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Waters of Life Local School Board v. Charter School Review Panel

October 21, 2011

WATERS OF LIFE LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD, WATERS OF LIFE PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, RUDOLPH WEBSTER, CARRIE RUSS, AND ROSE TORRES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
CHARTER SCHOOL REVIEW PANEL, CHARTER SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE STATE OF HAWAII, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OF THE STATE OF HAWAII, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 09-1-0225)

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

FOR PUBLICATION IN WEST'S HAWAII REPORTS AND PACIFIC REPORTER

FOLEY, PRESIDING J., FUJISE AND LEONARD, JJ.

OPINION OF THE COURT BY FOLEY, J.

Defendants-Appellants Charter School Review Panel (Panel), Charter School Administrative Office (CSAO), Board of Education of the State of Hawaii (BOE), and Department of Education of the State of Hawaii (DOE) (collectively, Defendants) appeal from the Final Judgment filed on March 18, 2010 in the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit *fn1 (circuit court).

The circuit court entered the Final Judgment in accordance with its "Memorandum of Decision, Order, and Judgment" filed on July 31, 2009. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs-Appellees Waters of Life Local School Board (Waters of Life Board); Waters of Life Public Charter School (Waters of Life School); Rudolph Webster, Carrie Russ, and Rose Torres (Waters of Life School Parents) (collectively, Plaintiffs) and against Defendants on all of Plaintiffs' claims.

On appeal, Defendants contend the circuit court erred when it

(1) did not dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint for injunctive relief for lack of jurisdiction and erroneously found that Waters of Life Board was an entity separate and apart from Waters of Life School and, as a separate entity, was not precluded under Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 302B-9(d) (2007 Repl.) from bringing action for such relief;

(2) failed to find that Plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies;

(3) failed to find that Waters of Life School Parents did not have a private right of action; and

(4) failed to find that Waters of Life School Parents did not have standing before the circuit court to bring the underlying case.

I.

HRS Chapter 302B, titled Public Charter Schools,

authorizes Panel, which is administratively attached to DOE, "to issue and revoke charters, approve detailed implementation plan revisions, and conduct charter school evaluations." HRS §§ 302B- 3(a) (Supp. 2008) & 302B-1 (2007 Repl.).

On May 2, 2008, in response to concerns about Waters of Life School, Panel held proceedings related to the operational viability of the school. On June 12, 2008, pursuant to its authority under HRS § 302B-14(d)(5) & (6) (2007 Repl.), Panel placed Waters of Life School on probationary status for one year for alleged deficiencies related to facility health and safety issues, fiscal management, and its detailed implementation plan. At the end of the probationary period, Panel conducted a hearing on June 18, 2009 and subsequently revoked Waters of Life School's charter.*fn2

On June 23, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a complaint for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and appointment of a receiver. On June 25, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a "Motion for

Temporary Injunctive Relief and Appointment of a Receiver"

(Motion for Injunctive Relief). On July 8, 2009, Defendants filed a "Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for

Summary Judgment on Complaint Filed on June 23, 2009" (Motion to Dismiss).

On July 15, 2009, the circuit court heard arguments on Plaintiffs' Motion for Injunctive Relief. At the hearing, after the circuit court stated it would issue a preliminary injunction, the parties stipulated to a permanent injunction to expedite the appeals process. On July 31, 2009, the circuit court issued its "Memorandum of Decision, Order, and Judgment." Defendants withdrew their Motion to Dismiss on August 3, 2009.

On August 28, 2009, Defendants filed a notice of appeal, which appeal this court dismissed on December 23, 2009 for lack of appellate jurisdiction because no final judgment had been entered. On March 18, 2010, the circuit court entered its Final Judgment. Defendants timely filed their notice of appeal.

II.

A. Standing

"Whether the circuit court has jurisdiction to hear the plaintiffs' complaint presents a question of law, reviewable de novo. A plaintiff without standing is not entitled to invoke a court's jurisdiction. Thus, the issue of standing is reviewed de novo on appeal." Right to Know Comm. v. City Council, City & County of Honolulu, 117 Hawaii 1, 7, 175 P.3d 111, 117 (App. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The existence of jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo under the right/wrong standard. Questions regarding subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of a cause of action. When reviewing a case where the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, the appellate court retains jurisdiction, not on the merits, but for the purpose of correcting the error in jurisdiction. A judgment rendered by a circuit court without subject matter jurisdiction is void.

Lingle v. Hawaii Gov't Employees Ass'n, AFSCME, Local 152, AFL- CIO, 107 Hawaii 178, 182, 111 P.3d 587, 591 (2005) (quoting Amantiad v. Odum, 90 Hawaii 152, 158-59, 977 P.2d 160, 166-67 (1999)).

C. Statutory Interpretation

Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law to be reviewed de novo under the right/wrong standard.

Our statutory construction is guided by the following well established principles: our foremost obligation is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which is to be obtained primarily from the language contained in the statute itself. And we must read statutory language in the context of the entire statute and construe it in a manner consistent with its purpose.

When there is doubt, doubleness of meaning, or indistinctiveness or uncertainty of an expression used in a statute, an ambiguity exists.

In construing an ambiguous statute, the meaning of the ambiguous words may be sought by examining the context, with which the ambiguous words, phrases, and sentences may be compared, in order to ascertain their true meaning. Moreover, the courts may resort to extrinsic aids in determining legislative intent. One avenue is the use of legislative history as an interpretive tool.

[The appellate] court may also consider the reason and spirit of the law, and the cause which induced the legislature to enact it to discover its true meaning.

Lingle, 107 Hawaii at 183, 111 P.3d at 592 (internal quotation marks, brackets in original, and ellipses omitted) (quoting Guth v. Freeland, 96 Hawaii ...


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