Friday, November 8, 2013

M.B. v. Rankin County School District, Part 2

Last night, I read the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and the Plaintiff's Response.  This motion touches solely upon the request for injunctive relief.  In the Amended Complaint (published below); the Plaintiff seeks to enjoin the School District and Frazier pursuant to 42 U.S.C. s 1983 and 28 U.S.C. s 1343, and any person "working in active concert with the Defendants, including the Pinelake Baptist Church or any person affiliated therewith, from knowingly, intentionally, or negligently presenting or allowing to be presented religious assemblies at any of its public schools." 

In their defense, the Defendants point to an official policy of the School District, adopted on July 17, 2013, subsequent to the filing of the present lawsuit.  This policy, entitled "Religion in Public Schools", states in part: "It is the policy of the Rankin County School Board that school activities conducted during instructional hours should neither advance, or endorse or inhibit any religion; should be primarily for secular purposes and should not obligate or coerce any person into participation in a religious activity."  Insofar as non-instructional hours go, the District has a "limited open forum" which is to provide an open door for religious tinged student meetings, so long as there is no sponsorship, endorsement or coercion of the meeting by the District.

This new policy, the District argues, means they are taking the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seriously.  As a result, the stringent test for injunctive relief is not passed.

(More boring legal "analysis" after the jump)

The Judge in this case is the Honorable Carlton W. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  Judge Reeves previously recognized the four factor test for granting an injunction:  

A court should grant a preliminary injunction only if the movant demonstrates the following: (1) a substantial likelihood that he will prevail on the merits, (2) a substantial threat that he will suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, (3) his threatened injury outweighs the threatened harm to the party whom he seeks to enjoin, and (4) granting the preliminary injunction will not disserve the public interest.

Bond Pharmacy, Inc. v. Anaza Ohealth Corp., 815 F. Supp. 2d 966, 971 (S.D. Miss. 2011).  All four prongs must be satisfied prior to granting the requested relief.  Id.  

Rather than attacking the request for injunctive relief in light of the above four-factor test, the School District states merely the adoption of the new policy brings the District into obvious compliance with the Constitution.  "Given such a policy, there is nothing for this Court to enjoin."  The Defendants then rely on the fact that injunctions are extraordinary relief, not be to granted lightly.  See id. (characterizing the above test as an "extraordinarily high standard").  

The Plaintiff responds by flipping the burden upon the Defendants.  To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must show there is no genuine dispute of material fact, and, further, that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.  Like the four-factor test identified above, this burden is difficult to meet.  Essentially, the Plaintiff argues a decision on the request for injunctive relief cannot be made without a full-blown hearing, with witnesses and other evidence presented.  The Plaintiff then goes on to attack the request on its merits.  The Policy, she says, is too vague and ambiguous to resolve issues related to religious assemblies and/or instruction.  Further, the mere act of adopting a policy, does not mean anyone will actually follow it, therefore there is still something to enjoin.

I note the Plaintiff doesn't point to any specific way the Defendant violated the policy since its adoption; a factor that may weigh in favor of the District when it comes time for a hearing on the motion.  

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