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Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 30, 2018

M.C. MOORE, ET AL.
v.
TANGIPAHOA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.

         SECTION "B"(1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is “Plaintiffs' Motion to Reconsider and/or to Alter and/or Amend Order Pursuant to Rule 59(e).” Rec. Doc. 1502. The Tangipahoa Parish School Board filed an opposition. Rec. Doc. 1504. Plaintiffs' instant motion relates to previously-filed objections to a recommendation from the Court Compliance Officer (CCO). Rec. Doc. 1494. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion (Rec. Doc. 1502) is GRANTED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Objections (Rec. Doc. 1494) are OVERRULED and the CCO's Recommendation (Rec. Doc. 1494-1) is AFFIRMED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         An election held in Tangipahoa Parish on November 18, 2017, included three taxes that would have raised funds for the Tangipahoa Parish School District. See Rec. Doc. 1494-1 at 2-3. None of the taxes passed. See Rec. Doc. 1494 at 11. On October 10, 2017, prior to the election being held, Plaintiffs raised concerns about the impending tax election in a formal complaint to the CCO. See Rec. Doc. 1494-2. In their complaint, Plaintiffs argued that prior court orders required the School District to formally submit the proposed tax ballot measures for analysis and approval prior to the election. See Id. at 6-7 (referring to Rec. Docs. 325, 612). The School Board responded, arguing that (1) the proposed taxes were not governed by the prior court orders, (2) Plaintiffs were adequately notified of the Board's plans to put the tax measures on the ballot, and (3) that the tax measures were consistent with the Board's obligations to desegregate the school system. See Rec. Doc. 1494-4. Plaintiffs then filed a reply that responded to the Board's arguments. See Rec. Doc. 1494-10.

         At issue in Plaintiffs' instant objections is the application of a pair of orders issued in 1977 and 2007 to the three taxes that were on the ballot in November 2017.[1] See Rec. Docs. 325, 612. The 1977 Order requires the Board to submit for review and approval “a planning study and analysis” “at least 90 days prior to any bond election or submission of bids on any capital improvement other than routine maintenance . . . .” Rec. Doc. 325 at 4. The 2007 Order adds and modifies these obligations by requiring that “[a]ny expenditure over $125, 000.00 must go through the analysis procedure outlined in the [1977] court order and must be presented to the plaintiff and the compliance officer . . . at least 180 days prior to the election.” Rec. Doc. 612 at 1.

         On November 3, 2017, the CCO issued a recommendation that prior court orders regulating Board expenditures do not require the Board to “provide notice that it intends to call a property tax election.” Rec. Doc. 1494-1 at 6. The CCO reasoned that the notice provisions in the prior court orders only apply to a subset of Board expenditures, not the collection of tax revenue via a parish-wide tax. See Id. Twenty-one days later, on November 24, 2017, Plaintiffs filed objections to the CCO's recommendation. See Rec. Doc. 1494. The objections were dismissed as moot because the election occurred-and the taxes failed to pass-six days before Plaintiffs filed their objections. See Rec. Doc. 1496. Plaintiffs then filed the instant motion to reconsider, arguing that the objections are not moot because the Board might seek to pass a similar tax measure in the future. Rec. Doc. 1502-1 at 2. The Board timely filed an opposition. Rec. Doc. 1504.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs seek reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). See Rec. Doc. 1502 at 2. “Rule 59(e) serves the narrow purpose of allowing a party to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Templet v. HydroChem, Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 479 (5th Cir. 2004). “A Rule 59(e) motion . . . is not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before” the order was issued.[2] Id. at 478-79. As a result, the “extraordinary remedy” available under Rule 59(e) “should be used sparingly.” Id. at 479. This is one of those rare situations in which reconsideration is appropriate because Plaintiffs' objections fall within a narrow exception to mootness doctrine.

         “Article III of the Constitution limits federal courts to deciding ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies, ' and an actual controversy must exist not only at the time the complaint is filed, but through all stages of the litigation.” Kingdomware Techs. Inc. v. U.S., 136 S.Ct. 1969, 1975 (2016). A controversy is moot when “no court is . . . capable of granting the relief [plaintiff] seeks.” Id. A court cannot normally grant injunctive or declaratory relief when the complained-of act has already ended. See Id. at 1975-76. This would seem to foreclose Plaintiffs' efforts here because the election has already occurred and the objected-to taxes failed to pass.

         But Plaintiffs allude to an exception to mootness doctrine in their instant motion. Rec. Doc. 1502-1 at 2. A controversy is not moot when it “is capable of repetition, yet evading review, ” which means that “(1) the challenged action is in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to cessation or expiration, and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again.” Id. at 1976 (citing Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 17 (1998)). The Supreme Court has “held that a period of two years is too short to complete judicial review of the lawfulness of” an agency's decision to award a contract. Id.

         Moreover, the exception is readily applied when the controversy involves the regulation of elections because elections occur with relatively short notice and it is difficult for courts to order relief after the election has occurred. See, e.g., FEC v. Wis. Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. 449, 461-64 (2007); Ctr. for Individual Freedom v. Carmouche, 449 F.3d 655, 661-62 (5th Cir. 2006). Prompt resolution of election-related controversies is valuable because, for example, clarifying ”[t]he construction of [a] statute [regulating an election], an understanding of its operation, and possible constitutional limits on its application, will have the effect of simplifying future challenges, thus increasing the likelihood that timely filed cases can be adjudicated before an election is held.” Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 738 n.8 (1974); see also Wis. Right to Life, 551 U.S. at 461-64; Morial v. Judiciary Comm'n, 565 F.2d 295, 297 n.3 (5th Cir. 1977); Ctr. for Individual Freedom, 449 F.3d at 661-62; Kucinich v. Tex. Democratic Party, 563 F.3d 161, 164-65 (5th Cir. 2009); cf. Wilson v. Birnberg, 667 F.3d 591, 596-97 (5th Cir. 2012).

         The instant dispute about whether the Board was required to submit planning studies and analyses for the three proposed tax measures 180 days before the election falls within the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to the mootness doctrine. At most, the Board is required to seek approval of these tax measures six months prior to the election. See Rec. Doc. 612 at 1. Given that the Supreme Court has held a two year period to be too short for complete review, a six month period is also too short. See Kingdomware Techs., 136 S.Ct. at 1976.

         The second requirement of the test is also met because there is a “reasonable likelihood” that the same parties will be involved in a similar dispute in the future. The notification and approval requirements at issue here are specific to this case. See Rec. Docs. 325, 612. And given that the Board will likely need to raise additional funds to complete its obligations under the desegregation orders, it is reasonable to expect that the Board will put forward similar tax measures in the future. See, e.g., Rec. Docs. 927, 935, 956, 1117, 1264 at 12-13. ...


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