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Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee

Supreme Court of Arkansas

351 Ark. 31

LAKE VIEW SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 25 et al.  v.  Governor Mike HUCKABEE et al.

Appeal from Pulaski Chancery Court

No. 01-836. --- Delivered: Nov. 21, 2002
[Rehearing denied Dec. 19, 2002]. 

Court Documents
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinions
  1. APPEAL & ERROR—CHANCERY CASES—STANDARD OF REVIEW.—The supreme court reviews chancery cases de novo on the record but does not reverse a finding of fact by the chancery court unless it is clearly erroneous; a finding of fact by the chancery court is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed; it is the supreme court's duty to reverse if its own review of the record is in marked disagreement with the chancery court's findings.
  2. JURISDICTION—SUBJECT-MATTER JURISDICTION—CAN BE RAISED AT ANY TIME.—The question of subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time or even by the supreme court on its own motion.
  3. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—ROLES OF LEGISLATIVE & JUDICIAL BRANCHES.—In school-funding matters, the supreme court is not engaged in the "search for tax equity"; it is the legislature that, by virtue of institutional competency as well as constitutional function, is assigned that responsibility; the supreme court's task is much more narrowly defined: to determine whether the trial court committed prejudicial legal error in determining whether the state school financing system at issue was violative of state constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal protection of the laws insofar as it denied equal educational opportunity to the public school students; if the court determines that no such error occurred, it must affirm the trial court's judgment, leaving the matter of achieving a constitutional system to the body equipped and designed to perform that function; clearly, the respective roles of the legislative and judicial branches relative to school funding are different, and the supreme court concluded that the two branches do not operate at cross purposes in the schoolfunding context.
  4. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—EDUCATION ARTICLE—STATE DESIGNATED AS ENTITY TO MAINTAIN SYSTEM OF FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN ARKANSAS.—The Education Article in the Arkansas Constitution designates the State as the entity to maintain a general, suitable, and efficient system of free public schools.
  5. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—ROLE OF JUDICIARY—SCHOOL-FUNDING MATTER WAS JUSTICIABLE.—The judiciary has the ultimate power and the duty to apply, interpret, define, and construe all words, phrases, sentences, and sections of the state constitution as necessitated by the controversies before it; it is solely the function of the judiciary to so do; this duty must be exercised even when such action services as a check on the activities of another branch of government or when the court's view of the constitution is contrary to that of other branches, or even that of the public; the supreme court concluded that the school-funding matter before it was justiciable.
  6. EDUCATION—EFFICIENT SYSTEM OF EDUCATION—ROSE STANDARDS.—It has been held, in Rose v. Council for Better Education, Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186 (Ky. 1989), that an efficient system of education must have as its goal to provide each and every child with at least the seven following capacities: (i) sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization; (ii) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices; (iii) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation; (iv) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness; (v) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage; (vi) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and (vii) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
  7. EDUCATION—EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY—BASIC TO SOCIETY.—Education becomes the essential prerequisite that allows citizens to be able to appreciate, claim; and effectively realize their established rights; the right to equal educational opportunity is basic to our society.
  8. EDUCATION—REQUIREMENT OF GENERAL, SUITABLE, & EFFICIENT SYSTEM OF FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLS—STATE HAS ABSOLUTE DUTY TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE EDUCATION.—Education has always been of supreme importance to the people of Arkansas; the General Assembly recognized this in Act 1307 of 1997, when it acknowledged that the State is constitutionally required to provide a general, suitable, and efficient system of free public schools, and that the Arkansas courts have held that obligation to be a "paramount duty"; the requirement of a general, suitable, and efficient system of free public schools places on the State an absolute duty to provide the school children of Arkansas with an adequate education.
  9. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—CONSTRUCTION OF LANGUAGE OF CONSTITUTION—PLAIN, OBVIOUS, & COMMON MEANING.—In construing the language of the Arkansas Constitution, the supreme court must give the language its plain, obvious, and common meaning.
  10. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—STRICT SCRUTINY—APPLIED WHEN IMPAIRMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT CLAIMED.—Strict scrutiny usually goes hand-in-hand with a claim that a fundamental right has been impaired.
