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Begay-Platero v. Gallup Mckinley County School District

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

June 3, 2019


          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.


          Paul Kelly, Jr., United States Circuit Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the court on Defendant Gallup McKinley County School District's Motion to Dismiss filed October 8, 2018. ECF No. 9. Upon consideration thereof, the motion is well taken and should be granted.


         Plaintiffs brought this action on behalf of their child, who is a student 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 3-4 (ECF No. 12); see generally Compl. (ECF No. 1-1). According to the Complaint, School District Superintendent Mike Hyatt imposed new School District safety regulations, effective July 1, 2018, which directed that all “dances or like events” be restricted to students from the nine high schools of the School District's “regular” school system. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6-7; see also E-mail from Mike Hyatt, Superintendent, Gallup McKinley Sch. Dist., to (Apr. 20, 2018) (ECF No. 10-1).[1] The directive was one of four new or modified rules meant to “increase . . . safety and protocols, ” which included active shooter training and an enforceable dress code to ensure easy identification of intruders. E-Mail from Michael Hyatt 1-2. Superintendent Hyatt also notified the School District of other safety measures under consideration, such as the construction of fences to limit physical access to school grounds and the installation of “video doorbell systems” that require visitors to “buzz” in during school hours. Id. at 2.

         Plaintiffs assert that MCHS students are a part of the School District, that they present no unique safety risk, and that their exclusion from Superintendent Hyatt's list of “regular” schools constituted specific and intentional discrimination that had no rational basis. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9. Because, Plaintiffs assert, MCHS is a publicly funded school within the School District, MCHS students and “regular” school students are similarly situated, and MCHS students have been “singled out and intentionally discriminated against.” Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10. They thus allege their exclusion violates the Equal Protection Clauses of both the New Mexico and United States Constitutions. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 10. Plaintiffs assert the School District policy caused them injury, and they requested a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting its enforcement. Id. at 3 & ¶ 11.

         On October 8, 2018, the School District moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). ECF No. 9. This court held an evidentiary hearing on April 25, 2019 and heard argument as to Plaintiffs' requested preliminary injunction. It denied Plaintiffs' request on May 7, 2019 and asked the assigned magistrate judge to hold a status conference. Begay-Platero v. Gallup McKinley Cty. Sch. Dist., No. 18-CV-00861-PJK-SCY, 2019 WL 2008888 (D.N.M. May 7, 2019). On May 16, 2019, the magistrate judge advised that the stay on discovery (ECF No. 18) should be continued and the motion to dismiss should be resolved. See ECF No. 24.


         The School District moves to dismiss for both lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. Although Plaintiffs adequately plead facts giving rise to federal subject matter jurisdiction, they ultimately fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         A. This Court Has Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over Plaintiffs' Claims

         This court must have federal subject matter jurisdiction to hear the merits of a case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The School District argues that the Plaintiffs have not suffered an injury-in-fact under federal law and therefore have no standing. It first argues that Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental constitutional right to either a public education or public extracurricular activities. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 8. Relatedly, the School District argues that because Plaintiffs have no constitutional right to extracurricular activities, they have failed to establish a “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent injury.” Mot. to Dismiss 17 (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)). The School District is correct that access to a public education and ancillary benefits is not a fundamental constitutional right. See San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 36-37 (1973). But the failure to establish a fundamental right implicates the standard of review of the state action; it does not eliminate jurisdiction. See Cohon ex rel. Bass v. New Mexico Dep't of Health, 646 F.3d 717, 730 (10th Cir. 2011) (noting state action is reviewed for rational basis when neither a suspect class nor a fundamental right is implicated).

         Regardless of whether state action infringes upon a fundamental right, the Equal Protection Clause guarantees that “those who ‘appear similarly situated' are not treated differently without, at the very least, ‘a rational reason for the difference.'” SECSYS, LLC v. Vigil, 666 F.3d 678, 684 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Engquist v. Oregon Dep't of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 602 (2008)). This is the essence of the Plaintiffs' claim. See Pls.' Resp. to Def.'s Mot to Dismiss 5 (“The point of this lawsuit is that Defendant allows students from many high schools to attend all District events. Defendant arbitrarily and capriciously excludes MCHS students, an action which the constitution forbids.”). Whether a plaintiff has set forth facts supporting either wholly arbitrary action or sufficient similarity among disparately treated individuals is a question best assessed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Suffice it to say, this court retains subject matter jurisdiction over this case.[2]

         B. Plaintiffs Fail to State a Claim Upon Which ...

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