Seymour v. Region One Board of Education

Decision Date14 June 2005
Docket Number(SC 17184).
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Sullivan, C. J., and Norcott, Palmer, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js.

Gabriel Seymour, pro se, with whom, on the brief, was Peter L. Truebner, for the appellants (named plaintiff et al.).

Ralph E. Urban, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Richard J. Lynch, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (defendant Richard Blumenthal).



This case returns to us for a second time. The named plaintiff, Gabriel Seymour, among others,1 commenced this declaratory judgment action challenging the constitutionality of General Statutes § 10-51 (b),2 which establishes the formula by which the state's seventeen regional school districts allocate costs among their member towns. After the trial court, Cremins, J., dismissed the action on the ground that it presented a nonjusticiable political question and rendered judgment thereon, the plaintiff appealed. We reversed the trial court's judgment. Seymour v. Region One Board of Education, 261 Conn. 475, 477, 492, 803 A.2d 318 (2002). We concluded, however, that the trial court record was inadequate for a determination of whether the plaintiff had standing to bring the action and, accordingly, we remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on that issue. Id. At the conclusion of that hearing, the trial court, Black, J., dismissed the action for lack of standing and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed.3 We affirm the judgment of the trial court.4

The following relevant facts and procedural history are set forth in our opinion in Seymour v. Region One Board of Education, supra, 261 Conn. 475. "The [plaintiff], who [is a taxpayer] in the town of Canaan, brought this declaratory judgment action against the defendants, Region One board of education5 (board) and Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general,6 seeking a judgment: (1) declaring § 10-51 (b) unconstitutional on its face and as applied; and (2) directing the board to change its system of cost allocation among its member towns so that the tax burden falls equally on all taxpayers in the regional school district served by the board. The [attorney general] moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that: (1) the [plaintiff lacks] standing; and (2) the [plaintiff's] claims are nonjusticiable because they present a political question. . . .

"In [her] complaint, the [plaintiff] made the following allegations. [She is a taxpayer] in Canaan, which is one of the six member towns of [the Region One school district] . . . . [See footnote 5 of this opinion.] The costs of education for high school students and for certain [students attending] kindergarten through eighth grade . . . are assessed on the towns by the board according to the formula set forth [in] § 10-51 (b). That formula assesses each member town an amount that `bear[s] the same ratio to the net expenses of the district as the number of pupils resident in such town in average daily membership in the . . . district during the preceding school year bears to the total number of pupils in all the member towns . . . .' General Statutes § 10-51 (b). Because `[l]ocal property taxes are the principal source of revenue for public schools,' because the statutory formula `disregards variations in the total taxable property in each town,' and because Canaan has substantially less valuable taxable property than every other town in the district, except for North Canaan, `the tax burden on [the plaintiff] and other taxpayers' in Canaan for educating their students `is substantially greater than the equivalent cost to taxpayers in every other member town . . . except for North Canaan.'

"The [plaintiff] further alleged that `education costs constitute the single largest expense in most town budgets,' and that `the unequal burdens of the present regional cost allocation formula sharply impact the total tax burden on small town taxpayers,' such as the [plaintiff]. `As a result, § 10-51 (b) unfairly discriminates against small Connecticut towns by forcing them to pay an unequal share of the expenses of educating students [as compared to] their bigger and wealthier neighbors.'

"In addition, the [plaintiff] further alleged that `[t]he incidents of taxation should fall, as far as possible, equally on all similarly situated. Such equal taxation is mandated by the due process and equal protection provisions of both the United States and Connecticut [c]onstitutions. All persons similarly circumstanced should be treated alike. . . . The Region One cost assessment formula based simply on student ratios violates this constitutional principle because the tax burden per student falls much more heavily upon the taxpayers of Canaan (and North Canaan) than on similarly situated taxpayers of surrounding municipalities. This fundamental inequality of taxation can only be corrected by directing the establishment of a uniform tax rate applicable to all taxpayers throughout the Region.' The [plaintiff] offered, by way of further allegation, a `constitutional . . . method for determining regional cost allocations . . . by dividing the projected total net education expenses for the region by the total equalized Grand List of taxable property for all member towns combined, thereby establishing a single regional [mill] rate to be assessed equally against all property in all member towns.'"7 Seymour v. Region One Board of Education, supra, 261 Conn. 477-80.

The attorney general filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the allegations of the complaint raised a nonjusticiable political question and, further, that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the action. The trial court, Cremins, J., agreed that the plaintiff's claim was nonjusticiable and, accordingly, dismissed the complaint on that ground. The trial court, Cremins, J., did not reach the issue of whether the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the action. The plaintiff appealed, and we concluded, contrary to the determination of the trial court, Cremins, J., that the plaintiff's claim is justiciable. Id., 484-89. With respect to the attorney general's proposed alternate ground for affirmance, namely, that the plaintiff lacked standing, we concluded that the record was inadequate for our determination of that issue. Id., 489. We further concluded that an evidentiary hearing was essential to that determination and, consequently, remanded the case for such a hearing. Id., 492.

