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Turner v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 4, 2018

COURTNEY S. TURNER
v.
EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD AND WARREN DRAKE INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS FOR THE EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD

          On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. C661015 The Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

          Brian F. Blackwell Charles L. Patin Jr. Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff/Appellant, Courtney S. Turner.

          Shelton Dennis Blunt Kevin W. Welsh Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and Warren Drake Individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of Schools for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         Courtney S. Turner appeals a judgment dismissing her petition for an alternative writ of mandamus directing the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and Superintendent Warren Drake to issue her a written contract and reinstate her as an assistant principal. We affirm.

         FACTS

         Turner is a tenured teacher in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. For the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, she received no written contract from the School Board, but was employed as the third assistant principal at Wedgewood Elementary School. For the 2017-2018 school year, based on budget cuts in anticipation of reduced enrollment and to avoid eliminating teacher positions, Wedgewood's principal chose not to fill the third assistant principal position. Turner was reassigned as an administrative dean at The Dufrocq School with no reduction in pay.

         Turner contends her reassignment was a demotion that violated teacher tenure laws and filed a petition seeking an alternative writ of mandamus directing the School Board to issue her a contract for the position of assistant principal for at least two years. The trial court found the assistant principal position at Wedgewood was discontinued and eliminated for good cause based upon budgetary constraints and, therefore, the School Board was not required to give her a new contract as an assistant principal. The trial court denied the request for mandamus relief and dismissed Turner's petition.

         DISCUSSION

         Mandamus is a writ directing a public officer to perform a ministerial duty required by law. La. Code Civ. Pro. arts. 3861 and 3863; Jazz Casino Company, L.L.C. v. Bridges, 16-1663 (La. 5/3/17), 223 So.3d 488, 492. It is an extraordinary remedy used sparingly to compel something clearly required by law where there is no relief by ordinary means or where delay in obtaining ordinary relief may cause injustice. See La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 3862; City of Hammond v. Parish of Tangipahoa, 07-0574 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/26/08), 985 So.2d 171, 181. A ministerial duty is a simple, definite duty, arising under conditions admitted or proved to exist, and imposed by law, which leaves no element of discretion to the public officer. Hoag v. State, 04-0857 (La. 12/1/04), 889 So.2d 1019, 1024. If a public officer is vested with any element of discretion, mandamus will not lie. Jazz Casino Company, 223 So.3d at 492.

         Turner seeks mandamus relief compelling the School Board to issue her a contract for the position of assistant principal, relying on Louisiana Revised Statute 17.444B(4)(c)(iv), which pertinently provides:

The board shall negotiate and offer a new contract at the expiration of each existing contract unless the superintendent recommends against a new contract based on an evaluation of the contractee as provided for in R.S. 17:391.5, or unless failure to offer a new contract is based on a cause sufficient to support a mid-contract termination as provided in Item (iii) of this Subparagraph, or unless the position has been discontinued, or unless the position has been eliminated as a result of district reorganization, provided that should the position be re-created, the employee, if still employed by the board, shall have first right of refusal to the re-created position.

         It is undisputed the superintendent did not recommend against offering Turner a new contract; therefore, she contends the School Board was legally obligated to do so. The School Board argues a recommendation against a new contract by the ...


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