Charter Schools - Statutory Construction - Quorum


Richardson v. Alabama Education Association, et al., [Ms. 1170737, 1170706, 1170724, Mar. 8, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2019). The Court (Bolin, J.; Parker, C.J., and Wise, Sellers, and Mendheim, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in the result; Shaw and Stewart, JJ., dissent) reverses a judgment of the Montgomery Circuit Court invalidating a decision of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission approving the application of LEAD Education Foundation to open a public charter school.

The circuit court invalidated the decision because it concluded that the Commission’s five-to-one vote did not constitute a majority of the ten-member Commission. Ms. *11.

The Court first rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the controversy was mooted by the failure of LEAD to sign a contract with the Commission. The Court concluded that the deadline for executing the contract was equitably tolled because LEAD had acted diligently in its effort to execute the charter contract. Ms. *19. The Court noted that “[t]he plaintiffs’ own legal maneuvering ... is the very reason for any delay by LEAD in executing the contract. Thus, our interest in preventing litigants from attempting to manipulate the court’s jurisdiction to insulate a favorable decision from review further counsels against a finding of mootness here.” Ms. *20 (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Court noted that in regard to the merits “[t]he decision is a matter of statutory construction” and that

Words used in a statute must be given their natural, plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, and where plain language is used a court is bound to interpret that language to mean exactly what it says. If the language of the statute is unambiguous, then there is no room for judicial construction and the clearly expressed intent of the Legislature must be given effect.

Ms. *22, 23 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Applying these settled rules of statutory construction, the Court concluded that only a majority vote of a six-member quorum of the Commission is necessary to approve the application to open a charter school. “When the first and second sentences [of § 16-6F-6(c)(9), Ala. Code 1975] are read together and in the context of the entire statute, it is clear that a majority vote of a quorum of the Commission is sufficient. The ‘majority vote of the commission’ clause, which follows immediately the clause allowing the Commission to act by a quorum of six, is obviously meant to be a majority vote of the Commission transacting business as a quorum.” Ms. *26.

The Court noted that “‘in the absence of a contrary statutory provision, a majority of a quorum constituted of a simple majority is empowered to act for the body. Where the enabling statute is silent on the question, the body is justified in adhering to the common-law rule.’” Ms. *27, quoting F.T.C. v. Flotill Prods., Inc., 389 U.S. 179, 183-84 (1967).

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