W. Heights Indep. Sch. Dist. No. I-41 of Okla. Cnty. v. State ex rel. Okla. State Dep't of Educ.

Docket Number120,034
Decision Date04 October 2022
Citation518 P.3d 531
Parties WESTERN HEIGHTS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. I-41 OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY and Mannix Barnes, Superintendent, Petitioners/Appellants, v. The STATE of Oklahoma, EX REL., OKLAHOMA STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Oklahoma State Board of Education, and Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Respondents/Appellees.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

Jerry L. Colclazier, Colclazier & Associates, Seminole, Oklahoma, for Petitioners/Appellants.1

Brad S. Clark, Lori Murphy, Telana McCullough, and Desiree Singer, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondents/Appellees.


¶1 Petitioners, a school district and the school district's superintendent, brought an action in a District Court to stop the Oklahoma State School Board from taking actions against the school district in the meetings of the Board. The Board continued with its meetings and petitioners filed requests for a restraining order, preliminary injunction, and declaratory judgment to prevent further State Board actions until both the school district and its superintendent obtained administrative individual proceedings. The District Court denied the petitioners' requests and they appealed. The State Board continued with its meetings, placed the school district on probation and required an interim superintendent as a condition of probation. We affirm the District Court.

I. Controversy in District Court

¶2 The Oklahoma State Board of Education wanted Western Heights Independent School District No. I-41 to appear at the Board's meeting on April 9, 2021. No one representing the District appeared at the April 9th meeting, and during the meeting the Board "adjusted the District's accreditation status to ‘Accredited with Probation.’ " Then on April 22, 2021, the District and its Superintendent, Mannix Barnes, filed a petition for a declaratory judgment in the District Court of Oklahoma County. Petitioners sought both declaratory and injunctive relief against the Board, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

¶3 Petitioners stated they "are entitled to judicial review of all the Respondents' decisions, pursuant to 75 O.S.§ 318" of the Administrative Procedures Act. They alleged they "are entitled to both a judicial declaration and injunctive relief as provided in Title 25 O.S. § 314 [of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act] to enjoin and restrain the Board from ‘lowering’ Western Heights accreditation to probation." They sought a declaratory judgment to determine the proper procedures to be used by respondents.

¶4 Petitioners sought an injunction to prevent the respondents "from lowering or revoking the District's accreditation status until such time as the Respondents promulgate a fair procedure and policy for doing so." They also sought a judicial declaration that in administrative proceedings before the OSDE the defendants "violated the District's right of a fair and impartial adjudication, and have violated the due process rights of the Superintendent, by reaching decisions of great importance without standards, procedures and policies, and such decisions should be vacated and held for naught."

¶5 On June 24, 2021, the State Board of Education issued an "Emergency Order" based upon an "Application for Emergency Order to Summarily Suspend Teaching Certification" of Mannix Barnes. The conclusion of the lengthy order states in part: "effective immediately, the Oklahoma Teaching Certificate of Mannix Barnes is hereby suspended pending an individual proceeding for revocation or other action, effective August 2, 2021 or thereafter as determined by the State Board."

¶6 In July 2021, the petitioners filed a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. They requested an order vacating the suspension of Barnes as Superintendent, and an order enjoining respondents from further action against the District or Superintendent unless authorized by the trial court.

¶7 On July 9, 2021, a hearing was held on the motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Counsel for respondents stated an emergency order had been entered on June 24th at a public meeting with reference to Mannix Barnes. Notice was sent by the respondents within three days after the June 24th meeting saying "a hearing will be scheduled on a revocation" "[s]o there is a hearing that will be held on the potential revocation of the District Superintendent's certificate."2 In other words, the State Board used an emergency procedure to summarily suspend Barnes's certificate, but a revocation of his certificate within the context of an administrative individual proceeding3 had not yet occurred. Counsel for respondents stated a scheduled State Board hearing for July 12 th would not address Barnes's certificate, but "the District has been put on notice that the State Board may intervene in the School District's operations and that has been notified to them that they may include appointing an interim superintendent."

