Silver v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners, 091917 NCCA, COA16-313

Docket Nº:COA16-313
Opinion Judge:STROUD, Judge.
Party Name:LOTONYA SILVER, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of BRIANNA SILVER, LARRY SILVER, III and DOMINICK SILVER; BRENDA SLEDGE, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of ALICIA JONES; FELICIA SCOTT, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of JAMIER SCOTT; HALIFAX COUNTY BRANCH #5401, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE; and C...
Attorney:UNC Center for Civil Rights, by Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix, for plaintiffs-appellants. Yarborough, Winters & Neville, by Garris Neil Yarborough; Office of County Attorney, by County Attorney M. Glynn Rollins, Jr., for defendant-appellee. Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for ...
Judge Panel:Judge INMAN concurs. McGEE, Chief Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:September 19, 2017
Court:Court of Appeals of North Carolina
 
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LOTONYA SILVER, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of BRIANNA SILVER, LARRY SILVER, III and DOMINICK SILVER; BRENDA SLEDGE, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of ALICIA JONES; FELICIA SCOTT, individually and as Guardian Ad Litem of JAMIER SCOTT; HALIFAX COUNTY BRANCH #5401, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE; and COALITION FOR EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC SECURITY, Plaintiffs,

v.

THE HALIFAX COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Defendant.

No. COA16-313

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

September 19, 2017

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 19 September 2016.

         Appeal by plaintiffs from order entered 2 February 2016 by Judge W. Russell Duke, Jr. in Superior Court, Halifax County No. 15 CVS 767.

          UNC Center for Civil Rights, by Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix, for plaintiffs-appellants.

          Yarborough, Winters & Neville, by Garris Neil Yarborough; Office of County Attorney, by County Attorney M. Glynn Rollins, Jr., for defendant-appellee.

          Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, by K. Ricky Watson, Jr. and Peggy Nicholson, for Public Schools First NC, amicus curiae.

          Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc., by George R. Hausen, Jr.; Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. - Advocates for Children's Services, by Seth Ascher and Jennifer Story, for Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc., amicus curiae.

          STROUD, Judge.

         I. Introduction

          The North Carolina Supreme Court described the State's constitutional obligation to provide each student a "sound basic education" in Leandro v. State1, which was filed in 1997; the Halifax County Board of Education was one of several plaintiffs in that case. In Leandro I, our Supreme Court declared that the State bears the constitutional obligation to provide a "sound basic education" to each student; the Court then explained in later Leandro litigation that "by the State we mean the legislative and executive branches[.]"2 The legislative branch is the North Carolina General Assembly; the executive branch includes the Governor, State Board of Education, and Department of Public Instruction. The Supreme Court also explained that our state courts are not well-equipped to solve the problems in North Carolina's public schools. The Court approved of the trial court's approach, which deferred to "the expertise of the executive and legislative branches of government in matters concerning the mechanics of the public education process."3 The Supreme Court then assigned a superior court judge to oversee the efforts to improve public education in several counties, including Halifax County, and the court oversight started by Leandro still continues today.

         In this case, plaintiffs are students in the Halifax County Public Schools and organizations interested in promoting public education. They claim that despite years of Leandro court oversight, including countless hearings and orders by the trial court and two extensive opinions from the North Carolina Supreme Court, many of the educational deficiencies described in Leandro I and II still exist in Halifax County. But in this case, plaintiffs claim that the Halifax County Board of Commissioners -- alone -- bears the constitutional obligation for providing all children in the county with a sound basic education. This claim is not supported by our Supreme Court's holdings in Leandro I and II. And the courts are still ill-equipped to solve the problems of North Carolina's public schools today, while the State -- "the legislative and executive branches" -- still has the constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education for every child in North Carolina. The defendant Halifax County Board of Commissioners was created by the State, and the State has legal power to control it. Plaintiffs' complaint describes serious problems in the schools in Halifax County, but because this defendant -- the Halifax County Board of Commissioners -- does not bear the constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education, we affirm the trial court's order dismissing this action.

         II. Plaintiffs' claim

         a. Procedural background

         This case presents a question of first impression in our Court: whether North Carolina schoolchildren may assert a violation of their right to a sound basic public education, guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution, against a local board of county commissioners for their alleged failure to adequately fund aspects of public schools. This case has come before this Court at an early stage of the proceedings, as the trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). At this early stage, this Court must take the factual allegations from plaintiffs' complaint, and treat them as true to determine the legal question of whether the trial court properly dismissed this case. See Bridges v. Parrish, 366 N.C. 539, 541, 742 S.E.2d 794, 796 (2013) (noting that in an appeal from a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "[w]e consider whether the allegations of the complaint, if treated as true, are sufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under some legal theory." (citation and quotation marks omitted)).

         Brianna Silver, Larry Silver III, Dominick Silver, Alicia Jones, and Jamier Scott ("the students") are five students in school systems within the geographic boundaries of Halifax County, North Carolina. Latonya Silver, Brenda Sledge, and Felicia Scott are the students' respective parents or legal guardians. The students and their parents and legal guardians, as well as with two interested organizations -- the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Coalition for Education and Economic Security (collectively, "plaintiffs") --filed a complaint against the Halifax County Board of Commissioners ("defendant" or "the Board") asserting that the Board's ineffective and inefficient allocation of financial resources resulted in a failure to provide a "sound basic education" to all school children within Halifax County, and that such failure violated the students' rights under Article I, Section 15 and Article IX, Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution.

         Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in Halifax County Superior Court on 24 August 2015. In their complaint, plaintiffs asserted that, due to the "educational deficiencies" in the three Halifax County school districts, "merely adding resources to the defective three-district system cannot remedy its constitutional deficiencies." Plaintiffs also claim that the Board's "decision to maintain three racially identifiable school districts prevents students from the opportunity to receive a sound basic education." Plaintiffs asserted two claims for relief, both based on Article I, Section 15 and Article IX, Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution, and requested in part: (1) "[t]hat the Court find and conclude that Defendant's maintenance of three separate school districts obstructs Halifax County's students from securing the opportunity to receive a sound basic education;" and (2) "[t]hat the Court exercise its equitable powers and order the Board to develop and implement a plan to remedy the constitutional violations of its present education delivery mechanism and to ensure that every student in Halifax County is provided the opportunity to receive a sound basic education[.]"

         Under Rule 2.1 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts, this case was designated as exceptional by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, and a special superior court judge was designated to hear the case. Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) on 2 November 2015, asserting that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. After a hearing, the trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), reasoning it is not "the constitutional responsibility of [the Board] to implement and maintain a public education system for Halifax County." Plaintiffs appealed to this Court.

         b. Facts as alleged by plaintiffs

         We recite these factual allegations from plaintiffs' complaint and treat them as true for the purposes of our decision. Bridges, 366 N.C. at 541, 742 S.E.2d at 796. Three separate school districts exist wholly within the geographical boundaries of Halifax County: Halifax County Public Schools ("Halifax County Schools"), Weldon City Schools ("Weldon City Schools"), and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District ("Roanoke Rapids Schools"). This tripartite school system was created in the 1960s.

         As of 2015, the student population of Halifax County Schools was 85% African-American and 4% Caucasian; the student population of Weldon City Schools was 94% African-American and 4% Caucasian; and the student population of Roanoke Rapids Schools was 26% African-American and 65%...

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