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 Article of Interest - Recent Court Cases

Supreme Court to Hear Durant IV Case

from Gongwer News Service, December 18, 2002
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Just weeks after refusing to take up the third lawsuit from school districts over special education funding from the state, the Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will hear arguments on the fourth lawsuit in the long-running case.

The court order did not explain why the justices decided to hear the so-called Durant IV case, but not Durant III. In November, the court declined to take up the third case.

Attorneys for the school districts said they did not know how much money is riding on the case (Adair v. Department of Education et al, SC Docket No. 121536). But Dennis Pollard, who has litigated the last three cases, said he is hopeful of success this time. The districts have not had an outright victory since the first lawsuit.

Mr. Pollard said he expects it will take about a year before a final decision is issued. "We're hopeful we can get the right answer this time," he said.

He said it sounds like the court agreed to consider all the issues the schools sought to be reviewed. Mr. Pollard said he had not yet tried to quantify the amount of money the state would owe if the court sides with the districts, but added, "It would be significant."

The lawsuit by 467 districts asserts that the state has required schools perform a variety of new services since the Headlee Amendment to the constitution was adopted in 1978 without providing the money needed to run them.

A 2-1 Court of Appeals ruling agreed with the state that the suit should be thrown out because the districts that were part of the original Durant case should have brought the claims then. The districts had rejected that argument, saying the claims were made under distinct provisions of the Headlee amendment.

The Supreme Court order indicates it will hear arguments on whether the original Durant decision bars plaintiffs in that case from receiving funds in this one; whether plaintiffs in this case not participating in the original one waived their right to relief; and whether the appeals court erred in how it handled the case.

Justice Marilyn Kelly added a separate request asking attorneys for each side to prepare arguments on whether a judgment for declaratory relief for the plaintiffs would require an increase in total state spending to affected districts.

Officials in the State Budget Office could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Engler administration had hoped the case was settled long ago with passage of a 1997 package that gave schools $1 billion in a combination of bonding and withdrawals from the Budget Stabilization Fund.

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