  11. EDUCATION—PERFORMANCE OF STATE'S DUTY TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE EDUCATION IS ABSOLUTE CONSTITUTIONAL REQUIREMENT—STATE FAILED IN PERFORMANCE OF ITS DUTY.—Because the supreme court determined that the clear language of Ark. Const. art. 14 imposes upon the State an absolute constitutional duty to educate its children, the supreme court concluded that it was unnecessary to reach the issue of whether a fundamental right was also implied; the critical point was that the State has an absolute duty under the Arkansas Constitution to provide an adequate education to each school child; that duty on the part of the State is the essential focal point of the Education Article and the performance of that duty is an absolute constitutional requirement; when the State fails in that duty, which the supreme court held was the case, the entire system of public education is placed in legal jeopardy.
  12. EDUCATION—STATE FAILED IN ITS CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY TO PROVIDE GENERAL, SUITABLE, & EFFICIENT SCHOOL-FUNDING SYSTEM—EDUCATION ARTICLE VIOLATED BY SCHOOL-FUNDING SYSTEM.—The supreme court concluded that the State had not fulfilled its constitutional duty to provide the children of Arkansas with a general, suitable, and efficient school-funding system; accordingly, the supreme court, affirming the trial court on the point, held that the existing school-funding system violated the Education Article of the Arkansas Constitution.
  13. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—DEFICIENCIES CAN SUSTAIN FINDINGS OF BOTH INADEQUACY & INEQUALITY.—There is considerable overlap between the issue of whether a school-funding system is inadequate and whether it is inequitable; deficiencies in certain public schools in certain school districts can sustain a finding of inadequacy but also, when compared to other schools in other districts, a finding of inequality.
  14. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—STATE GOVERNMENT MUST MEET OBLIGATION IF LOCAL GOVERNMENT CANNOT CARRY THE BURDEN.—For some districts to supply the barest necessities and others to have programs generously endowed does not meet constitutional requirements; bare and minimal sufficiency does not translate into equal educational opportunity; if local government fails, the state government must compel it to act, and if the local government cannot carry the burden, the state must itself meet its continuing obligation.
  15. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—TEST FOR EQUALITY IS ACTUAL MONEY SPENT PER STUDENT.—The measuring rod for equality in school funding is what money is actually being spent on the students; equalizing revenues simply does not resolve the problem of gross disparities in per-student spending among the school districts; the focus for deciding equality must be on the actual expenditures; the supreme court affirmed the trial court's ruling on this point.
  16. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—CLASSIFICATION BETWEEN POOR & RICH SCHOOL DISTRICTS—STATE'S SCHOOL-FUNDING FORMULA FOSTERED DISCRIMINATION BASED ON WEALTH.— The supreme court held that a classification between poor and rich school districts existed and that the State, with its school-funding formula, had fostered this discrimination based on wealth.
  17. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—CLASSIFICATION BETWEEN POOR & RICH SCHOOL DISTRICTS—STRICT SCRUTINY UNWARRANTED WHERE SCHOOL DISTRICTS WERE NEVER CONSIDERED SUSPECT CLASS.—Strict-scrutiny review was unwarranted where the supreme court had never considered school districts to be a suspect class for purposes of an equal-protection analysis.
  18. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—CLASSIFICATION BETWEEN POOR & RICH SCHOOL DISTRICTS—STATE FAILED TO JUSTIFY UNDER RATIONAL-BASIS STANDARD.—The supreme court held that requiring the State to show a compelling interest to support the classification between poor and rich school districts was unnecessary because the State failed to justify the classification even under the more modest rational-basis standard.
  19. EDUCATION—EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY—GENERAL ASSEMBLY'S CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY TO PROVIDE.—Deference to local control has nothing to do with whether educational opportunities are equal across the state; it is the General Assembly's constitutional duty, not that of the school districts, to provide equal educational opportunity to every child in Arkansas.
  20. EDUCATION—STATE'S RESPONSIBILITY—DEVELOP WHAT CONSTITUTES ADEQUATE EDUCATION IN ARKANSAS.—It is the State's responsibility, first and foremost, to develop forthwith what constitutes an adequate education in Arkansas; it is, next, the State's responsibility to assess, evaluate, and monitor, not only the lower elementary grades for English and math proficiency, but the entire spectrum of public education across the state to determine whether equal educational opportunity for an adequate education is being substantially afforded to the school children of the state; it is, finally, the State's responsibility to know how state revenues are being spent and whether true equality in opportunity is being achieved.
  21. EDUCATION—EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY—BASIC COMPONENTS.—Equality of educational opportunity must include as basic components substantially equal curricula, substantially equal facilities, and substantially equal equipment for obtaining an adequate education; the key to all this is to determine what comprises an adequate education in Arkansas; the State has failed in each of these responsibilities.
  22. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—TRIAL COURT DID NOT ERR IN FINDING THAT SCHOOL-FUNDING SYSTEM VIOLATED EQUAL-PROTECTION SECTIONS OF ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION.—The supreme court held that the trial court did not err in concluding that the current school-funding system violated the equal-protection sections of the Arkansas Constitution in that equal educational opportunity was not being afforded to Arkansas school children and that there was no legitimate government purpose warranting the discrepancies in curriculum, facilities, equipment, and teacher pay among the school districts; whether a school child has equal educational opportunities is largely an accident of residence.
