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Mar 20, 2014

A mundane lesson from an important decision, or, the importance of presenting evidence

ABSTRACT: The plaintiff has the burden of proving standing, which is a jurisdictional issue that can be raised at any time.

While many Kansans eagerly awaited the Kansas Supreme Court main decision on the constitutionality of school finance, the court also issued a holding reminding counsel that plaintiffs must prove standing, and defendants may raise this jurisdictional issue at any time.

In Gannon v. State, individual plaintiffs and school districts brought claims against the State of Kansas alleging that the legislature’s school funding formula was unconstitutional. The defendant argued that the individual plaintiffs’ failed to present “evidence identifying at least one of the individual plaintiffs by name and establishing that he or she attended public school in Kansas.”

No individual plaintiffs testified, and plaintiffs’ attorney admitted at oral argument that no evidence was presented regarding the student plaintiffs except for the petition and one trial witness. 

Plaintiffs argued that their amended petition, entered into evidence by stipulation, proved standing by identifying each plaintiff. However, where the parties only stipulate to admissibility, and not that exhibits are “accurate and true,” the stipulation is enforceable only to the extent of that agreed-upon condition, and the amended petition’s identification of individual plaintiffs did not meet the plaintiffs’ burden to show standing.

Plaintiffs also argued that one witness testified at trial that one plaintiff attended the Kansas City Kansas school district. Nobody else testified regarding any of the individual plaintiffs. The district court held that the testimony of one person, in this case, was insufficient to establish the elements of standing by a preponderance of the evidence for any of the individually named plaintiffs.

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed that the individual plaintiffs failed to establish that they had standing to bring claims and dismissed the individual plaintiffs’ claims.

The full opinion of the case may be found online here.