Recent Court and Agency Decisions
Individual Board Member Interests
School boards are subject to cities’ zoning ordinances
Gruba v. Community High School District 155, 2015 IL 118332 (9-24-2015).
The Illinois Supreme Court has held that a school district is subject to, and its school board must comply with, local government zoning and storm water restrictions, i.e., a city’s zoning powers. The case arose when neighbors to a high school didn’t like the bleachers being built in the football stadium. The city issued a stop-order against the board prohibiting the continuation of the work on the bleachers. The neighbors sued the district seeking to privately enforce the city’s zoning ordinances. The court considered the board’s arguments supporting its position that the city may not restrict a school district’s land use. The court disagreed in an opinion that reads like a reply brief. The court relied on a provision in the School Code expressly allowing boards to seek zoning changes, variations, or special new uses for properties held or controlled by the school district. The court reasoned that this provision demonstrates that the legislature intended to subject the local school board to the municipality’s zoning regulations.
Section 1983 claims and Immunity; Qualified Immunity for School Staff
Doe v. Champaign Community Unit 4 School District, 2015 C.D.Ill. 3464076; 2015 WL 3464076
Plaintiffs filed claims against the principal and school board for racial discrimination; violation of their son’s right not to be apprehended or taken into custody; violation of his right not to be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures; and violation of his right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The school board and principal asserted that there are no disputed facts and trial is not necessary. The principal also asserted that she is entitled to qualified immunity, protection from liability and trial.
Regarding the principal, the court found that a trial was necessary. The principal is not entitled to qualified immunity because the rights she may have violated were clearly established and she had actual notice of the standards pertaining to school searches. Additionally, a jury could find that the principal violated the student’s constitutional rights by conducting a search without reasonable suspicion or carrying out a search that was unreasonable in scope
Regarding the school board, the court found that a trial was not necessary because the plaintiffs could not present any evidence to show that the school board acted with deliberate indifference to the rights of the student. The board properly trained the principal and all other employees on proper school search procedures by providing a detailed pamphlet explaining the current laws regarding school searches. The assistant superintendent also reviewed the school’s rules on searches with the principal.
Shanell M. Bowden, IASB Law Clerk
Mandated child abuse and neglect reporting
Bradley v. Sabree, et al., 594 Fed. Appx. 881(2015); 2015 WL 859794
Bradley has filed a petition to appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first legal issue in this case is whether all child protective services workers in the United States are subject to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment if they interview a child without parent or guardian consent. The second legal issue is whether the Department of Children and Families’ policies violated the petitioner's fundamental liberty interest in the “integrity of the family” with the use of a picture mobile phone.
While this case applies to child protective services workers, constitutional challenges involving child protective services and school personnel are becoming prevalent in courts. For example, see Ohio v. Clark, 135 S. Ct. 2173 (2015).
Shanell M. Bowden, IASB Law Clerk
Mandated child abuse and neglect reporting
Ohio v. Clark, 135 S.Ct. 2173 (2015), 83 USLW 4484
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the school officials in this case should not be viewed as law enforcement agents, and the statements made by a young child to the teachers were not given with the “primary purpose of creating an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony.” This decision is important to school officials because the Court recognized that school teachers who ask their students questions about suspected child abuse are not acting as law enforcement officers but instead fulfilling their mandated state duties to keep children safe.
Email and text messages
Hadley v. Doe, -- N.E.3d – (Ill. 2015); 2015 IL 118000; 2015 WL 3791449
Update on the case which serves as a reminder to school officials that nothing online is truly anonymous. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s order requiring the disclosure of the identity of an anonymous poster of allegedly defamatory comments about a county board candidate on a newspaper’s Internet message board.
8/26/2015: Doe’s attorney has filed a motion to postpone the enforcement of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision. This motion will attempt to maintain the anonymity of Doe until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear an appeal.
See the information posted in Hadley v. Doe, - N.E.3d--, 2014 WL 1847824, (Ill.App. 2 Dist.,2014) for more background.