¶8 The trial court referenced the statements by counsel for respondents and the following occurred during the hearing.

Court: And your testimony is, as counsel for the State Department of Ed. ... And there is a hearing to be scheduled on the revocation of his, the Superintendent's license?
Response: That is all correct.
Court: So as we sit here today is the Superintendent still the superintendent of Western Heights?
Response: As far as I have been made aware, that is true... That [recent legislation] requires when an individual, includes the school district superintendent, is suspended by the State Board of Education, the District is required to put the person on suspended leave. ...
Court: All right. And is that leave with pay or leave without?
Response: It is leave with pay.

The trial court continued its questioning and the State Board stated Barnes was entitled to a Loudermill hearing, but this hearing had not yet occurred.4 Petitioners argued the State Board lacked the power or legal authority to suspend anyone. They argued the State Board could grant a license or revoke a license, but not suspend a license or certificate pending a revocation proceeding. They stated the following.

Judge, the word "suspend" is nowhere in that statute [ 70 O.S. § 3-104 ]. Nowhere. It talks about revocation. It talks about issuing a license. The word "suspend" is nowhere in the statute. Suspend doesn't come up until you look at the agency regulation, which is ultra vires, they can't just decide with their regulation something that the statute doesn't give them authority to do.

ROA 324, Tr. at p. 18. The trial judge then observed the statute [ 70 O.S. § 3-104 ] states the Board "shall formulate rules governing the issuance and revocation of certificates for superintendent of schools," and that the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act authorized emergency suspensions within the context of pending individual proceedings.

¶9 The parties and the trial judge again discussed the effect of Barnes's emergency suspension. Counsel for the State Board stated emergency suspensions with administrative leave are "with pay" and the persons suspended receive "the benefits that they're otherwise entitled until a [revocation] hearing has been held." Id . Tr. at 340. Counsel for Barnes responded and stated a suspension with pay and benefits was not in a letter sent to the school district, and "Not that it makes any difference, because when they tell Mr. Barnes he can't act as superintendent ... that's the big harm there." Id . Barnes objected to the State Board considering the application for a summary emergency suspension during an executive session at the State Board's meeting.

¶10 The trial judge appeared to indicate Barnes was entitled to a hearing on the issue of license or certificate revocation, but not entitled to participation in a summary hearing which results in an emergency order of suspension when Barnes (1) continued to receive a salary and benefits after an emergency suspension, and (2) had an opportunity for an administrative hearing after the suspension.

¶11 The trial court denied the request for a temporary restraining order by a journal entry filed on August 6, 2021.5 Petitioners' filed on August 13, 2021, a supplemental motion for preliminary injunction. The same claims were made with some additional facts and argument. They challenged the emergency suspension of Barnes and the ongoing proceedings before the State Board and OSDE involving Barnes and the school district. They labeled their requests as "supplemental requests for relief" challenging respondents' actions. Petitioners included an affidavit of counsel in support of a request for a temporary restraining order. Respondents filed their response on November 4, 2021.

¶12 The trial court's journal entry denied the requests for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order. The order was filed November 19, 2021, and the court addressed individually each of petitioners' thirteen supplemental requests for relief. For example, when denying petitioners' first supplemental request: (A) The trial court determined respondents had authority to suspend Barnes's educator certificate; (B) Barnes was not entitled to a full evidentiary hearing prior to the emergency suspension, but Barnes was entitled to a hearing prior to a revocation of his certificate; and (C) The facts asserted in the emergency application to suspend and order of suspension were sufficient to demonstrate an emergency.

¶13 When addressing the first supplemental request for relief the court referenced several specific findings and one general finding referencing "other allegations" made by respondents concerning Barnes and the school district. The specific findings included: (1) The use/management of money including assertions "reflected in the 2019 and 2020 District audits and Barnes's testimony that he allowed things to go for a full year before making changes to...

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