  23. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—EDUCATION ARTICLE—PLAIN LANGUAGE DOES NOT MANDATE STATE-PROVIDED, EARLY-CHILDHOOD EDUCATION.—The plain language of Ark. Const. art. 14, § 1, does not mandate the chancery court's order of State-provided, early-childhood education; section 1 reads in pertinent part that the General Assembly. and public school districts "may spend public funds for the education of persons over twenty-one (21) years of age and under six (6) years of age, as may be provided by law, and no other interpretation shall be given to it."
  24. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—SEPARATION OF POWERS—ONE BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT SHALL NOT EXERCISE POWER OF ANOTHER.—Aside from the fact that Ark. Const. art. 14 does not require early childhood education and leaves that matter to the General Assembly, the trial court could not order the implementation of pre-school programs, which is a public-policy issue for the General Assembly to explore and resolve; it is elementary that the powers of our state government are divided into three separate branches of government (Ark. Const. art. 4, § 1); the state constitution further provides that one branch of government shall not exercise the power of another (Ark. Const. art. 4, § 2).
  25. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—SEPARATION OF POWERS—LEGISLATURE CAN NEITHER BE COERCED NOR CONTROLLED BY JUDICIAL POWER.—The legislature can neither be coerced nor controlled by judicial power; the legislature is responsible to the people alone, not to the courts, for its disregard of, or failure to perform, a duty clearly enjoined upon it by the constitution, and the remedy is with the people, by electing other servants, and not through the courts; the state's constitution is neither an enabling act nor a grant of enumerated powers, and the legislature may rightfully exercise the power of the people, subject only to restrictions and limitations axed by the constitutions of the United States and Arkansas; under our system of government the legislature represents the people and is the reservoir of all power not relinquished to the federal government or prohibited by the state constitution.
  26. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—SEPARATION OF POWERS—TRIAL COURT HAD NO POWER TO ORDER IMPLEMENTATION OF PRE-SCHOOL EDUCATION.—The trial court had no power to order the implementation of pre-school education; the courts cannot mandate pre-school education as an essential component of an adequate education; that is for the General Assembly and the school districts to decide.
  27. APPEAL & ERROR—UNSUPPORTED ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR—NOT CONSIDERED.—It is incumbent on an appellant to develop issues for purposes of appeal; the supreme court will not consider assignments of error that are unsupported by convincing legal authority or argument.
  28. APPEAL & ERROR—LAW-OF-CASE DOCTRINE—SERVES TO EFFECTUATE EFFICIENCY & FINALITY IN JUDICIAL PROCESS.—The doctrine of law of the case prohibits a court from reconsidering issues of law and fact that have already been decided on appeal; the doctrine serves to effectuate efficiency and finality in the judicial process; the doctrine provides that a decision of an appellate court establishes the law of the case for the trial upon remand and for the appellate court itself upon subsequent review; on the second appeal, the decision of the first appeal becomes the law of the case and is conclusive of every question of law or fact decided in the former appeal and also of those that might have been, but were not, presented.
  29. APPEAL & ERROR—LAW-OF-CASE DOCTRINE—DOES NOT APPLY IF THERE IS MATERIAL CHANGE IN FACTS.—The doctrine of law of the case governs issues of law and fact concluded in the first appeal; the doctrine is conclusive only where the facts on the second appeal are substantially the same as those involved in the prior appeal; thus, it does not apply if there is a material change in the facts.
  30. APPEAL & ERROR—LAW-OF-CASE DOCTRINE—1994 TRIAL COURT ORDER NOT BINDING ON TRIAL COURT IN 2001.—Where the 1994 order in the case was not appealed, and where there had been a material change in the school-funding landscape between the time of the 1994 order and the trial court's 2001 order, with the passage of legislative acts in 1995 and 1997, as well the adoption of Amendment 74 to the Arkansas Constitution, the supreme court held that the 1994 trial court order, while instructive on certain points, was simpiy not binding on the trial court in 2001; the supreme court affirmed the trial court on this point.
  31. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—DESEGREGATION FUNDS DID NOT CONSTITUTE "STATE AID" FOR CURRENT EXPENDITURES.—The supreme court agreed with the trial court that desegregation funds provided to the Pulaski County School Districts did not constitute "state aid" for current expenditures and should not form part of state funds for purposes of the Federal Range Ratio test; the conclusion to the contrary in the 1994 order was not law of the case; appellants failed to convince the supreme court that the trial judge erred in his legal conclusion, and the supreme court affirmed the trial court's decision on this point.
  32. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—TRIAL COURT DID NOT ERR IN NOT EMPLOYING SCHOOL-FUNDING FORMULA USED IN 1994 ORDER.—The supreme court rejected appellants' argument that the trial court erred in not reverting to the school-funding formula used in the 1994 order; that formula employed weighted average daily membership as opposed to categorical grants and aid, which was substituted by the General Assembly in Act 1194 of 1995; the new school-funding formula is what the trial judge measured against constitutional mandates; it would make no sense for him to have determined compliance by examining the constitutionality of a formula that had been repealed by the General Assembly; moreover, the 1994 order was not law of the case.
