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State ex rel. St. Louis Charter School v. State Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

August 5, 2014

STATE OF MO EX REL SAINT LOUIS CHARTER SCHOOL, Appellant,
v.
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, AND DEPARTMENT OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION, AND SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE BOARD OF THE TRANSITIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, Respondents

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri. The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge.

Jay A. Summerville, St. Louis, MO, for appellant.

James R. Layton, Jefferson City, MO, for respondents.

Before Division Three: Gary D. Witt, Presiding Judge, Joseph M. Ellis, Judge and Thomas H. Newton, Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Page 438

Gary D. Witt, Presiding Judge.

This is an appeal from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and State Board of Education against the St. Louis Charter School. We conclude that the trial court erroneously declared and applied the law when it granted summary judgment to the State. Implicit in its grant is an interpretation of section 160.415.5[1] that is erroneous.

Page 439

We reverse the judgment and remand with instructions.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[2]

The St. Louis Charter School (" Charter" ) is a charter school created pursuant to the Charter Schools Act, sections 160.400 to 160.425. Charter sued the Missouri State Board of Education (" Board" ) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (" DESE" ) (or collectively the " State" ) to recover state aid which it alleged was underpaid by the St. Louis School District (the " District" ). A charter school is an independent public school that operates within an urban or metropolitan school district. § 160.400. Charter is operated within the District.

During the years in dispute, the state school aid to which Charter was entitled was disbursed by the State to the District, who then disbursed the aid to Charter. Under this system, DESE calculated the District's annual state aid apportionment using a statutory formula and paid that amount to the District in twelve monthly installments. § § 163.031, 163.081.2. For purposes of this calculation, students attending charter schools within the District were counted in the District's enrollment figures because they resided in the District. § 160.415.1. DESE would distribute the state school aid funds to the District, and the District, acting as DESE's disbursal agent, was then responsible for distributing the funds to the charter schools operating within their boundaries within twenty days after receiving each payment from DESE. § § 163.081, 163.087, 160.415.2. The District was required to pay Charter schools an amount calculated pursuant to the statutory formula plus any other state or federal aid received " on account of" children who were attending Charter schools. § § 160.415.2, 163.081.2.

Beginning in July 2006, a charter school was authorized to declare itself to be a " local educational agency" (" LEA" ) and, by doing so, it was to receive its monthly state school aid payments directly from DESE instead of having the aid pass through the District. § 160.415.4. In 2007, Charter declared itself to be an LEA and, beginning with fiscal year (" FY" ) 2007-2008,[3] Charter began receiving its state school aid funds directly from DESE.

Shortly after Charter became an LEA, an independent financial consultant reviewed Charter's past financial operations and found apparent discrepancies between the amount of state aid to which Charter was entitled and the amount of state aid Charter had actually received from the District when the District was acting as the disbursal agent. In letters sent to DESE in early and mid--2007, Charter questioned the amount of the District's payments for FY 2006-2007 and requested DESE's assistance in resolving the matter. In response, DESE told Charter that it was unable to confirm an underpayment

Page 440

and asked Charter to provide copies of monthly payment transmittals it had received from the District.

In October 2008, Charter sent DESE a statement of claims and demand for a resolution and correction of state aid payments pursuant to sections 160.415.5 and 163.091, requesting that DESE adjudicate its claims that the District had underpaid it during each year from FY 2003-2004 through FY 2006-2007, and deduct that amount from DESE's future state school aid payments to the District. By January 21, 2009, DESE had not issued a ruling or indicated a timeframe for when a resolution might be expected. Consequently, Charter filed a petition in the trial court requesting a writ of mandamus compelling DESE and the Board to act. The District moved for leave to intervene, which was granted.

The trial court issued its " Order, Judgment, and Writ of Mandamus" on November 30, 2009. In this order, the court sustained the petition for writ of mandamus and directed DESE " to perform the duty of adjudicating [Charter]'s claims for underpayment forthwith."

Pursuant to an order from the trial court, DESE calculated the underpayment and notified the parties. The order further stated that after it received DESE's calculations, the court would " then determine whether any additional relief is required." DESE calculated the amounts of the underpayment for each disputed fiscal year to be as follows:

FY 2003-2004 = $693,526.27,[4]
FY 2004-2005 = $562,710.62,
FY 2005-2006 = $623,716.13, and
FY 2006-2007 = $1,501,142.44.[5]

In July 2011, the court denied Charter's request for an order requiring payment after finding that " mandamus does not lie to compel the transfer of funds." Charter appealed and this Court dismissed the appeal finding that the judgment was not final in that while it disposed of the mandamus issue by ordering DESE to calculate the amounts of underpayment, it did not address Charter's request for judicial review of DESE's refusal to pay those amounts to Charter. Charter I, 376 S.W.3d at 718.

Following our dismissal of the appeal, Charter filed a second amended petition. In Count I, Charter asked the court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering DESE to perform its statutory duty of resolving the dispute by determining the final amount of money owed Charter and ordering that amount to be paid. In Count II, in the alternative, Charter requested an administrative review of DESE's decision should the court determine that DESE " made a final administrative determination with respect to its requests." The State

Page 441

then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in which it requested that the trial court issue a judgment finding that the State " is not required to withhold funds payable from state appropriations payable to the District, and pay over the amounts withheld from the District" to Charter for school years 2003-2007. Attached to its motion was DESE's final calculation of underpayment amounts for school years 2003-2007.

On August 5, 2013, the trial court granted the State's motion for judgment and entered judgment for the State " on all remaining claims for relief in Counts I and II of Charter's Second Amended Petition." [6] This appeal follows. Further facts are set forth below as necessary.

ANALYSIS

In Point One, Charter argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to DESE and in refusing to direct DESE to pay Charter the sums that were underpaid because the court erroneously declared and applied section 160.415.5[7] to mean that DESE did not have a duty to authorize payment to Charter and in finding that mandamus did not lie to compel payment. In Point Two, Charter contends that, in addition, the court further erred in its grant of summary judgment because DESE's administrative decision to deny payment was in excess of its statutory authority. We agree with Charter for reasons stated in Point One and reverse with instructions.

Standard of Review

We review the grant of summary judgment de novo. Carroll v. Mo. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 113 S.W.3d 654, 656 (Mo. App. W.D. 2003). " '[S]ummary judgment is appropriate when the moving party establishes that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Howard v. Mo. Dep't of Corr., 341 S.W.3d 857, 858 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011) (quoting O.L. v. R.L., 62 S.W.3d 469, 473 (Mo. App. W.D. 2001)). " The fact that it was a summary judgment in a writ of mandamus action does not affect our standard of review." State ex rel. Outcom, Inc. v. City of Peculiar, 350 S.W.3d 57, 62 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

DESE's determination as to the amounts of the underpayments, as well as its determination that its only obligation was to calculate the amount of underpayments but not pay them, were administrative determinations based on DESE's interpretation of section 160.415.5. Because section 160.415.5 does not require a hearing, both of DESE's determinations are categorized as non-contested. City of Valley Park v. Armstrong, 273 S.W.3d 504, 507 (Mo. banc 2009). Review of a non-contested case is governed by section 536.150. Sch. Dist. of Kansas City v. Mo. Bd. of Fund Comm'rs, 384 S.W.3d 238, 264 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012) (citing City of Valley Park, 273 S.W.3d at 508)). If judicial review is requested pursuant to section 536.150, the trial court is obliged to review de novo DESE's determination that it had no further duty to pay the ...


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