California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Bernardino
County No. CIVDS1710045, David S. Cohn, Judge. Reversed and
remanded with directions.
Theodora Oringher, Brian J. Headman, Jon-Jamison Hill;
Connor, Fletcher & Hedenkamp, Edmond M. Connor, Matthew
J. Fletcher, and Douglas A. Hedenkamp for Plaintiff and
California Charter Schools Association, Ricardo J. Soto,
Julie Ashby Umansky, and Phillipa Altmann for amicus curiae
on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.
Offices of Margaret A. Chidester & Associates, Dylan E.
Conroy, Steven R. Chidester, and Margaret A. Chidester for
Defendants and Respondents.
HUFFMAN, ACTING P. J.
appeal arising from a mandamus action in the superior court
presents novel issues regarding the proper scope of judicial
review of a school district's decision to deny a petition
to renew a charter school. Below, the trial court concluded
it had to apply an extremely deferential standard of review
because it believed the governing board of the Chino Valley
Unified School District (District) was performing a
quasi-legislative action when it denied the renewal petition
submitted by Oxford Preparatory Academy (the Academy), an
existing charter school within the District. Finding that the
District's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, the
trial court denied the Academy's writ petition.
appeal, the Academy contends the trial court applied the
incorrect standard of review because the District's
decision was quasi-judicial in nature and, therefore, the
trial court should have applied a less deferential standard
matter of first impression, we conclude that a school
district's decision pursuant to Education Code sections
47605 and 47607 to deny a charter school's renewal
petition is a quasi-judicial action subject to review via a
petition for administrative mandamus. In considering a
renewal petition, the school district is not acting in a
legislative function by creating new policy, but rather
performing a quasi-judicial function by applying existing
standards and rules defined by state statute to determine
whether the evidence presented by the charter school
regarding its past performance is sufficient to satisfy those
standards. The applicable statutes allow the District to deny
a renewal petition only after conducting a hearing and making
specific factual findings. This process bears all the
hallmarks of a quasi-judicial action. Additionally, we
conclude that after a charter school's initial petition
is approved by a school district, the petitioner has a
fundamental vested right to continue operating the charter
school such that a school district's decision that
deprives the petitioner of that right is subject to
independent judicial review.
trial court did not apply these standards when reviewing the
District's decision. Accordingly, we must reverse and
remand for reconsideration of the Academy's writ petition
under the correct standards.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
2009, the District granted the Academy's initial petition
to open a charter school within the District. The Academy
opened in the fall of 2010 for its first school year and
ultimately enrolled approximately 1, 200 children in
kindergarten through eighth grade.
the end of its initial two-year charter, the Academy sought
and obtained a five-year renewal to operate its charter
school through June 30, 2017. As the end of the renewal
period approached, the Academy submitted a petition for
renewal to the District in January 2016. Due to concerns
regarding financial irregularities and the Academy's
governance structure, the District board denied the renewal
petition in March 2016.
response, the Academy made significant changes to its
structure and financial relationships to address the
District's concerns. It then submitted a new renewal
petition reflecting these changes in September 2016. In its
617-page petition, the Academy detailed its academic success
over the past five years, relying on academic test scores and
other metrics to claim it was "the top performing K-8
public school in San Bernardino County."
required by state law, the District held a public hearing on
the renewal petition in October 2016. At its next meeting in
November, the District board voted unanimously to deny the
renewal petition. In a detailed 62-page resolution, the board
made numerous findings of fact to support its conclusions
that: (1) the Academy was "demonstrably unlikely to
successfully implement the program set forth in the...
charter renewal petition. [Citation]"; (2) the
"renewal petition fails to contain reasonably
comprehensive descriptions of eight of the fifteen required
elements of a charter petition. [Citation]"; and (3) the
"charter renewal petition fails to provide all of the
required affirmations and assurances required to comply with
California State law. [Citation.]" (Boldface omitted.)
the procedures defined by state law, the Academy appealed the
District's decision to the San Bernardino County Office
of Education, which declined to consider the appeal. The
Academy then appealed to the California State Board of
Education, which denied the appeal.
Academy then sought judicial relief. It filed a petition for
writ of mandate in the superior court and requested a
temporary restraining order to allow it to continue operation
during the pendency of the lawsuit. The trial court granted
the restraining order pending its final decision.
Academy argued that it was seeking writ relief under sections
1094.5 and 1085 of the Code of Civil Procedure. It argued the
trial court should apply its independent judgment to
determine whether the District's decision was supported
by the weight of the evidence.
District responded by claiming that the trial court should
instead apply a deferential standard of review limited to
"an examination of whether the agency's actions were
arbitrary, capricious, or entirely lacking in evidentiary
hearing on the petition, the court focused on determining the
proper standard of judicial review. As the court explained,
it believed "the linchpin of this analysis is whether
this is quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial." The court
expressed its belief that if the District's decision was
quasi-judicial and the heightened standard of review applied,
it did not believe the District made the necessary findings
to support its denial of the charter renewal petition. In the
end, the court conceded this was a "very close
case," but concluded the District's decision was
quasi-legislative. Applying the deferential standard of
review, the court then denied the writ petition.
court subsequently entered a judgment in favor of the
District. The Academy appeals.
The District's ...