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Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education v. New Mexico Public Education Department

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 27, 2018

RIO RANCHO PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION, Petitioner,
v.
NEW MEXICO PUBLIC EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO REMAND

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Petitioner's Motion to Remand, filed October 11, 2018 (Doc. 13). Having reviewed the relevant pleadings and the applicable law, the Court finds that Petitioner's motion is well taken, and therefore, the Motion to Remand is GRANTED, and this action is REMANDED to the First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner, Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education, appeals the New Mexico Public Education Department's (“Respondent's”) decision mandating that Petitioner divert 15% of its federal special education money into early intervening services. Respondent concluded that the percentage of African Americans in special education services was “Significantly Disproportionate” to students from other races, apparently pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1418(d) and 34 CFR § 300.646.

         Petitioner filed this appeal of Respondent's administrative decision in the First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on September 20, 2018. In the Notice of Appeal, Petitioner wrote: “The Board of Education of Rio Rancho Independent Schools, pursuant to Rule 1-074 NMRA and Sections 22-2-14(I), 39-3-1.1 NMSA, hereby gives notice of its appeal of the New Mexico Public Education Department's Decision, initially issued on June 29, 2018, regarding Significant Disproportionality… and finalized on September 18, 2018.” The Notice of Appeal attached Respondent's final decision, which provided that its “determination of Significant Disproportionality… was issued in accordance with federal law.” Doc. 1, Ex. 2.

         In the Motion for Stay filed contemporaneously with the Notice of Appeal, Petitioner sought a stay or injunction of Respondent's decision requiring it to transfer 15% of the special education budget to early intervention programs.

         Respondent removed this case to this Court on September 26, 2018. In the Notice of Removal, Respondent asserted that this action arose under the laws of the United States, and the Court has originally jurisdiction pursuant to 28 § U.S.C. 1331 “as this action arises under 20 U.S.C. § 1418(d), 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.645 and 300.647.”

         Petitioner now moves this Court to remand this appeal to the First Judicial District, arguing the case does not present a federal question (Doc. 13). Respondent filed a Response on October 25, 2016 (Doc. 14). Petitioner filed its reply on November 8, 2018 (Doc. 15) and is now fully briefed.

         DISCUSSION

         Both parties agree that Petitioner does not assert a federal cause of action on the face of the Notice of Appeal. Rather, Petitioner filed this appeal in state court pursuant to NMSA §§ 22-2-14(I) and 39-3-1.1(D), challenging an administrative decision by the New Mexico Public Education Department. Petitioner asserts that Respondent's administrative decision was not supported by substantial evidence and was otherwise arbitrary and capricious.

         Petitioner argues that this appeal raises no substantial federal question. Because the issue appears primarily to be fact based, and the manner in reaching the significant disproportionality determination is left to the discretion of the Respondent, the Court concludes that there is no substantial federal question.

         I. New Mexico Law.

         This matter is before the Court pursuant to NMSA §§ 22-2-14 and 39-3-1.1. NMSA § 22-2-14 provides that money budgeted by a school district “shall be spent first to attain and maintain the requirements for a school district as prescribed by law and by standards and rules as prescribed by the department.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 22-2-14(A). “The department shall give written notification to a local school board, local superintendent and school principal, as applicable, of any failure to meet requirements by any part of the school district under the control of the local school board.” Id. A local school board may appeal a decision of the Department to the state district court pursuant to NMSA § 39-3-1.1. See NMSA § 22-2-14(I). NMSA § 39-3-1.1 allows for state judicial review of state administrative decisions and provides:

D. In a proceeding for judicial review of a final decision by an agency, the district court may set aside, reverse or remand the final decision if it determines that:
(1) the agency acted fraudulently, arbitrarily or capriciously;
(2) the final decision was not supported by substantial ...

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