  33. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—EXCESS DEBT SERVICE MILLAGE—LEGISLATION PROVIDING FOR CLEARLY CONTRARY TO PLAIN MEANING OF ARK. CONST. AMEND. 74.—The wording of Amendment 74 to the Arkansas Constitution makes it abundantly clear that each school district is responsible for assessing a uniform rate of 25 mills for maintenance-and-operation purposes; if a school district already has in effect millages for maintenance and operation, those millages may be counted against the uniform rate of 25 mills required by Amendment 74; nowhere, however, does Amendment 74 provide that part of a millage adopted by the school district for an entirely different purpose may be subtracted from the 25 mills owed; the General Assembly's legislation permitting excess debt service millage, codified at Ark. Code Ann. § 26-80-204(18) (Supp. 2001), is clearly contrary to the plain meaning of Amendment 74.
  34. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—ARK. CODE ANN. § 26-80-204(18)(C) VIOLATED ARK. CONST. AMEND. 74—VOID & OF NO EFFECT.—The supreme court held that Ark. Code Ann. § 26-80-204(18)(C) (Supp. 2001) violated Amendment 74 of the Arkansas Constitution and was void and of no effect.
  35. APPEAL & ERROR—FAILURE TO CITE RULE OR TO DEVELOP ARGUMENT BASED ON RULE—SUPREME COURT WILL NOT DO APPELLANT'S RESEARCH.—Appellants failed to cite to a rule for when an incentive award is appropriate or to develop an argument based on that rule; the supreme court has said time and again that it will not research an appellant's argument for it.
  36. CONTEMPT—APPELLANTS' ARGUMENT REJECTED—1994 ORDER WAS NOT LAW OF CASE.—Having determined that the 1994 order was not the law of the case, the supreme court rejected appellants' contempt argument based on that order, noting that it was hard pressed to conclude that the State was in contempt of the 1994 order when the supreme court had already decided that the issue in this appeal was whether the 1995 and 1997 legislation as well as Ark. Const. amend. 74 had brought the state into constitutional compliance.
  37. APPEAL & ERROR—ARGUMENT SUFFERED FROM LACK OF SPECIFICITY & CITATION TO AUTHORITY—SUPREME COURT WILL NOT DEVELOP APPELLANT'S ARGUMENT.—With regard to appellants' argument that retroactive funding was required, appellants' argument suffered from lack of specificity and citation to authority; the supreme court will not develop an appellant's argument for it or do an appellant's legal research on a point raised.
  38. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—SCHOOL FUNDING—LIMITED ROLE OF COURTS.—Regarding appellants' argument that the trial court should have ordered specific remedies against the State, the supreme court noted that the trial court's role and the supreme court's role were limited to a determination of whether the existing school-funding system satisfied constitutional dictates and, if not, why not.
  39. ATTORNEY & CLIENT—ATTORNEY'S FEES—FACTORS FOR GUIDANCE IN ASSESSING.—Factors for guidance in assessing attorney's fees are (1) the experience and ability of counsel; (2) the time and labor required to perform the legal service properly; (3) the amount involved in the case and the results obtained; (4) the novelty and difficulty of the issues involved; (5) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar services; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) the time limitations imposed upon the client or by the circumstances (8) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; the supreme court recognizes the superior perspective of the trial judge in weighing the applicable factors and will not set aside a trial court's fee award absent an abuse of discretion.
  40. ATTORNEY & CLIENT—ATTORNEY'S FEES—PERCENTAGE FEE REJECTED.—Because the economic benefit in this case did not lend itself to a firm figure and because the fee award must be paid by the government, either state or local, from tax revenues, the supreme court rejected a percentage fee; furthermore, the supreme court has never expressly adopted a multiplier against hours worked as a means for arriving at appropriate fees and declined to do so in this case.
  41. ATTORNEY & CLIENT—ATTORNEY'S FEES—TRIAL COURT ABUSED DISCRETION IN BASING AWARD ON PERCENTAGE OF $130 MILLION & USE OF MULTIPLIER.—The supreme court concluded that attorney's fees based on hours worked at an hourly rate of $150 was appropriate in this case; the novelty and difficulty of the case, the results obtained, the hours worked, the expertise of counsel, and the effect on other legal work of counsel, all militated in favor of an attorney's fee; nevertheless, the supreme court could not justify an award based on a percentage applied against $130 million or the use of a multiplier to enhance the fee; the supreme court held that, in doing so, the trial court abused its discretion.
  42. ATTORNEY & CLIENT—ATTORNEY'S FEES—AWARD MODIFIED.—The supreme court modified the trial court's attorney's fee award to an amount based on total hours worked, multiplied by the hourly rate of $150 per hour; the supreme court further modified the trial court's order and award costs in an amount that was supported by appellants' affidavit.
  43. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL DISTRICTS—CONSTITUTIONAL INFIRMITY—MANDATE STAYED.—Because the supreme court held that the current school-funding system was unconstitutional, Arkansas schools were presently operating under a constitutional infirmity; because the supreme court was strongly of the belief that the General Assembly and Department of Education should have time to correct this constitutional disability in public school funding and time to chart a new course for public education in Arkansas, the supreme court stayed the issuance of its mandate in the case until January 1, 2004, to give the General Assembly an opportunity to meet in General Session and the Department of Education time to implement appropriate changes.

