Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 10-191 (SB 191), which significantly amended Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA) provisions concerning teacher contracts and the transfer process. SB191 eliminated the earlier practice of transferring teachers to schools without the consent of the principal of the recipient school. Under SB 191, nonprobationary teachers who were deemed effective during the prior school year and who have not secured a mutual consent placement become members of a “priority hiring pool” for available positions. However, nonprobationary teachers who were unable to secure such a position after the longer of twelve months or two hiring cycles are placed on unpaid leave until they are able to secure an assignment. Defendant-Petitioner School District No. 1 in the City and County of Denver (DPS) sought review of the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Respondent Rebecca Reeves-Toney’s constitutional challenge to the “mutual consent” provisions of section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) of the TECDA. Reeves-Toney alleged these provisions violated the local control clause of article IX, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution by delegating local school boards’ hiring decisions to principals and other administrators. DPS moved to dismiss Reeves-Toney’s complaint, arguing, among other things, that she lacked standing to bring her claim. The trial court agreed that Reeves-Toney lacked individual standing, but nevertheless concluded that she sufficiently alleged taxpayer standing to challenge section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) and plausibly alleged that the statute was facially unconstitutional. The court thus denied the motion to dismiss. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Reeves-Toney did not allege an injury based on an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer money, thus failing to demonstrate a clear nexus between her status as a taxpayer and the challenged government action. Reeves-Toney therefore lacked taxpayer standing to bring her constitutional challenge to section 22-63-202(2)(c.5). Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for the trial court to dismiss Reeves-Toney's complaint. View "In re Reeves-Toney v. School Dist. No. 1 in the City & County of Denver" on Justia Law

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The Colorado School of Mines contracted with Sodexo America, LLC, to fulfill its obligations to provide meals and food options for its students. During the time at issue, Mines loaded each meal-plan student’s student identification card, with an individual meal plan choice. To use their meal plans, students swiped their “BlasterCards” at a dining facility. Sodexo had nothing to do with loading the students’ BlasterCards with their meal plans; Sodexo also had no way of knowing if a student had fully paid for his or her meal plan, and Sodexo had no way of enforcing collections against a student who hadn’t fully paid. Neither Mines nor Sodexo collected any sales tax on these meal-plan meals. When the City of Golden’s Finance Department audited Sodexo and discovered that sales tax for these meal plans had not been collected, it issued a sales and use tax assessment. Sodexo protested and lost, so Sodexo appealed to the district court. The court granted summary judgment for Golden, finding that Sodexo had engaged in taxable retail sales directly to Mines’ students, rather than tax-exempt wholesale sales to Mines. Sodexo appealed again. This time, a unanimous division of the court of appeals reversed the judgment of the district court, concluding that there were two sales transactions at issue: one between Mines and Sodexo, and the other between Mines and its students. The division further concluded that Mines and Sodexo were engaged in tax-exempt wholesale transactions. Accordingly, the division remanded for entry of judgment in Sodexo’s favor. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the City of Golden’s request to review the appellate court’s decision. After review, the Court agreed that two transactions took place. Like the division below, the Court concluded Sodexo sold the meal-plan meals to Mines at wholesale, and, accordingly, these transactions were exempt from taxation under the Code. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "City of Golden v. Sodexo America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Believing that the decision to stop paying teachers for English Learning Acquisition (ELA) training violated a series of the parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) pursued a grievance against the District that was referred to nonbinding arbitration and resulted in a recommendation in favor of the DCTA. Because the District declined to adopt that recommendation, however, the DCTA brought this suit asserting a breach-of-contract claim against the District. The trial court ruled that the relevant provisions of the CBAs were ambiguous and that their interpretation was, therefore, an issue of fact for the jury. The jury, in turn, found the District liable for breach of contract and awarded damages to the DCTA. A division of the court of appeal subsequently affirmed the judgment of the trial court. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded interpretation of the CBAs was properly submitted as an issue of fact to the jury because the CBAs were ambiguous regarding payment for ELA training. “[B]ecause the CBAs are fairly susceptible to being interpreted as expressly requiring compensation for ELA training, we cannot conclude that the management rights clause includes the right to refuse to pay for ELA training.” View "School Dist. No. 1 v. Denver Classroom Teachers Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Teachers who worked for Denver Public Schools (“DPS”), and Denver Classroom Teachers Association (collectively, “the teachers”), filed this suit, alleging that DPS invoked Senate Bill 10-191, which under certain circumstances allowed a school district to place a nonprobationary teacher on unpaid leave, to remove hundreds of teachers from their positions in violation of both due process of law and the contracts clause of the Colorado Constitution. School District No. 1 and members of the Colorado Board of Education (collectively, “the District”) moved to dismiss the suit, and the trial court granted that motion. A division of the court of appeals reversed, relying on the Colorado Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting predecessor statutes to the relevant (codified as the Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act of 1990 (“TECDA”)) and concluded due process violations occurred under those predecessor statutes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the TECDA did not create a contractual relationship or vest nonprobationary teachers who were placed on unpaid leave with a property interest in salary and benefits. View "Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Masters" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified two questions of Colorado law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The questions stemmed from an action brought by teacher Linda Johnson against Denver School District No. 1 (“the District”) and the District’s Board of Education, in which Johnson argued that by placing her on unpaid leave, the District breached her contract and violated her due process rights. The federal district court concluded that because Johnson was placed on unpaid leave, rather than terminated, she was not deprived of a property interest. Johnson appealed that decision to the Tenth Circuit. After analyzing the statutory history and the current statutory language, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the provisions of section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) (CRS 2015) applied to all displaced nonprobationary teachers, not just nonprobationary teachers who were displaced because of a reduction in enrollment or an administrative decision to eliminate certain programs (the reasons stated in subparagraph (VII)). Furthermore, the Court held that nonprobationary teachers who placed on unpaid leave had no vested property interest in salary and benefits, meaning a nonprobationary teacher who is placed on unpaid leave under subparagraph (IV) is not deprived of a state property interest. View "Johnson v. Sch. Dist. No. 1" on Justia Law