Shanell M. Bowden, IASB Law Clerk
Donovan & Schulze v. CUSD #303, --- N.E.3d ---- (Ill. App. 2d 1015); 2015 IL App (2d) 140704; 2015 WL 43214902015
Plaintiffs sued the school district for alleged violations of NCLB’s choice provision. The School Code does not provide a private cause of action for damages, nor does Illinois recognize the tort of educational malpractice. The Tort Immunity Act further bars such complaints. The purpose of the Tort Immunity Act is to protect local public entities and public employees from liability arising from the operation of government. By providing immunity the Ill. Gen. Assembly sought to prevent public funds from being diverted from their intended purpose to the payment of damages claims.
Read the entire decision here: www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2015/2ndDistrict/2140704.pdf.
Eligibility to hold office
Alvarez v. Williams, 2014 IL App. (1st) 133443 (2014
An individual challenged a ruling that his prior conviction for forgery made him ineligible to hold the office of a school board member because it is an “infamous crime.” Illinois prohibits school board members who have been convicted of infamous crimes from holding office.
Interestingly, while this case was being decided, the school board member’s forgery conviction was expunged. However, because that fact did not exist while the case was being appealed, the court held that it was not relevant to its review. This fact leaves the question open as to whether this individual will now be eligible to hold the office of school board member.
Tax refund claims arising when districts improperly transferred funds from the working cash fund to the operations and maintenance fund
G.I.S. Venture v. Novak, et al., 2014 Ill.App. (2d) 130244 (9-30-2014).
Tax refund claims aggregating to more than $3 million, not including statutory interest, were denied in this appeal. In a prior appellate decision involving the same parties, the court found that the school districts’ transfers of assets from the working cash fund to the operations and maintenance fund were improper. That decision remanded the case to the trial court for determining whether, if the transfer had been properly made to the education fund, the subsequent education fund levy would have resulted in an improper accumulation of the assets therein. The districts provided evidence that no such improper accumulation of assets would have resulted. Consequently, there was no issue of fact remaining and the Appellate Court decided in the districts’ favor.
Email and text messages
Hadley v. Doe, - N.E.3d--, 2014 WL 1847824, (Ill.App. 2 Dist.,2014).
This case is a reminder to school officials that nothing online is truly anonymous. Here, a county board candidate (candidate) pursued a defamation claim against a fictitious Internet name, “Fuboy.” Fuboy referred to the candidate as a “molester.” This decision is centered on the candidate’s motion requesting the court to direct an Internet provider to provide the identity and last known address of its subscriber, Fuboy, whose actual name was unknown. The candidate needs Fuboy’s identity to properly name the subscriber in the lawsuit. The court also addressed the candidate’s failure to ask the court for permission to file against the fictitious name Fuboy (lawsuits must name an actual person). While the candidate should have sought permission under court rules to file against the fictitious name Fuboy, the case will still go forward, and the Internet service provided will need to respond to the subpoena requesting it to provide the identity and last known address of its subscriber using Fuboy.
Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway, - S.Ct.- (2014), 2014 WL 1757828.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that prayers before a New York town’s board meetings do not violate the First Amendment.
“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, “and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”
This decision only addressed the specific factual circumstances presented by the town of Greece, N.Y. Very little guidance about how other communities may participate in prayers without violating the Constitution was offered in this opinion. Contact local board counsel for assistance with how this recent decision applies to your board.
People v. Wilson, No. 3-03-1032 (Ill.App.3, 4-25-05).
Simultaneously holding offices as a county board member and a school board member violates the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act. In this case, the Kankakee County State’s Attorney sought an order seeking the ouster of a county board member. The individual first held the office of county board member before being elected to the school board. The Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act prohibits a county board member from holding any other office, except for several specifically enumerated circumstances not relevant here. The statute states that any such election is void. Therefore, rather than voiding the county board seat, the court voided the county board member’s election to the school board.