The trial court, Black, J.,8 thereafter conducted an evidentiary hearing. The attorney general adduced testimony from two witnesses, Lauren Elliott, a certified tax assessor and property valuation specialist, and Robert Brewer, the director of the division of grants management for the state department of education. Elliott, who was certified as an expert witness without objection, had been a tax assessor for seventeen years and, as of the date of the hearing, served as tax assessor for the town of Canaan. She indicated that, in the preceding five years, she had conducted the property reevaluations for five of the six towns comprising the Region One school district, namely, Salisbury, Sharon, Kent, Cornwall and Canaan. Elliott testified that the plaintiff owns two properties in Canaan, a parcel consisting of 6.05 acres on which the plaintiff's house is located, and a second, unimproved parcel, consisting of 4.11 acres, which is adjacent to the first parcel. As of 2001, the assessed value of the parcels was $103,100 and $28,200, respectively. For the 2002-2003 fiscal year, the plaintiff paid property tax of $3221.88 on the first parcel and $881.25 on the second parcel, or a total of $4103.13. In response to a question regarding how much the plaintiff would pay in property taxes if her properties were located in the other Region One school district towns, Elliott indicated that the plaintiff's property taxes would remain approximately the same in three of the other towns and would be notably higher in one of the other towns. According to Elliott's figures, they would be notably more in Salisbury, slightly more in Kent and slightly less in Cornwall and Sharon.9 Elliott explained that she was able to generate the hypothetical assessments by entering the characteristics of those properties, such as lot size and, for the improved parcel, the age, condition and size of the house, into a computerized assisted mass appraisal program actually used by each town to generate real property assessments.

Brewer testified that he heads the division within the state department of education that oversees the management and distribution of approximately $2.5 billion annually in state and federal education grants. Primary among them is the education cost sharing grant (ECS), which amounts to approximately $1.5 billion annually in education cost assistance that is distributed to the state's cities and towns. Brewer explained that ECS is an equalization grant designed to level the playing field between the state's wealthier and needier municipalities in terms of their ability to fund education. The amount of ECS money that a particular municipality receives depends on a variety of factors, including that municipality's equalized net grand list, median household income, per capita income and the number of students attending public school, a number that itself is weighted for factors such as poverty, English language proficiency and standardized test scores. Brewer further testified that, because money is distributed in a ratio that is inverse to a town's wealth, the wealthier towns in the Region One school district receive substantially less money per student under the ECS formula than Canaan and North Canaan, which, for the 2002-2003 fiscal year, received $967 and $3250 per student, respectively.10


To continue reading

Request your trial
55 cases
  • State Marshal Ass'n of Conn., Inc. v. Johnson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2020
    ...the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff ... bears the burden of establishing standing." Seymour v. Region One Board of Education , 274 Conn. 92, 104, 874 A.2d 742, cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1016, 126 S. Ct. 659, 163 L. Ed. 2d 526 (2005) ; see also Browning v. Van Brunt, DuBiago ......
  • West Farms Mall, LLC v. West Hartford
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 11, 2006
    ...will not overturn unless they are clearly erroneous." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Seymour v. Region One Board of Education, 274 Conn. 92, 104, 874 A.2d 742, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 126 S.Ct. 659, 163 L.Ed.2d 526 We begin with the plaintiff's claim that it has t......
  • McBurney v. Cirillo
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • January 24, 2006 without subject matter jurisdiction to determine the cause." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Seymour v. Region One Board of Education, 274 Conn. 92, 104, 874 A.2d 742 (2005). "The concept of standing, as presented by the question of aggrievement, is a practical and functional one des......
  • Smith v. Muellner
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 14, 2007
    ...20 Conn. App. 380, 381, 567 A.2d 389 (1989); subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review. Seymour v. Region One Board of Education, 274 Conn. 92, 104, 874 A.2d 742, cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1016, 126 S.Ct. 659, 163 L.Ed.2d 526 (2005). We will not disturb the court's conclusion that an......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • 2005 Survey of Developments in Civil Litigation
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 80, 2005
    • Invalid date
    ...and could not be made 3 272 Conn. 469, 863 A.2d 645 (2005). 4 275 Conn. 383, 880 A.2d 865 (2005). 5 275 Conn. 105, 881 A.2d 937 (2005). 6 274 Conn. 92, 874 A.2d 742 (2005). 7 275 Conn. 363, 880 A.2d 138 (2005). 8 276 Conn. 285, 885 A.2d 178 (2005). without first providing the attorney with ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT