Montgomery County v. Bradford

Decision Date01 September 1996
Docket NumberNos. 31 and 56,s. 31 and 56
Citation345 Md. 175,691 A.2d 1281
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Roger W. Titus (Kevin B. Collins, Venable, Baetjer and Howard, LLP; Charles W. Thompson, Jr., County Attorney; Marc P. Hansen, Senior Assistant County Attorney, on brief), Rockville, for Petitioner.

Lawrence Fletcher-Hill, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General; Evelyn O. Cannon, Margaret Ann Nolan, Assistant Attorneys General, on brief), Baltimore, Laura S. Shores (Helen Michael, William L. Webber, Howrey & Simon, on brief), Washington, DC, for Respondents.

Edward C. Schweitzer, Jr., Washington, DC.

Abbey G. Hairston, Koteles Alexander, Alexander, Bearden, Hairston & Marks, LLP, on brief, Silver Spring; John M. Bryson, II, Edward C. Schweitzer, Jr., Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, on brief, Washington, DC.

Louis M. Bograd, ACLU, Washington, DC, Susan Goering, Malissa Ruffner, ACLU, Baltimore, for Keith A. Bradford et al.

Argued before BELL, C.J., ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, KARWACKI and RAKER, JJ., and ROBERT C. MURPHY, Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.

ROBERT C. MURPHY, Judge, Retired, Specially Assigned.


We consider in these consolidated cases whether the Court of Special Appeals erred in affirming judgments of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City which denied motions filed by Montgomery County to intervene (1) in a class action suit filed on behalf of present and future students of the Baltimore City Public School System by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Keith and Stephanie Bradford, and a number of other individuals (collectively the Bradford plaintiffs or the Bradford case); named as defendants were the State Board of Education and several State officials; and (2) a declaratory judgment action filed by the Board of School Commissioners of Baltimore City against the State Board of Education (the City case). The main thrust of each action was to obtain a declaratory decree that the Baltimore City public school students were deprived of their rights to at least the minimum quality of education mandated by Article VIII, § 1 of the Maryland Constitution which provides:

The General Assembly, at its First Session after the adoption of this Constitution, shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.


The Bradford complaint alleged that the State was responsible for a number of educational deficiencies in the Baltimore public school system due to various economic, social, and educational factors peculiar to Baltimore City, as a result of which the public school students in the City will be unable to obtain an adequate education as guaranteed by the Maryland Constitution. In this regard, the complaint referred to the high incidence of Baltimore City public school students who live in poverty, many of whom live in households with fewer than two parents; that many of the students' parents are not high school graduates and they are unemployed, and are homeless or pregnant; live under the threat of violence; have been held back in school; score more than one year below grade level on standardized testing measures; or have otherwise been determined to be in need of remedial education.

According to the allegations of the complaint, these children are most susceptible to the harmful effects of an inadequate education and are thus "at-risk" students. The complaint emphasized the lack of adequate education that these students are receiving by citing unsatisfactory compliance with State Board of Education standards as codified in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), Title 13A. In particular, the complaint focuses attention on the poor performance of these students on State outcome tests, low student attendance resulting from an inordinately excessive absenteeism, and extremely high dropout rates (six times higher than the State Board's "satisfactory standard"). The complaint also referred to a lack of preparation for higher education (only 30% of the students who graduate from Baltimore City high schools had completed minimum course requirements that would qualify them for admission to the University of Maryland system). It also referred to inadequate educational resources far short of the standard for an adequate education and to a far greater extent than any other school district in Maryland.

As to these allegations of inadequate educational resources, the complaint referred to "standards" promulgated by the State Board of Education relative to the resources that a school district should provide to students to satisfy the requirement of receiving a constitutionally adequate education. Specifically, the complaint averred that Baltimore City public schools had one of the highest student-to-teacher ratios in Maryland and that fewer than 1% of the Baltimore City public schools had the required number of libraries staffed to adequately serve the students.

In its prayers for relief, the complaint disavowed seeking to reduce or reallocate educational resources currently provided to any other school district in Maryland; rather it sought to secure access to an adequate education for the children attending the public schools in Baltimore City. The complaint sought a declaration that the State had failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide a system of public schools adequate to meet the needs of school children in Baltimore City public schools. The Bradford plaintiffs sought a court order requiring the State to work with the plaintiffs and Baltimore City to improve the City's public schools so that they provide an adequate education in conformance with contemporary educational standards; and to further order the State to take all steps necessary to implement an educational improvement plan which would result in providing an adequate education to the public school children in Baltimore City.