This decision has narrow applicability because it is based on a statute limiting county board members from holding a second office. The broader doctrine of incompatible offices is rooted in the principle of separation of offices as provided in the Illinois Constitution. The doctrine is intended to assure high quality performance with undivided loyalty. Appellate decisions have held that incompatibility arises if the duties of one office would necessarily prevent the office holder from faithfully performing all the duties of the other office. Under the doctrine of incompatible offices, the acceptance of an incompatible office is regarded by operation of law as a resignation from the first office.
Action to oust a board member who held incompatible offices
People ex rel. Ballard v. Neikamp, 2011 IL App (4th) 100796 (09/19/2011).
A former school board member appealed the court order that “ousted” him from serving on a school board for violating the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act (50 ILCS 105/). That statute prohibits duly holding offices on both a county board and a school board. A few fellow school board members brought an action in “quo warranto” to enforce this law because the former board member was a member of the county board when he was sworn in to the school board. (“Quo warranto” is a legal proceeding that challenges an individual's right to hold an office or governmental privilege.) The appellate court found, among other things, that the court order at the time was proper. Note: During the course of this case, the former school board member ran for the school board again at the next election, and he was elected, sworn in, and is currently serving. For more information about incompatible offices, see the discussion in the Illinois Council of School Attorney’s document titled “Answers to FAQs; Conflict of Interest and Incompatible Offices,” at http://iasb.com/law/FAQsConflictofInterestIncompatibleOffices.pdf.
Quo warranto proceeding to remove board member
People ex rel. Lyons v. Parker, 2012 IL App (3d) 110140-U, (Order filed 5/8/2012).
The following case is binding in the jurisdiction of the Illinois Appellate Court Third Circuit. Its content may be of interest to school officials in Illinois. It involves a “quo warranto” action. “Quo warranto” actions used to challenge another's right to public office. For more information on quo warranto actions, see the last paragraph below.
Parker, a candidate for the school board, had two felony convictions and filed his papers to become a candidate for his local school board. The State’s Attorney sought a court order to remove Parker’s name from the ballot and stop him from running for the school board. The basis for the request was that Parker was not eligible to run because his felony convictions disqualified him from holding public office pursuant to section 29-15 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/29-15). The trial court granted the State's quo warranto motion and barred General Parker from placing his name on the ballot. On appeal, the appellate court upheld the order barring General Parker from placing his name on the ballot.
Quo warranto cases are generally only brought by the Attorney General or the appropriate State's Attorney. If neither of them brings the suit, it may be brought by any citizen after s/he has requested the AG and State's Attorney to bring the same, they fail to do so, and the circuit court grants permission for the citizen to file it. After receiving permission to bring the suit, the citizen must post a bond when filing the proceeding because, if s/he is unsuccessful, s/he must pay the defendant’s attorney fees and costs. Depending upon the alleged violation, the law allows the court to impose a $25,000 fine or remove the board member from office.
A copy of this case is available at the following location:
Incompatibility of Multiple Offices
People ex. rel. Alvarez v. Price, - N.E.2d -, 2011 WL 947130 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2011).
The State of Illinois filed a complaint against the Defendant, who held three public offices: alderman, school board member, and park district commissioner. The State sought Defendant’s removal from the office of park district commissioner, alleging it was incompatible with Defendant’s position as alderman. The First District Appellate Court held that the offices of alderman, school board member, and park district commissioner were incompatible, and removed Defendant from all three offices. There does not need to be an actual conflict for offices to be incompatible, just that there will eventually be a conflict. Offices are incompatible when the functions or duties of the offices are inherently inconsistent and repugnant so that one person would be unable to faithfully, impartially, and efficiently discharge the duties of both offices. The Court reasoned that the positions of alderman and park commissioner were incompatible because of contractual relations that may exist between a park district and municipality. A conflict can also arise between an alderman’s duties in voting on the allocation of revenue-sharing funds to a school district, and a school board member’s duty to provide revenue to maintain schools.
Nicole Cudiamat, IASB Extern
Parker v. Lyons, 2013 WL 1624336, --- F.Supp.2d ----, (C.D., Ill., 04/15/2013).
