The Paul Vallas Case Ctd.Posted: November 14, 2013
The Supreme Court just released its decision in Lopez, et al. v. Bridgeport Board of Education, et al.,, otherwise known as the Paul Vallas case, about which I have previously posted. The Supreme Court held that absent fraud, a quo warranto action can not be used to mount a collateral attack on an administrative agency’s determination that a public officer is qualified to hold his position. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the trial court (which had ruled that Mr. Vallas could not hold the office of superintendent) and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint.
Mr. Vallas recently announced that he was leaving his position to run for Lt. Governor of Illinois. Many of us at the bar had wondered whether that announcement rendered the appeal moot. The Court apparently thought otherwise. I’m not sure I agree.
The well-established rule is that an actual controversy must exist thoughout the pendancy of a case, including the appeal, for a court to have jurisdiction:
For a case to be justiciable, it is required, among other things, that there be an actual controversy between or among the parties to the dispute…. The requirement of an actual controversy … is premised upon the notion that courts are called upon to determine existing controversies, and thus may not be used as a vehicle to obtain advisory judicial opinions on points of law…. Moreover, [a]n actual controversy must exist not only at the time the appeal is taken, but also throughout the pendency of the appeal…. When, during the pendency of an appeal, events have occurred that preclude an appellate court from granting any practical relief through its disposition of the merits, a case has become moot.
See State v. T.D., 286 Conn. 353, 361 (2008) (emphasis supplied) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
What practical relief could be granted now that Vallas has said he is leaving his job? I suppose until he actually leaves, he could change his mind.
Here’s what I think happened: The Supreme Court had completed writing its decision before Vallas made the announcement he was leaving. All that was left was for the Court to officially release the decision. I think the Court–having put the time and effort into writing a thoughtful decision–decided to release it, notwithstanding the very real possibility that the controversy was moot.
Anyone have a counter-argument? I’d love to hear it.
A reader forwarded me a very thoughtful response to the mootness issue. He/she writes:
There is an exception to mootness doctrine where prejudicial collateral consequences will remain even after events cause the matter to be moot. There are a number of cases that found harm to reputation under this exception. See, e.g., Putman v. Kennedy, 279 Conn. 162, 900 A.2d 1256 (2006) (defendant’s otherwise moot appeal of expired domestic violence restraining order reviewable because of its reasonably possible negative impact on reputation in community); Williams v. Ragaglia, 261 Conn. 219, 802 A.2d 778 (2002) (appeal from revocation of plaintiff’s special study foster care license as consequence for violating foster care regulations was not rendered moot by grant to plaintiff of permanent custody of foster children at issue because of revocation’s effect on her reputation and fact that revocation could be used against her in future department of children and families proceedings if she wanted to become foster parent again); State v. McElveen, supra, 261 Conn. 198, 802 A.2d 74 (appeal from conviction of violation of probation was not rendered moot by defendant’s completion of his sentence because conviction could impact his reputation and ability to obtain employment or pre-conviction bail in future); Statewide Grievance Committee v. Whitney, 227 Conn. 829, 633 A.2d 296 (1993) (attorney’s otherwise moot appeal of expired suspension reviewable because of collateral consequences to attorney’s reputation). Vallas would certainly be able to claim that leaving the Superior Court’s decision finding him disqualified for the superintendent’s position and the other related findings were reputational harms that fall within the collateral consequences exception to mootness.