Appeals Court rejects constitutional challenge to town charter school law
The N.C. Court of Appeals delivered a blow Tuesday to a lawsuit against a 2018 state law allowing some towns to sponsor charter schools. The Appeals Court vacated a trial judge’s order that would have allowed the lawsuit to move forward.
The appellate judges’ unanimous decision means the law, S.L. 2018-3, originally known as House Bill 514, stands.
“After careful review, we conclude Plaintiffs have not alleged in their complaint they sustained a direct injury, or that they are in immediate danger of sustaining a direct injury, resulting from the enactment of H.B. 514,” wrote Judge Jeff Carpenter for the court. “Therefore, we hold Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden to make sufficient allegations to establish standing to bring constitutional claims against Defendants.”
The law allowed four Mecklenburg County towns — Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill — to seek state approval to run municipal charter schools. It was the first legislation allowing local governments to run charter schools. Previous charter school law had allowed only “nonprofit corporate applicants” to seek school charters.
None of the towns has applied for a charter.
Plaintiffs led by the NAACP’s state conference and Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch filed suit against the law in 2020. They called the law unconstitutional. Among the specific complaints: H.B. 514 prompted leaders of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to scale back a diversity-based student assignment plan.
In March 2021, Wake County Judge Vince Rozier denied legislative defendants’ attempts to have the case dismissed. Rozier ordered the suit transferred to a three-judge panel to address the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge.
Now the Appeals Court has thrown Rozier’s order out.
“Plaintiffs argue they alleged in their complaint ‘that the threats to pass and the subsequent adoption of H.B. 514 caused the CMS Board to substantially scale back the scope of its student reassignment plans, thereby undermining its transparent efforts to address the established negative effect of racial segregation and concentrated poverty on educational outcomes,’” Carpenter wrote. “This allegation tends to demonstrate an indirect injury to Plaintiffs because any harm they sustained was not directly caused by the enactment of H.B. 514; rather, the alleged injury would have been the result of CMS’s response to the passing of the Act.”
“Additionally, our review of the record reveals no Town has submitted an application to create a municipal charter school; thus, we conclude there can be no direct injury or immediate threat of injury,” Carpenter added.
“Here, Plaintiffs have not presented allegations they have been directly injured or will be directly injured by enforcement of the Act, nor have they included allegations tending to show one of the Towns has applied to establish a municipal charter school,” Carpenter wrote. “Therefore, they have not sufficiently shown ‘concrete adverseness’ to establish standing.”
With no legal standing to bring a lawsuit, the plaintiffs cannot challenge the law. Rozier was “without jurisdiction” to enter an order favoring the plaintiffs, Carpenter concluded.
Since the Appeals Court opinion was unanimous, the state Supreme Court faces no obligation to take the case.