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Board of Education v. Sanders

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 8, 1986.

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF PEORIA, SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 150, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

TED SANDERS, SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. C. Brett Bode, Judge, presiding. JUSTICE HEIPLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied January 27, 1987.

The Peoria school district, plaintiff, operates a gifted program pursuant to article 14A of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 122, par. 14A-1 et seq.). In 1981, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and its Superintendent, defendants, received complaints alleging that the plaintiff was engaging in intentional racial segregation in the operation of its gifted program. As a result of these complaints, the defendants investigated the plaintiff's gifted program and determined that the under-representation of minorities therein revealed a discriminatory policy on the part of the plaintiff. When the plaintiff made a request for reimbursement of funds to operate the program under section 14A-5 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 122, par. 14A-5), the Superintendent informed the plaintiff that the funds were being withheld because the gifted program was being operated in a discriminatory manner.

The plaintiff filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as follows:

"A. Declaring that any quota system that grants preferential treatment for admission to a public school's `gifted program' solely on the basis of race violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

B. Declaring that [the Superintendent] and the State Board have no authority to withhold reimbursements to local school districts for the `Gifted Program' because of racial imbalance either under the `Rules and Regulations to Govern the Administration and Operation of Gifted Education Reimbursement Programs' or the Illinois School Code.

C. Restraining and enjoining [the Superintendent] and the State Board from delaying or denying any application for gifted program reimbursements where such delay or denial is solely on the basis of failure to meet racial quotas in the gifted program enrollment.

D. Granting such other and further relief as the Court may deem just."

The plaintiff subsequently moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment and declared that the defendants "have no authority to withhold reimbursements to local school districts for the `gifted program' because of racial imbalance either under the `Rules and Regulations to Govern the Administration and Operation of Gifted Education Reimbursement Programs' or the Illinois School Code." The court also enjoined the defendants "from delaying or denying any application for `gifted program' reimbursements where such delay or denial is on the basis of alleged intentional racial discrimination in the selection of students for participation in the school districts `gifted student program.'" Finally, the trial court ordered the distribution of withheld funds for the school years 1984-85 and 1985-86 because of alleged intentional racial discrimination by the plaintiff.

The defendants argue on appeal that: (1) the action against them in the circuit court violated the doctrine of sovereign immunity; (2) the circuit court erred in failing to strike plaintiff's complaint and in granting summary judgment on a theory not pleaded in the complaint; (3) State law provides them with authority to withhold State funds from the gifted education program when they determine that a school district is not operating its gifted program for the benefit of all gifted and talented children; (4) the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (20 U.S.C.A. secs. 1701 through 1758 (1978)) prohibits them from providing State funds to support an educational program which they determine has been intentionally segregated by race; and (5) the fourteenth amendment and general Federal civil rights statutes also prohibit them from providing State funds to support an educational program which they determine to be intentionally segregated by race. We will address each of these issues seriatim.

• 1, 2 Initially, we address the argument that the action against the ISBE and the Superintendent in the circuit court is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The Illinois Constitution abolished sovereign immunity by providing: "Except as the General Assembly may provide by law, sovereign immunity in this State is abolished." (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, sec. 4.) The General Assembly then enacted the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 37, par. 439.1 et seq.) which provides that the State may not be made a defendant or a party in any court except as set forth in the Act. (Senn Park Nursing Center v. Miller (1984), 104 Ill.2d 169, 187.) The purpose of the doctrine is that it "protects the State from interference in its performance of the functions of government and preserves its control over State coffers." (S.J. Groves & Sons Co. v. State (1982), 93 Ill.2d 397, 401.) The supreme court has consistently held that the doctrine does not apply to actions brought in the circuit court which seek to enjoin State officials from acting in excess of their delegated authority. (Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc. v. Trainor (1977), 68 Ill.2d 540.) Further, an action in the circuit court will not be barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity simply because it requests disbursement of State appropriated funds that have been withheld. (See Senn Park Nursing Center v. Miller (1984), 104 Ill.2d 169; City of Springfield v. Allphin (1978), 74 Ill.2d 117.) For instance, in Senn Park three nursing homes sought a writ of mandamus against the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid directing him to reimburse them for medicaid services in accordance with the Illinois State Medicaid Plan. The supreme court held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity was inapplicable, stating:

"We believe that in this case, where the defendant officer acted in excess of his statutory authority, the rights of the plaintiffs to be free from the consequences of his action outweigh the interest of the State which is served by the sovereign immunity doctrine. * * * In this case, the State cannot justifiably claim interference with its functions when the act complained of by plaintiffs is unauthorized by statute." Senn Park Nursing Center v. Miller (1984), 104 Ill.2d 169, 188.

In City of Springfield v. Allphin (1978), 74 Ill.2d 117, the Director of Revenue made an erroneous determination as to the effective date of an amendment to the Illinois Municipal Code, and withheld from the city of Springfield an amount of money greater than that permitted. Springfield filed an action against the Director for a judgment declaring his interpretation of the amendment to be incorrect and asking that reimbursement be made of the amount wrongfully withheld. The court held that the action was properly brought in the circuit court and stated:

"Where the issue is whether a State officer has refused to disburse appropriated funds according to law, and the relief sought is an injunction directing that those funds be released in accordance with the appropriation, the action is not one against the State." 74 Ill.2d 117, 124.

• 3 The defendants argue that this action is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity for two reasons. First, because the plaintiff is seeking to control the actions of a State agency and State officer, the ISBE and the Superintendent. Secondly, because the plaintiff seeks to subject the State to liability, by requiring the ISBE to distribute the funds that were withheld from the plaintiff. We disagree and believe that the Illinois Supreme Court cases of Senn Park and City of Springfield dispel both of the defendants' arguments.

In the instant case, the plaintiff sought injunctive and declaratory relief that the defendants, by withholding appropriated funds, were acting in excess of their statutory authority. Such an action is not one against the State. (Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc. v. Trainor (1977), 68 Ill.2d 540.) The plaintiff also sought to direct the defendants to disburse appropriated funds which were withheld. Senn Park and City of Springfield establish that the plaintiff's request was not barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, and thus was properly brought in the circuit court.

• 4 The ISBE and the Superintendent next assert that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment on a legal theory not pleaded in the plaintiff's complaint. The defendants state that the only claim in plaintiff's complaint was "that the defendant, by withholding state funds, seeks to impose an illegal quota system on the plaintiff," and that nowhere in its complaint did the plaintiff allege that the ISBE or the Superintendent lacked authority to withhold funds from a program which they determined was racially segregated. Therefore, defendants argue, it was error for the trial court to grant summary judgment on the ground that ...


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