St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist., No. 18-1673

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSt. Eve, Circuit Judge.
Citation919 F.3d 1003
Decision Date25 March 2019
Docket NumberNo. 18-1673
Parties ST. JOAN ANTIDA HIGH SCHOOL INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MILWAUKEE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee.

919 F.3d 1003

ST. JOAN ANTIDA HIGH SCHOOL INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MILWAUKEE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 18-1673

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Argued September 18, 2018
Decided March 25, 2019


Richard M. Esenberg, Anthony LoCoco, Attorneys, WISCONSIN INSTITUTE FOR LAW & LIBERTY, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Calvin Victor Fermin, Attorney, MILWAUKEE CITY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Milwaukee, WI, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before Sykes, Barrett, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

St. Eve, Circuit Judge.

There have been several constitutional challenges to school busing in Wisconsin over the years. See, e.g. , St. Augustine Sch. v. Evers , 906 F.3d 591 (7th Cir. 2018) ; Racine Charter One, Inc. v. Racine Unified Sch. Dist. , 424 F.3d 677 (7th Cir. 2005). This is another. Our focus here is on the Milwaukee Public School District ("MPS"), private schools, and the Equal Protection Clause.

919 F.3d 1006

MPS offers free transportation to public-school students who attend certain schools outside of their neighborhoods. All other students—including private-school students—are only eligible if they live farther than one mile from the nearest public-transportation stop. MPS also requires private schools to submit a roster of students who need transportation by July 1; it has no such requirement for its public schools. St. Joan Antida High School, a private school, filed this lawsuit, claiming that these restrictions violate the Equal Protection Clause. This is especially so, St. Joan submits, because state law requires MPS to transport students with "reasonable uniformity," whether they attend public or private schools.

The district court granted summary judgment to MPS, and St. Joan appeals. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part. Rational bases exist for the differences in busing eligibility, and so we affirm on that ground. But more work needs to be done to resolve St. Joan’s challenge to the July 1 deadline, and so we reverse and remand on that ground.

I. Background

Busing parochial schoolchildren with public funding used to be considered unconstitutional in Wisconsin. See State ex rel. Reynolds v. Nusbaum , 17 Wis.2d 148, 115 N.W.2d 761, 770 (1962). In 1967, however, the state held a referendum, which asked voters whether Wisconsin’s constitution should be amended to permit state-funded transportation of private and parochial students. The voters decided it should, and the Wisconsin constitution was amended. Wis. Const. art. I, § 23 ; see also Cartwright v. Sharpe , 40 Wis.2d 494, 162 N.W.2d 5, 8 (1968).

After the amendment, Wisconsin passed enabling legislation that requires school districts to provide transportation for both public- and private-school students. See Wis. Stat. § 121.54. There are exceptions, though. The most notable (for our purposes) is the exception for a school district operating within a metropolitan area. Under § 121.54 ’s "city option," a school district in a city need not—but can decide to—provide transportation if other public transportation is generally available to schoolchildren. Id. § 121.54(1). Should a school district exercise the city option, there must "be reasonable uniformity in the transportation furnished to pupils, whether they attend public or private schools." Id. § 121.54(1)(b) (emphasis added).

MPS has exercised the city option, and it therefore offers transportation to Milwaukee-area schools. There are two primary types of public schools in the MPS system: (1) citywide schools, which offer special courses, like language-immersion classes or International Baccalaureate® programs, and draw from the entire Milwaukee area; and (2) attendance-area schools, which generally do not have such programs and draw only from a particular neighborhood. MPS, at times, designates certain students to attendance-area schools outside of their neighborhoods—making the school a "nonattendance-area school" (as we will call it, for ease of reference). The Milwaukee area, of course, also has private schools, like St. Joan. MPS explains that, under state rules, St. Joan technically has an attendance area; but unlike public attendance-area schools, St. Joan’s allotted area is the entire city of Milwaukee.

To ensure transportation to these schools, MPS devised Policy 4.04. This lawsuit challenges two parts of that policy.

The first challenge concerns how MPS decides which students are eligible for busing. Under § 2 of Policy 4.04, high schoolers may receive free transportation only if they live two or more miles from their

919 F.3d 1007

school and "more than one mile walking distance from public transportation" (a restriction we will call the "one-mile rule").1 But § 5 provides more generous transportation benefits for high schoolers who attend either citywide or nonattendance-area schools. That section, which is titled "Racial Balance, Modernization, Overload, and Lack of Facility," makes any student assigned to a school farther than two miles from her home eligible for free transportation—regardless of the student’s proximity to public transportation. In fewer words, citywide and nonattendance-area students are not subject to the one-mile rule under § 5.

The second challenge is to MPS’s roster-notification deadline. Under § 121.54(2)(b), private schools must submit the names, grade levels, and residences of all students who are eligible to receive busing to MPS by May 15. The provision allows a school board to "extend the notification deadline," which MPS has done. Policy 4.04 states that private schools must submit the roster by the third Friday in September. In practice, however, the parties agree that MPS requires the rosters by July 1. According to MPS, the deadline is necessary so that it has sufficient time to arrange for the transportation of eligible private-school students before school starts. There is no like roster-notification deadline for public schools, MPS says, because it has immediate access to the requisite information needed for eligible public-school students.

