A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court decided Davis v. Fresno Unified School District, a case concerning a challenge to a school construction financing agreement. The opinion addressed only a procedural issue — whether the challenge could proceed, and the court held that it could. But you wouldn’t know that from some press reports, which said the court had resolved the challenge itself, determining the contract was invalid.

A Fresno Bee story’s lede said, “the California Supreme Court ruled that the controversial lease-leaseback contract between Fresno Unified School District and Harris Construction that built Gaston Middle School was illegal.”  Similarly, a veteran political observer wrote a column saying the court “declared” that “the Harris deal” was not “a legitimate contract protected under state law” and that “now the Supreme Court is telling school officials and contractors to play fairly or suffer the consequences.”

It’s true that the opinion’s introduction didn’t make clear the limited procedural significance of the single question it was addressing. However, the disposition said that “the litigation can proceed” as a taxpayer action. The opinion also noted that the Courts of Appeal disagree whether a lease-leaseback agreement is allowed for certain types of projects, but it then said, “that split of authority is not before us.” (Original italics.)

This isn’t the first time a news organization has misled its readers about action taken by the court. See: How not to cover the Supreme Court.

[May 24 update: Daniel Gligich has a more accurate — and detailed — look at the Davis case in The San Joaquin Valley Sun. He writes, “While media reports distilled the high court opinion to mean that justices found the contract between the school district and its contractor ‘illegal,’ the opinion offered a slightly more nuanced view.”]