 98. Although charter schools provide "significant potential to help inner-city low-income and minority students ... close the achievement gap," the State's approach to funding the schools, the plaintiffs allege, in reality, "actively prevents [Connecticut] students from obtaining a meaningful education." Compl. ¶ 99.

C. Open Choice Program Funding Scheme


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6 cases
  • Gary B. v. Whitmer
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • April 23, 2020
    ...sought to enjoin "Anti-Opportunity Laws" that reduced the ability of children to choose other schools. See Martinez v. Malloy , 350 F. Supp. 3d 74, 80–81 (D. Conn. 2018). Do federal courts get to pick between investing more in traditional schools or investing more in alternatives? It would ......
  • United States v. Cobb, C.A. No. 16-cr-6-JJM-PAS
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    • U.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island
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  • Conn. Parents Union v. Wentzell
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • May 26, 2020
    ...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......
  • Harnage v. Dzurenda
    • United States
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    • March 31, 2022
    ... ... 1994); see also ... Roberts v. Bassett , 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45775, at *9 ... (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2022); Martinez v. Malloy , 350 ... F.Supp.3d 74, 85 (D. Conn. 2018). The injury-in-fact ... “is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the ... ...
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1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 36 No. 2, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...and political systems sufficiently to make informed choices, and to participate effectively in civic activities"); Martinez v. Malloy, 350 F. Supp. 3d 74 (D. Conn. 2018) (rejecting claim asserted under various clauses of the federal constitution that Connecticut denies to plaintiff students......

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