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Davis v. Hot Springs School District

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 18, 2016

W.T. Davis, Individually and on behalf of a Class of Taxpayers of Garland County, Arkansas, Similarly Situated, and; Garland County Chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
Hot Springs School District; Arkansas, State of; Arkansas State Board of Education Defendants-Appellees Earle Love, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; L.D. Harris, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Jeff Starling, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Robert L. Newton, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Dr. Harry P. McDonald, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Rae-Perry, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Elaine Scott, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Walter Turnbow, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Nancy Wood, Individually, and as a Member of the Arkansas State Board of Education; Garland County Board of Education; Van Smith, Individually, and as a Member of the Garland County Board of Education; Carl L. Johnson, Individually, and as a Member of the Garland County Board of Education; Flora Kimball, Individually, and as a Member of the Garland County Board of Education; Ira Livers, Individually, and as a Member of the Garland County Board of Education; John Wainscott, Individually, and as a Member of the Garland County Board of Education; E.T. Shuffield, Individually, and as a Member of the Garland County Board of Education Defendant's, Cutter Morning Star School District; Fountain Lake School District; Jessieville School District; Lake Hamilton School District; Lakeside School District; Mountain Pine School District Defendants-Appellants

          Submitted: April 14, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Hot Springs

          Before GRUENDER, BRIGHT, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Cutter Morning Star School District, Fountain Lake School District, Jessieville School District, Lake Hamilton School District, and Mountain Pine School District (the school districts) sought termination of the Garland County School Desegregation Case Comprehensive Settlement Agreement (the Agreement) and relief from the district court's 1992 order enforcing it. The district court[1] denied their Rule 60(b)(5) motion. The school districts appeal, alleging the district court applied the wrong legal standard in analyzing their motion, and arguing that it is no longer just or equitable to give the 1992 order or the Agreement prospective application in light of the repeal of the Arkansas School Choice Act of 1989 (School Choice Act). See Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-206 (repealed 2013). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Because the repeal of the School Choice Act does not warrant termination of the Agreement, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On August 18, 1989, W.T. Davis filed, individually and on behalf of a class of taxpayers of Garland County, Arkansas, a class action lawsuit against Garland County alleging that it maintained a racially-segregated public school system in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The parties agreed to settle the case and entered into the Agreement on November 25, 1991. One provision of the overall Agreement adopted the School Choice Act, which allowed students to apply to attend a school outside of their resident school district, but included a race-based limitation on such transfers. After a fairness hearing, the court entered an order on April 28, 1992, approving the Agreement and dismissing the case with prejudice on the merits.

         In 2012, the district court, as a result of independent litigation, held the provision of the School Choice Act limiting transfers on the basis of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Teague ex rel. T.T. v. Ark. Bd. of Educ., 873 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1065-68 (W.D. Ark. 2012), vacated as moot sub nom. Teague v. Cooper, 720 F.3d 973 (8th Cir. 2013).

         The court's decision was appealed but eventually rendered moot because, in 2013, the Arkansas legislature repealed the 1989 Act and replaced it with the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013 (2013 School Choice Act). See Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-1901 et seq. The 2013 School Choice Act removed the race-based limitation on public school transfers and included a provision preventing the receiving school district from discriminating on the basis of race. The Act included, however, a carve-out restriction: Under the 2013 School Choice Act, nonresident transfers were only permitted "provided that the transfer by the student does not conflict with an enforceable judicial decree or court order remedying the effects of past racial segregation in the school district." Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-1901(b)(3).

         The school districts wanted to know whether the changes to the state law had any effect on their continuing obligations under the Agreement, and on May 22, 2013, filed a petition for declaratory relief seeking continued enforcement of the Agreement. The school districts affirmatively argued that the Teague ruling, as well as the 2013 School Choice Act, did not have any impact on the efficacy of the court's 1992 order approving the Agreement and its inclusion of the race-based transfer limitation. The school districts explained that:

The import [of entering the settlement agreement and obtaining Court approval thereof] was to incorporate by reference the language, terms and provisions of the 1989 Act as a consent desegregation plan of the Court applicable to all public school districts within Garland County, Arkansas, for the purpose of remedy[ing] the vestiges of prior de jure racial segregation within the public education system of Garland County, Arkansas.

         The school districts expressed the view that because the Agreement constituted a court order remedying the effects of past discrimination (in other words, a consent decree), it fell within the 2013 School Choice Act's carve-out restriction. The district court agreed with the school districts' assessment that none of the changes in the law had impacted the Settlement, and granted their requested declaratory relief. The district court stated that "the Settlement Agreement constitutes a court-approved desegregation plan that should remain in effect despite recent changes to the law on which the Settlement Agreement was partly based." Davis v. Hot Springs Sch. Dist., et. al., No. 6:89-CV-06088, slip op. at 4 (W.D. Ark. June 10, 2013).

         Now, however, the same school districts have taken a different position, explaining that they requested declaratory relief in order to clarify the law during an emergency, but they had "no time" to seek termination of the Agreement in court. While the type of relief requested may have been affected by timing, the districts state that their position on the issue changed because of subsequent events. According to the districts, "[t]he episode that awoke the Districts to the inequity of the Settlement Agreement was the injustice that befell the Walker children, who were denied transfer solely because they are black." Therefore, on August 25, 2014, the districts filed the present motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(5), seeking termination of the Agreement and relief from the court's 1992 order in its entirety, on the grounds that it is no longer just or equitable to give the 1992 order or the Agreement prospective application in light of the repeal of the 1989 Act. The district court concluded that the school districts had failed to meet the standard for termination under Rule 60(b)(5) and denied their motion. The school districts timely appeal.

         II. Discussion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) allows the court, "[o]n motion and just terms, " to "relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding" because "the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5). The parties dispute the correct standard to apply to the Rule 60(b)(5) motion at issue. The district court held, and the appellees maintain, that in order to terminate the Agreement, the moving party must demonstrate "full compliance, " because the "'core of the termination standard' is whether 'the vestiges of past discrimination ha[ve] been eliminated to the extent practicable.'" Davis v. Hot Springs Sch. Dist., et al., No. 6:89-CV-06088, slip op. at 5 (W.D. Ark. March 31, 2015) (quoting Smith v. Bd. of Educ. of Palestine-Wheatley Sch. Dist., 769 F.3d 566, 572 (8th Cir. 2014) (alteration in original) (explaining the test for termination of a ...


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