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Los Angeles International Charter High School v. Los Angeles Unified School District et al

October 11, 2012

LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Ann I. Jones, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS127458)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aldrich, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

Affirmed.

INTRODUCTION

Proposition 39 requires public school districts to share their facilities fairly among all public school students, including those in charter schools (Ed. Code, § 47614, subd. (a) (Proposition 39)),*fn2 by, inter alia, providing charter schools with facilities sufficient to accommodate all of the charter schools' in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools in the district, and by making reasonable efforts to provide those facilities near where the charter schools wish to locate. (Id., subd. (b).)

At issue in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in finding that respondent Los Angeles Unified School District (the District) complied with a peremptory writ of mandate directing the District to offer Los Angeles International Charter High School (LAICHS) public school facilities for the 2010-2011 school year. (§ 47614, subd. (b); Cal. Code Regs., tit. 5, § 11969.1 et seq. (Regulations).) The District's return, filed with the court to show compliance, explained it offered LAICHS eight contiguous classrooms at Belmont High School. Preferring Franklin High School, LAICHS contends on appeal that the District did not comply with the writ because it did not provide evidence to support the decision to offer Belmont High School instead of the preferred Franklin High School. In the published portion of this opinion, we conclude the District provided adequate evidence showing that it fulfilled the terms of the writ and that LAICHS is not entitled to be placed in the specific location it desires. Accordingly, we affirm the order discharging the writ.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

LAICHS is a high school chartered by the District's Board of Education in 2005. In its application for charter status, LAICHS indicated it had facilities in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles. In its third year, LAICHS signed a three-year lease of seven-plus acres of private property located in the Hermon neighborhood between Highland Park and Eagle Rock. In 2009, LAICHS signed a new 10-year lease for that property, i.e., until 2020, and has invested substantial sums to make the old, abandoned school buildings useable.

LAICHS submitted a Proposition 39 request to the District for facilities for projected in-district average daily attendance (ADA) of approximately 157 students for school year 2010-2011. In its application, LAICHS indicated it wished to locate within the area served by Franklin High School, which is situated in Local District 4. According to a District staff member, LAICHS praised its then current campus but expressed concerns about the rent for the facility and "tried to explore the possibility of receiving assistance [from the District] for [its] lease payments." The District noted that LAICHS "did not require or seek new facilities. [LAICHS] said that [its] existing facilities met all of the school's needs, and that its lease on those facilities extended through the year 2020." The District determined that it was unable to offer LAICHS space pursuant to Proposition 39.

LAICHS filed its petition for writ of mandate (Code Civ. Proc., § 1085) seeking an order directing the District to provide facilities for the school year 2010-2011. LAICHS also requested money damages. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1095.)

The trial court granted LAICHS' petition for writ of ordinary mandate. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1085.) After a dispute about the wording, in November 2010, the trial court entered a judgment issuing a peremptory writ of mandate that, pursuant to Proposition 39, "commanded [the District], immediately upon receipt of this Writ to make an offer of facilities to [LAICHS] for the 2010-2011 school year sufficient to accommodate all of [LAICHS'] 157 in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools in the district." The trial court ordered the District to make a return on the writ by December 14, 2010 describing the actions it took in conformity therewith. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1108.)*fn3

No appeal from the judgment issuing the writ was filed and so that judgment is final. (City of Carmel-By-The-Sea v. Board of Supervisors (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 964, 970 (City of Carmel).) Instead, the District filed a Statement of Compliance with Judgment/Anticipatory Return on the Writ, explaining that it had satisfied the writ's directives by offering LAICHS space at Belmont High School.

LAICHS opposed the return arguing that the District did not provide sufficient evidence for its decision to offer facilities at Belmont High School and the costs associated with the proposed facilities constituted an illegal rent. LAICHS also requested a hearing on the money damages through the date the District complied with the writ (Code Civ. Proc., § 1095).

After a hearing on the District's return, the trial court ruled that the District's offer of facilities at Belmont High School complied with the writ and the relevant provisions of the Education Code and its regulations. The court ruled that the District had considered all legally relevant factors and provided sufficient evidence demonstrating a rational connection between those factors, the choice made, and the purposes of the enabling statute. The court also rejected LAICHS' challenge to the offer's facilities cost. After calendaring a hearing on the money damages issue,*fn4 the court discharged the writ in January 2011. LAICHS filed this timely appeal from the order discharging the writ. Additional facts will be discussed below.

DISCUSSION

1. This issue is not moot.

Preliminarily, we address the threshold contention raised by the District that the issue on appeal is moot.*fn5 " 'A case is moot when any ruling by this court can have no practical impact or provide the parties effectual relief. [Citation.]' " (Carson Citizens for Reform v. Kawagoe (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 357, 364.) An appeal will be dismissed where the issues have become moot. (See 9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Appeal, ยง 749 et seq., pp. 814-815.) The writ ordered the District, in pertinent part, to make an offer of facilities to LAICHS for the 2010-2011 school year, the academic year for which LAICHS' Proposition 39 request sought facilities. That academic year and another have long since passed, with the result that we are unable to provide relief. However, an exception to the mootness doctrine is the distinct possibility that the controversy between the parties may recur. (Bullis Charter School v. Los Altos School Dist. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1022, 1034.) Presented with the same mootness question, the court of appeal in Bullis concluded that the recurrence exception applied. ...


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