Appeal from Pulaski Chancery Court; Raymond Collins Kilgore, Chancellor; affirmed in part; reversed in part; attorney's fees affirmed as modified; stay issued.

E. Dion Wilson; Don Trimble; and Lewellen & Associates, for appellant class; and Jack, Lyon & Jones, P.A., by: Eugene G. Sayre, special attorney for appellant class.

Mark Pryor, Att'y Gen., by: Dennis R. Hansen, Deputy Att'y Gen.; Brian G. Brooks, Sr. Ass't Att'y Gen.; and Timothy G. Gauger, Ass't Att'y Gen., for State appellees.

Matthews, Campbell, Rhoads, McClure, Thompson & Fryauf P.A., by: David R. Matthews, for intervenors-appellees Rogers and Bentonville Public School Districts.

Friday, Eldredge & Clark, by: Christopher Heller and John C. Fendley, Jr., for intervenor-appellee Little Rock School District.

Mitchell, Blackstock, Barnes, Wagoner, Ivers & Sneddon, by: Clayton R. Blackstock and Mark Burnette, for amicus curiae Arkansas Education Association.

Kaplan, Brewer, Maxey & Haralson, P.A., by: Regina Haralson, for amicus curiae Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Rural School and Community Trust.

Dudley & Compton, by: Cathleen V. Compton, for amicus curiae Arkansas Policy Foundation.

Lavey & Burnett, by: John L. Burnett, for amicus curiae Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Barrett & Deacon, A Professional Association, by: D.P. Marshall Jr., Leigh M. Chiles, and Brian A. Vandiver, for amicus curiae Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Inc., and Associated Industries of Arkansas, Inc.

[Opinion of the court by Justice ROBERT L. BROWN. Concurring opinions by Justices DONALD L. CORBIN and JIM HANNAH. Opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part by Justice TOM GLAZE.]


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