In 2016, St. Joan applied to MPS for student transportation during the upcoming 2016–2017 school year. On May 14, 2016, St. Joan submitted its original roster, which included the names of sixty-two students relevant to this appeal; on September 29, 2016, it updated the list with six more relevant names. What prompted St. Joan to update its roster is unclear, but MPS refused to bus any of these sixty-eight students. Each of them lived within one mile of public transportation, and the six later-added students were disclosed after the July 1 deadline. St. Joan protested, but eventually covered transportation for the students. Doing so cost a total of $178,640 for the 2016–2017 and 2017–2018 school years.

Looking to recover that loss, St. Joan brought this action, which also seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. St. Joan asserts two claims. The first claim alleges that Policy 4.04’s two restrictions—the one-mile rule and the July 1 deadline—violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The second claim, brought under Wis. Stat. § 121.54, asserts that the restrictions violate Wisconsin’s reasonable uniformity requirement.2 After discovery, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment. The district court granted MPS’s motion and denied St. Joan’s, reasoning that Policy 4.04’s two restrictions had rational bases. 293 F.Supp.3d 813 (E.D. Wis. 2018). With the constitutional claim dismissed, the district court declined

919 F.3d 1008

to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over St. Joan’s state-law claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). St. Joan appeals.

II. Discussion

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that "no State shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. This is "essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr. , 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985). Although the Equal Protection Clause does not endow a private right of action, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does for any constitutional deprivation under color of state law. A municipal entity acting under color of state law—like MPS—may be held liable under § 1983 where it is responsible for the constitutional deprivation. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of New York , 436 U.S. 658, 694–695, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).

On appeal, St. Joan contends that the one-mile rule and the July 1 deadline violate the Equal Protection Clause. We first determine how searching our inquiry must be—under either strict-scrutiny or rational-basis review—before determining whether the restrictions pass constitutional muster. Because this case comes to us after summary judgment, our review is de novo. Dunn v. Menard, Inc. , 880 F.3d 899, 905 (7th Cir. 2018). We can affirm on any ground supported by the record. Terry v. Gary Cmty. Sch. Corp. , 910 F.3d 1000, 1004 (7th Cir. 2018).

A. Standard of Scrutiny

An equal-protection claim merits strict scrutiny, our most exacting inquiry, only if the...

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26 practice notes
  • Brackeen v. Haaland, No. 18-11479
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • April 6, 2021
    ...classifications, underinclusive ones, and other imperfect means-ends fits." St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1010 (7th Cir. 2019) (collecting Supreme Court cases). "[L]egislation ‘does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the cla......
  • Doe v. Sch. Dist. 214, Case No.: 16-cv-7642
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • April 2, 2021
    ...a suspect class or ‘impermissibly interferes’ with a fundamental right." St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1008 (7th Cir. 2019) ; Segovia v. United States , 880 F.3d 384, 390 (7th Cir. 2018). In the absence of a suspect class or a fundamental right......
  • Hope v. Comm'r of Ind. Dep't of Corr., 19-2523
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 16, 2021
    ...national origin, religion, or alienage—or denial of a fundamental right. St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1008 (7th Cir. 2019). When a plaintiff's unequal treatment is premised on a quasi-suspect classification, like gender, we apply intermediate ......
  • Haney v. Pritzker, Case No. 20 C 3653
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • September 27, 2021
    ...television facilities that distinguished based on ownership structure); St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1006 (7th Cir. 2019) (challenge to free transportation program that distinguished between public and private school students); Minerva , 905 F......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
26 cases
  • Brackeen v. Haaland, No. 18-11479
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • April 6, 2021
    ...classifications, underinclusive ones, and other imperfect means-ends fits." St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1010 (7th Cir. 2019) (collecting Supreme Court cases). "[L]egislation ‘does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the cla......
  • Doe v. Sch. Dist. 214, Case No.: 16-cv-7642
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • April 2, 2021
    ...a suspect class or ‘impermissibly interferes’ with a fundamental right." St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1008 (7th Cir. 2019) ; Segovia v. United States , 880 F.3d 384, 390 (7th Cir. 2018). In the absence of a suspect class or a fundamental right......
  • Hope v. Comm'r of Ind. Dep't of Corr., 19-2523
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 16, 2021
    ...national origin, religion, or alienage—or denial of a fundamental right. St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1008 (7th Cir. 2019). When a plaintiff's unequal treatment is premised on a quasi-suspect classification, like gender, we apply intermediate ......
  • Haney v. Pritzker, Case No. 20 C 3653
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • September 27, 2021
    ...television facilities that distinguished based on ownership structure); St. Joan Antida High Sch. Inc. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch. Dist. , 919 F.3d 1003, 1006 (7th Cir. 2019) (challenge to free transportation program that distinguished between public and private school students); Minerva , 905 F......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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