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In re Reeves-Toney

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

May 28, 2019

In Re Rebecca Reeves-Toney, Plaintiff
v.
School District No. 1 in the City and County of Denver, State of Colorado. Defendant

          Original Proceeding Pursuant to C.A.R. 21 District Court, City and County of Denver, Case No. 18CV31058 Honorable J. Eric Elliff, Judge

          Attorney for Plaintiff: Charles Kaiser Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Defendant: Molly H. Ferrer Denver, Colorado Connelly Law, LLC Sean Connelly Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Amici Curiae the State of Colorado and the People of Colorado: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General Julie C. Tolleson, First Assistant Attorney General Joseph Peters, Assistant Attorney General Danny Rheiner, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          MÁRQUEZ, JUSTICE

          ¶1 In this original proceeding under C.A.R. 21, Defendant-Petitioner School District No. 1 in the City and County of Denver (DPS) seeks 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 Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA), §§ 22-63-101 to -403, C.R.S. (2018). Reeves-Toney alleges that these provisions violate 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.

         ¶2 DPS moved to dismiss Reeves-Toney's complaint, arguing, among other things, that she lacks standing to bring her claim. The trial court agreed that Reeves-Toney lacks 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 is facially unconstitutional. The court thus denied the motion to dismiss.

         ¶3 DPS sought C.A.R. 21 relief. We issued a rule to show cause and now make the rule absolute. We hold that because Reeves-Toney has not alleged an injury based on an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer money, she has failed to demonstrate a clear nexus between her status as a taxpayer and the challenged government action. Reeves-Toney therefore lacks taxpayer standing to bring her constitutional challenge to section 22-63-202(2)(c.5). Accordingly, we make the rule to show cause absolute and remand the case to the trial court with directions to dismiss Reeves-Toney's complaint.

         I. Background

         ¶4 In 2010, the General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 10-191 (SB 191), which significantly amended TECDA provisions concerning teacher contracts and the transfer process.[1] SB 191 eliminated the earlier practice of transferring teachers to schools without the consent of the principal of the recipient school. See § 22-63-206(5), C.R.S. (2018) ("All transfers to positions at other schools of the school district shall require the consent of the receiving school."). The bill also added paragraph (c.5) to section 22-63-202(2), which provides, as relevant here, that "each employment contract . . . shall contain a provision stating that a teacher may be assigned to a particular school only with the consent of the hiring principal and with input from at least two teachers employed at the school." § 22-63-202(2)(c.5)(I), C.R.S. (2018). Such an assignment is called a "mutual consent assignment." § 22-63-202(2)(c.5)(IV).

         ¶5 Under SB 191, nonprobationary teachers[2] 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. § 22-63-202(2)(c.5)(III)(A). However, nonprobationary teachers who are 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. § 22-63-202(2)(c.5)(IV).

         ¶6 This is the third time this court has considered a challenge to the constitutionality of SB 191. Last year, we took up two challenges to the law's unpaid leave provisions. In Johnson v. School District No. 1 in the County of Denver, we addressed certified questions of law from the Tenth Circuit in a case in which a teacher argued that her placement on unpaid leave under section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) breached her contract and violated her due process rights. 2018 CO 17, ¶ 1, 413 P.3d 711, 712. We held that nonprobationary teachers who are placed on unpaid leave have no vested property interest in salary and benefits. Id. at ¶ 2, 413 P.3d at 713. We concluded, therefore, that a nonprobationary teacher placed on unpaid leave under section 22-63-202(2)(c.5)(IV) is not deprived of a property interest. Id.

         ¶7 In School District No. 1 in the City & County of Denver v. Masters, several teachers, together with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), alleged that DPS had invoked SB 191 to place hundreds of teachers on unpaid leave in violation of their rights to due process of law and the contracts clause of the Colorado Constitution. 2018 CO 18, ¶ 1, 413 P.3d 723, 725. Citing our decision in Johnson, announced the same day, we held that TECDA did not create a contractual relationship or vest nonprobationary teachers placed on unpaid leave with a property interest in salary and benefits. Id. at ¶ 2, 413 P.13 at 725-26.

         ¶8 Approximately two weeks after we issued our decisions in Johnson and Masters, Reeves-Toney filed the complaint in this case, raising the present challenge to SB 191's mutual consent provisions based on article IX, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution.

         II. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶9 Plaintiff Rebecca Reeves-Toney is a nonprobationary elementary school teacher employed by DPS. On February 9, 2015, she took workers' compensation leave from her position after ...


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