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A non-negligently constructed and maintained piece of playground equipment cannot be a “dangerous condition” under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act’s recreation-area waiver. Nine-year-old Alexa Loveland fell while using her elementary school playground’s zip line apparatus and severely fractured her wrist and forearm. Alexa and her parents filed a tort action against the school district, seeking damages for Alexa’s injuries. Because the Colorado legislature limited when public entities such as the school district may be sued, the issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was whether the Lovelands’ lawsuit fell within one of the limited exceptions to sovereign immunity under the Act. The Supreme Court concluded the facts as the Lovelands have alleged them, did not satisfy the dangerous-condition requirement, and that the trial court was correct to conclude the recreation-area waiver did not apply. View "St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland" on Justia Law

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Between 2010 and 2012, the Board of Education of School District No. 1 (“DPS Board”) approved and implemented innovation plans at eleven schools under the Innovation Schools Act of 2008 (“ISA”). Most of these schools were created to replace failing schools within the Denver Public Schools District (“DPS”). All of the schools were “new,” in that they had not previously been opened as non-innovation schools and had new names, new identification numbers, and employed only a principal and, in some cases, one or two other administrative employees, but had no students, teachers, or other employees at the time their innovation plans were approved. This case presented an issue for the Supreme Court’s review of whether the ISA precluded a local school board from approving an innovation plan submitted by a “new” innovation school. The Court held that the ISA did not preclude approval of innovation plans from such “new” innovation schools. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Denver School Dist. v. Denver Classroom Teachers Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cathy Ritzert had worked as a teacher for more than twenty years. She worked for the Air Academy High School, part of the Academy School District No. 20. A student's parents complained about Ritzert, and the District placed her on administrative leave, telling her they would recommend dismissal unless she resigned. Ritzert refused. Several months passed without the District making good on its threat to fire her. Ritzert eventually took a new job teaching special needs students in a neighboring district, claiming she did this to mitigate her damages. She still wanted the District to prove it had a legitimate basis for terminating her, so she again refused to quit. The District responded by ordering Ritzert to report to work as a floating substitute. When Ritzert did not comply, the District initiated formal dismissal proceedings, claiming in part that her refusal to return to work constituted insubordination. A hearing officer recommended that Ritzert be retained, finding in part that the District's insubordination allegation was pretextual and unreasonable under the circumstances. The Board dismissed Ritzert for insubordination anyway, making no comment about the complaint that triggered placing her on leave in the first place. Upon review of this matter, the Colorado Supreme Court held that under the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA), the School Board's order must be fully warranted by the hearing officer's evidentiary findings of fact. Because the Board here "abdicated" that responsibility here, the Court concluded that its decision to dismiss Ritzert for insubordination on the facts of this case was arbitrary and capricious. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded this case to the Board to reinstate Ritzert. View "Ritzert v. Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Douglas County School District implemented its Choice Scholarship Pilot Program (CSP), a program that awarded taxpayer-funded scholarships to qualifying elementary, middle, and high school students. Those students could use their scholarships to help pay their tuition at partnering private schools, including religious schools. Following a lawsuit from Douglas County taxpayers, the trial court found that the CSP violated the Public School Finance Act of 1994, as well as various provisions of the Colorado Constitution. The trial court permanently enjoined implementation of the CSP. The court of appeals reversed, holding that: (1) Petitioners lacked standing to sue under the Act; and (2)the CSP did not violate the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the CSP comported with both the Act and the Colorado Constitution. After review, the Court held that Petitioners lacked standing to challenge the CSP under the Act. Further, the CSP violated article IX, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded the case to that court with instructions to remand back to the trial court so that the trial court could reinstate its order permanently enjoining the CSP. View "Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs initiated this action in 2005 for declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that the current Colorado public school financing system violated the Education Clause because the system failed to provide sufficient funding to support a "thorough and uniform" system of free public schools. Plaintiffs also claimed that local school districts' lack of sufficient financial resources, coupled with the system's restrictions on spending, prevented districts from exerting meaningful control over educational instruction and quality in violation of the Local Control Clause. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the public school financing system complied with the Colorado Constitution, and reversed the trial court's finding that the public school financing system was unconstitutional. View "Colorado v. Lobato" on Justia Law