Lopez v. Board of Education of the City of Bridgeport
A quo warranto action may not be utilized to avoid the administrative process by mounting a collateral attack on an administrative agency’s decision to issue a license, certification or waiver that renders a public officer qualified to hold his or her position. Stefan Pryor, Commissioner of Education, approved the Bridgeport Board of Education’s selection of Paul Vallas to serve as acting superintendent of schools. Vallas previously served as chief executive officer of the Chicago and Philadelphia public school systems and New Orleans’ superintendent of schools. Vallas was uncertified as a school superintendent in Connecticut. The State Board of Education approved an independent study course for Vallas. Following its completion, the commissioner waived certification pursuant to C.G.S. §10-157(b)(c), finding Vallas exceptionally qualified as a permanent superintendent. Carmen Lopez and Deborah Reyes-Williams brought this action for a writ of quo warranto seeking Vallas’ removal. The trial court granted the writ. Vallas appealed, challenging the trial court’s finding that he was not qualified to serve because he had not completed the “school leadership program” required by C.G.S. §10-157(b), notwithstanding the commissioner and board’s contrary conclusions. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The trial court exceeded the bounds of its quo warranto jurisdiction in determining, as a matter of statutory interpretation and finding of fact, that Vallas was unqualified for his position. A quo warranto action may not be used to challenge the underlying administrative determinations made by the board and commissioner qualifying Vallas to serve. Although a first impression issue in Connecticut, numerous sister state decisions demonstrated the existence of a century old common-law rule that, absent fraud allegations, a quo warranto action may not be used to mount a collateral attack on a governmental agency’s licensing or certification decision that qualified an individual to hold office. Connecticut’s quo warranto case law was consistent with this common-law rule. The rule followed the separation of powers principles underlying the exhaustion doctrine. Given that the legislature, through C.G.S. §10-157(b) and (c), placed the determination of Vallas’ eligibility squarely in the hands of an executive branch agency with the greatest expertise in the administration of public education, the Supreme Court was loath to second-guess that determination in the guise of deciding a quo warranto action. The challenge was not raised in the appropriate administrative forum.