On January 25, 1995, Montgomery County, Maryland, pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-214, moved to intervene in the class action suit either as a matter of right or permissively. That rule provides as follows:

(a) Of Right.--Upon timely motion, a person shall be permitted to intervene in an action: (1) when the person has an unconditional right to intervene as a matter of law; or (2) when the person claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and the person is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the ability to protect that interest unless it is adequately represented by existing parties.

(b) Permissive. -

(1) Generally.--Upon timely motion a person may be permitted to intervene in an action when the person's claim or defense has a question of law or fact in common with the action.

In its motion, Montgomery County acknowledged that the Bradford complaint did not directly attack the constitutionality of the system of public school funding which we upheld in Hornbeck v. Somerset Co. Bd. of Educ., 295 Md. 597, 458 A.2d 758 (1983). That case involved a challenge by several fiscally distressed school districts, including Baltimore City, to the constitutionality of Maryland statutes under both the Maryland Constitution (Article VIII, § 1) and the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution with respect to the system of financing public elementary and secondary schools in Maryland's twenty-four school districts. We there noted that the Maryland public school system is primarily financed by a combination of State and local tax revenues under a per pupil equalization formula whereby the State, in its distribution of financial aid to local public school systems, provides greater amounts to jurisdictions having more limited local resources than to those having greater local resources. Hornbeck thus focused in particular upon the existence of wide disparities in taxable wealth among the various school districts, and the effect of those differences upon the fiscal capacity of the poorer districts to provide their students with educational offerings and resources comparable to those of the more affluent school districts. While Hornbeck teaches that the Maryland constitutional provision does not mandate uniformity in per pupil funding or require that the system operate uniformly in every school district, it does require that the General Assembly establish a Statewide system to provide an adequate public school education to the children in every school district. As Hornbeck recognizes, 295 Md. at 639, 458 A.2d 758, Maryland has established "comprehensive Statewide qualitative standards governing all facets of the educational process in the State's public elementary and secondary schools." Where, however, these standards "failed to make provision for an adequate education," or the State's school financing system "did not provide all school districts with the means essential to provide the basic education contemplated by § 1 of Article VIII, when measured by contemporary educational standards, a constitutional violation may be evident. But "[s]imply to show that the educational resources available in the poorer school districts are inferior to those in the rich districts does not mean that there is insufficient funding provided by the State's financing system for all students to obtain an adequate education." Hornbeck, 295 Md. at 639, 458 A.2d 758.

Montgomery County's motion to intervene in the Bradford case asserted that if there were to be a finding of a violation of Article VIII, § 1 of the Maryland Constitution, the plaintiffs would view the remedy "as being a vast increase in the commitment of State financial resources to the Baltimore City...

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  • Getty v. Board of Elections
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 21 Junio 2007
    ...could not confer jurisdiction on the Circuit Court where none otherwise existed. See, e.g., Montgomery County v. Bradford, 345 Md. 175, 206, 691 A.2d 1281, 1296 (1997) (Eldridge, J., dissenting) (noting that the fact that parties to an underlying litigation may consent to a decree cannot br......
  • Delawareans for Educ. Opportunity v. Carney
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    • Court of Chancery of Delaware
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    ...but a requirement of a specific substantive level of education.").289 Md. Const. art. VIII, § 1.290 Montgomery Cty. v. Bradford , 345 Md. 175, 691 A.2d 1281, 1284 (1997) ; see also Hornbeck v. Somerset Cty. Bd. of Educ. , 295 Md. 597, 458 A.2d 758, 780 (1983) (entering judgment for defendan......
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    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • 25 Octubre 1999
    ...potentially impair or impede WMATA's ability to protect that interest. See Maryland Rule 2-214(a)(2); Montgomery County v. Bradford, 345 Md. 175, 198, 691 A.2d 1281, 1292 (1997). We now turn to the nature of WMATA's interest in the motion to vacate the judgment. In considering this issue, t......
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