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Begay-Platero v. Gallup Mckinley County School District

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 7, 2019

SHARLENE BEGAY-PLATERO and JOHN PLATERO, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
GALLUP MCKINLEY COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          David R. Jordan, The Law Offices of David R. Jordan, P.C., Gallup, New Mexico, for Plaintiffs.

          Andrew M. Sanchez and Carlos J. Padilla, Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          Paul Kelly, Jr. United States Circuit Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the court on Plaintiffs-Movants Sharlene Begay-Platero and John Platero, Jr.'s motion for preliminary injunction as requested in their Application for Preliminary Injunction Hearing filed September 19, 2018. ECF No. 5. The court held an evidentiary hearing on April 25, 2019, and heard argument. Upon consideration thereof, the motion is not well taken and should be denied.[1]

         Background

          The movants bring this action on behalf of their children, who are juniors at Middle College High School (MCHS), a charter school in Gallup, New Mexico, against the Gallup McKinley County School District (“School District”). Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss 3 (ECF No. 12); see generally Compl. (ECF No. 1-1). According to the School District, after a school shooting in Aztec, New Mexico, it consulted with local law enforcement about strengthening security. An overriding concern was the risk of unidentified persons on school campuses during school hours and at non-public School District events. On April 20, 2018, School District superintendent Michael Hyatt circulated new security policies to principals. E-mail from Michael Hyatt, Superintendent, Gallup McKinley Sch. Dist., to ALLPrincipalsDistLis@gmcs.k12.nm.us (Apr. 20, 2018) (ECF No. 10-1). Included was a directive that “all dances or like events” be restricted to students from the nine high schools of the School District's “regular school system.” Id.; see also Compl. ¶¶ 6-7. MCHS was not included, notwithstanding the movants' assertion that MCHS is a part of the School District “and [is] therefore similarly situated” to the other School District schools. Compl. 7-8, 10.

         The movants filed their complaint in state court on August 30, 2018, alleging that the School District's restriction violated the Equal Protection Clauses of both the United States and New Mexico Constitutions and requesting a preliminary and permanent injunction. Begay-Platero v. Gallup McKinley Cty. Sch. Dist., No. D-1113-CV-201800482 (N.M. Dist. Ct., 11th Judicial Dist. 2018); see generally Compl. The School District removed this action to federal court on September 13, 2018.[2] ECF No. 1. The movants applied for a preliminary injunction hearing, contending that the “specific[] and intentional[]” exclusion of MCHS students from the School District's dances and like events was arbitrary and irrational. Pls.' Appl. for Prelim. Inj. Hr'g ¶ 9 (ECF No. 5). Jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1367. This memorandum opinion and order constitutes the court's findings and conclusions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(2).

         Discussion

         A court may issue a preliminary injunction prior to a trial on the merits. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 65. However, a preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary remedy, ” not a matter of right. Benisek v. Lamone, 138 S.Ct. 1942, 1943 (2018). A movant must show that he (1) is likely to prevail on the merits, (2) is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities is in his favor, and (4) a preliminary injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). The court must weigh all four factors equally, and a movant fails to meet his burden if his showing does not satisfy any one of the four factors. Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Env't v. Jewell, 839 F.3d 1276, 1282 (10th Cir. 2016). Because the movants have not satisfied any of the four factors, their motion for preliminary injunction should be denied.[3]

         A. The Movants Have Not Shown a Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         Although a showing of “likelihood” is not as demanding a burden as “certainty” of success, the movants must show more than a mere possibility of success. Diné, 839 F.3d at 1282. Plaintiffs as movants must provide facts and theories sufficiently detailed to present a prima facie case. Planned Parenthood Ass'n of Utah v. Herbert, 828 F.3d 1245, 1252 (10th Cir. 2016); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(b)(1)(B) (a request for a court order must “state with particularity the grounds for seeking the order”); D.N.M.LR-Civ. 7.1(a) (a motion must “state with particularity the grounds and the relief sought”). The movants do not argue that MCHS students belong to a suspect classification, nor do they allege their exclusion violated a fundamental constitutional right. Therefore, and by their own admission, see Compl. ¶ 5, the court undertakes a rational-basis review, inquiring whether no “reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification.” F.C.C. v. Beach Commc'ns, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 313 (1993).

         Under New Mexico state law, charter schools are classified differently from other public schools, notwithstanding public funding. For example, local school districts must allow charter students in grades seven through twelve to participate in school-district extracurricular activities. However, the requirement extends to only activities sanctioned by the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA), such as academic and athletic competitions. N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 22-8-23.6, 22-8C-8(A) & 22-13-25. In addition, although state law classifies charter schools as public schools, charter schools operate pursuant to a contract with a “chartering authority, ” which may be either the New Mexico Public Education Commission, or, as in this case, a local school board. N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 22-8B-2(A)-(C), 22-8B-9; N.M. Code R. §§ 6.29.1.7(X), 6.80.4.7(D) (defining a chartering authority) & 6.80.4.9 (contents of a proposed agreement between charting authority and charter school for charter application). New Mexico law delineates the powers and duties of chartering authorities, such as to “monitor . . . the performance and legal compliance of charter schools under their authority, ” to “determine whether a charter school merits suspension, revocation or nonrenewal, ” and to “develop and maintain chartering policies and practices consistent with nationally recognized principles and standards for quality charter authorizing.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 22-8B-5.3(F)-(H). Even with some oversight, and despite their classification as “public, ” charter schools are responsible for their own operations and budget, and they are governed not by the local school district, but by a governing body as set forth in their charter contracts. N.M. Stat. Ann. § 22-8B-4(B)-(C). They also retain autonomy to hire their own employees. N.M. Stat. Ann. § 22-8B-10.

         At the hearing, the movants sought to downplay New Mexico law's clear distinction between charter and non-charter public schools by offering anecdotal evidence of the School District's oversight capacity. Plaintiff-Movant Sharlene Begay-Platero testified that the Public Education Department website lists MCHS as part of the School District, and that she once heard Superintendent Hyatt comment to an MCHS financial administrator that MCHS was not following the financial procedures of the School District.[4] She also testified that she has attended two MCHS “advisory board” meetings, and she noted that the board is merely advisory because governing authority rests with the School District. Yet she candidly admitted the basis of her testimony was her experience as a parent of MCHS students, and that she had little knowledge of MCHS's funding, the statutory framework within which it operates, or the specifics of the School District's supervisory role as chartering authority. She also admitted she was unaware of any NMAA-sanctioned school dances.

         The movants also relied on the testimony by Ben Chavez, the safety coordinator for the School District, who conceded during cross-examination that the School District could demand MCHS produce disciplinary records. The movants contend that, because the School District could not demand disciplinary records from other school districts, MCHS is different. But their contention really has no bearing on ...


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