This case originates from a state “quo warranto” action to remove General Parker’s name from the school board ballot for a prior felony conviction. See People ex rel. Lyons v. Parker, 2012 IL App (3d) 110140-U, (Order filed 5/8/2012), summarized directly below and available here:
A quo warranto action is used to challenge another’s right to public office. In the 2012 case, the State’s Attorney successfully obtained an order barring General Parker from running for the local school board. General Parker argued that the quo warranto action was improper and that State law allowed him to have his name on the ballot. However, the Appellate Court warned General Parker to stop making those arguments as the decision for his name to be removed from the ballot would stand.
General Parker has now filed a complaint in federal court against those who sought removal of his name from the ballot. In it, the District Court addressed:
1. A Fourteenth Amendment “Class–of–One” Equal Protection claim alleging that General Parker was selectively targeted the quo warranto action, a rarely-used enforcement mechanism, because of his reputation as an outspoken leader in the community. The Court held that it is the State’s Attorney’s discretion to file quo warranto actions and dismissed this claim.
2. A Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim alleging racial discrimination because he was targeted to be removed from the school board election ballot to preserve a white majority on the school board. He alleges that other white candidates for various local elected offices are or have been ineligible but were not subject to quo warranto actions or other challenges by the State's Attorney. The Court held that this claim should be heard.
3. A general challenge to the constitutionality of the state laws preventing someone with a prior felony conviction from running for school board, citing the First, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The Court held that this claim should be heard.
While the Court dismissed number 1, the merits on numbers 2 and 3 are still pending.
Public bodies exceeding their constitutional and/or statutory authority
Peraica v. Riverside-Brookfield High School District No. 208, 2013 IL App (1st) 122351 (10/31/2013).
A school district placed a referendum on the ballot seeking to increase the school’s property tax limiting rate. The school district engaged in a number of activities to encourage voters to support the referendum, including hosting a student rally, producing a television program, mailing referendum literature, allowing teachers to blog on the subject, and providing school space to pro-referendum groups.
Although the referendum was defeated, Mr. Peraica and Taxpayers United of America (TUA) filed suit against the school district. The group claimed that the school district had deprived them of the right to free speech under the first amendment to the United States Constitution, because they were “forced to struggle against the public funds” in their opposition to the referendum. The taxpayer group alleged that the school deprived them of a constitutional right under the appearance of authority, in violation of section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.
The Illinois Fourth Division appellate court agreed with the trial court’s dismissal of the claims in favor of the school district.
NOTE: Two of the group’s claims did not reach appeal:
1. Mr. Peraica and TUA had claimed that the school violated the Property Tax Code by understating the amount of the tax increase.
2. Mr. Peraica and TUA had alleged that the school violated section 9-25.1 of the Illinois Election Code, which says that schools cannot use public funds in support of a proposition. The court replied that claims under the Election Code are properly made to the Board of Elections.
Referendums are complicated and school officials should always consult the board attorney throughout the process.
Brennan McLoughlin, IASB Law Clerk
Spending working cash funds
Lutkauskas v. Ricker, 2013 IL App (1st) 121112, --- N.E.2d --- (9/30/13).
Taxpayers brought actions against school district employees, the district’s accountant, and district school board members (collectively “defendants”). They alleged the defendants engaged in or permitted improper spending of money from the district’s working cash fund and they sought to (a) recover the money and (b) impose criminal penalties, including an order requiring the board members to forfeit their offices.
The court found that:
(a) The taxpayers could not recover a monetary award from the defendants because the taxpayers did not allege that the money transferred from the working cash fund was put toward an improper purpose forbidden by law. All monies were spent on legitimate school expenses, and the school board eventually effected a permanent transfer of the money by passing resolutions to abate and/or abolish the working cash fund.
(b) The taxpayers are not authorized under the law to seek criminal penalties or forfeiture of office (only the State of Illinois may impose such penalties under this law). The law does not authorize a civil suit to recover vast sums of money personally from district defendants for the alleged violation of the working cash provisions of the law when there are no allegations of monies being used for anything other than legitimate school expenditures.
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