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Plans, Inc. v. Sacramento City Unified School Dist.

November 4, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge


The Phase I trial of this case commenced on August 31, 2010. That same day, following the close of plaintiff PLANS, Inc.'s ("plaintiff") case-in-chief, addressing the sole issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion, defendant Sacramento City Unified School District ("defendant" or "SCUSD") moved for a judgment on partial findings pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 52(c) ("Rule 52(c)"). The court heard oral argument on the motion and stated on the record, its tentative decision to grant the motion; however, it permitted the parties leave to file written briefing and set the matter for a further hearing on September 22, 2010, should one be necessary. The court has reviewed the parties' briefing, and for the reasons stated on the record on August 31 as well as those set forth more fully below, the court GRANTS defendant's Rule 52(c) motion.*fn1


Plaintiff originally filed this action in 1998 against SCUSD and Twin Ridges Elementary School District ("Twin Ridges"), alleging their operation of Waldorf public schools violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the California State Constitution. Plaintiff alleges that the primary purpose and effect of Waldorf education is to advance religion, specifically the alleged religious doctrines of anthroposophy. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that the school districts' operation of taxpayer-funded Waldorf schools is illegal and seeks to enjoin the school districts from operating the schools.

Previously in September 2005, this court commenced a bifurcated trial in this case on the threshold issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion for purposes of the Establishment Clause. However, before permitting plaintiff to call its first witness, the court required plaintiff to make a proffer as to what evidence it had to make this showing. Finding the proffer wholly insufficient,*fn2 the court entered judgment in favor of defendants pursuant to Rule 52(c).

On November 21, 2007, the Ninth Circuit reversed this court's September 28, 2005 judgment in favor of defendants. In a brief, unpublished opinion, the Ninth Circuit held that this court erred in excluding the testimony of the "witnesses in question."*fn3 The court held that "because [plaintiff] intended to call the witnesses as percipient witnesses, it did not need to comply with the court's deadline for expert witness disclosures." The court also emphasized that plaintiff disclosed these witnesses as early as January 2001, and there was no prejudice since defendants had designated these witnesses as expert witnesses. (Docket #281.)

Following the Ninth Circuit's remand order, the court granted in March 2008, Twin Ridges' motion to dismiss, leaving SCUSD as the sole remaining defendant. (Docket #295, dismissing Twin Ridges since as of June 30, 2007, it ceased chartering any Waldorf methods public schools.) Plaintiff subsequently filed in May 2009, a substitution of counsel, replacing Scott Kendall who had litigated the case at the time of the 2005 trial, with Donald Michael Bush.

Thereafter, following a status conference in December 2009, the court held a further final pretrial conference in June 2010, setting the matter again for trial of Phase I of the case.*fn4

(Docket #318.) As set forth in the court's Final Pretrial Conference Order, Phase I would address the sole issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes.

On that issue, plaintiff bears the evidentiary burden of proof. Alvarado v. City of San Jose, 94 F.3d 1223, 1226-31 (9th Cir. 1996). As set forth in the Final Pretrial Conference Order, relevant to the court's determination of whether plaintiff has met its burden, are the following Alvarado factors:

(1) Whether anthroposophy is a system of belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power involving a code of ethics and philosophy requiring obedience thereto;

(2) Whether anthroposophy addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with "deep and imponderable matters."

(3) Whether anthroposophy is "comprehensive in nature."

(4) Whether anthroposophy can be recognized by formal and external signs such as formal services, ceremonial functions, the existence of clergy, structure and organization, efforts at propagation, observance of holidays and other similar manifestations associated with the traditional religions.

(Docket #318 at 2.) The court's Order described that plaintiff intended to call one witness, Staley, in support of its case, and plaintiff specifically acknowledged that pursuant to the prior orders of this court, as well as the Ninth Circuit's decision, Staley could provide only percipient testimony. (Id. at 10.)

Trial commenced on August 31, 2010. Plaintiff called only Staley as a witness in support of its case-in-chief.*fn5 Staley was one of the founders of the Rudolf Steiner College, in Fair Oaks, California, and is presently the Director of the Waldorf Teacher Education Program at the College; she has also been a member of the Anthroposophical Society in America ("ASA")*fn6 since 1963. (Reporter's Transcript ["R.T."], filed Sept. 7, 2010 [Docket #344], at 5:25-6:25, 8:10-19.) In addition to Staley's testimony, plaintiff attempted to introduce various exhibits, including a number of books, into evidence. However, despite initially proffering nearly 150 exhibits,*fn7 only one of plaintiff's exhibits was admitted at trial: Plaintiff's Exhibit 153 (the Statutes of the ASA). Also admitted by stipulation of the parties were defendant's ...

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