APPEAL FROM THE MARSHALL CIRCUIT COURT, The Honorable Michael D. Cook, Jr., Cause No. 83-248.
Staton, J., Garrard, P. J., Concurs. Sullivan, J., Dissents Without Opinion.
The South Bend Community School Corporation (School Corporation) provided book fee assistance to parents under the Financial Assistance for School Children Act (Book Fee Statute)[Footnote 1] during School Years 1983-84, 1984-85, and 1985-86. Portage Township and the Portage Township Trustee (hereinafter collectively referred to as Trustee) refused to reimburse the School Corporation for fees provided to those parents the Trustee later determined to be ineligible for book fee assistance. See IC 20-8.1-9-3 and IC 20-8.1-9-7. The School Corporation filed suit against the Trustee, seeking injunctive relief and damages. From the trial court's adverse decision, the School Corporation appeals, raising the following issues:
1. Whether the Trustee possessed the authority to impose on applicants for book fee assistance certain requirements not expressly provided for in the Book Fee Statute.
2. Whether the Trustee possessed the authority to deny an application for book fee assistance when an applicant failed to comply with those requirements.
3. Whether the Trustee abused his discretion in imposing and enforcing those requirements here.[Footnote 2]
During the pre-appeal conference, the parties agreed that certain facts could and should be presented to this Court by stipulation. Those facts are set forth below and shall be used by the Court, along with the record of proceedings, in resolving the appeal in this proceeding:
(1) The South Bend Community School Corporation (School Corporation), is a public school corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Indiana, with authority to operate as a public school system in St. Joseph County, Indiana.
(2) The defendant, Portage Township of St. Joseph County, is a township located in St. Joseph County, and exists and operates under the laws of the State of Indiana, and the defendant, Richard C. Dombrowski, was the Trustee of Portage Township, having taken office July 1, 1982. Dombrowski's term as trustee ended on December 31, 1986. Hereafter the defendants are referred to as the "Trustee."
(3) This action was initiated by the School Corporation for reimbursement of book fee assistance which the School Corporation alleges the Trustee wrongfully denied.
(4) The Financial Assistance for School Children Act ("Book Fee Statute") requires a Township Trustee to adopt and send by certified mail by July 1 of each year, to the School Corporation, Financial Eligibility Standards and Procedures, pursuant to I.C. 20-8.1-9-2.
(5) The School Corporation is required to give notice in "nontechnical language" to parents of the availability of the assistance, the eligibility standards, the procedure for obtaining assistance, and the availability of application forms at a designated school office, together with the manner of appealing an adverse decision.
(6) A parent seeking assistance must then, fill out an application form and submit it to the School Corporation.
(7) The School Corporation then makes a preliminary determination of financial eligibility based upon information in the application, and if the School Corporation determines the applicant is eligible for book fee assistance, the School Corporation sends the application to the Trustee. The Trustee is then to make the final determination as to the eligibility of the applicant.
(8) The Trustee, in making his determination, may either confirm the preliminary determination of the School Corporation on the application or deny the book fee assistance. The Trustee, however, is only to deny assistance if it is determined the parent's income exceeds the Financial Eligibility Standards and Procedures. I.C. 20-8.1-9-7.
(9) The Trustee is to notify the School Corporation of the action taken on the individual application, and if the Trustee does not notify the School Corporation within twenty-one (21) days after receiving the application, the application is considered approved. I.C. 20-8.1-9-7(b).
(10) If an application for book fee assistance is approved, the Trustee is to reimburse the School Corporation for the amount of such assistance. I.C. 20-8.1-9-9.
(11) The Township Trustee has a duty to provide written reasons for denial and notice that the applicant has the right to appeal the Trustee's decision of denial.
(12) As a part of the Financial Eligibility Standards and Procedures of the Trustee beginning in September of 1982, the Trustee required that all applicants for book fee assistance personally appear at his office within seven (7) working days after the Trustee received the approved application from the School Corporation. Hereafter this requirement is referred to as the "Appearance Requirement."
(13) The Trustee summarily denied those applications and applicants without conducting any further investigation into their eligibility if they failed to appear in the time allowed.
(14) The Trustee changed the Appearance Requirement for school years, 1984-85 and 1985-86, so an applicant had twenty-one (21) days to appear, and if the applicant failed to appear, the application was, again, summarily denied.
(15) For the procedures in the 1982-83 school year, the Trustee failed to give proper notice to the School Corporation.
(16) Counsel for the School Corporation and counsel for the Trustee met, discussed and corresponded on procedures for notification of parents of the Trustee's Appearance Requirement.
(17) The "Notice to Parents" is a document given to parents to inform them of the availability of book fee assistance. The School Corporation agreed in 1983, to include in the "Notice to Parents," information regarding the Trustee's Appearance Requirement, while maintaining its position that the same were outside the scope of the statutory authority of the Trustee to implement.
(18) The School Corporation had incorporated in their business briefs for 1983 the Financial Eligibility Standards and Procedures established by the Trustee.
(19) The Financial Eligibility Standards and Procedures established by the Trustee for school years 1983-84 and thereafter have been timely served upon the School Corporation by certified mail.
(20) At the beginning of each semester for the 1982-83 school year and through and including the 1985-86 school year, the School Corporation provided application forms for book fee assistance to parents of children attending schools within the School Corporation, which application forms were prescribed by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
(21) Many parents residing in Portage Township, completed application forms and submitted them to the School Corporation.
(22) The School Corporation made preliminary determinations under I.C. 20-8.1-9-6(a) on which applicants were eligible for book fee assistance.
(23) In accordance with the Book Fee Statute, the School Corporation did not send book fee bills to the parents residing in Portage Township whose application forms it had approved.
(24) The School Corporation forwarded those applications to the Trustee as required by the Book Fee Statute, so the Trustee could make a final determination on whether those applications were eligible for book fee assistance.
(25) The School Corporation timely provided the approved applications to the Trustee and the Trustee timely provided the School Corporation with the denials, except for the 1982-83 school year.
(26) As a result of the Trustee's implementation of his Appearance Requirement, there was a decrease in the number of applications for book fee assistance approved by the Trustee, and a resulting decrease in the amount of book fee assistance reimbursed to the School Corporation by the Trustee.
(27) The School Corporation unilaterally decided to refuse to follow the Trustee's Financial Eligibility Standards and Procedures for the 1983-84, 1984-85 and 1985-86 school years, maintaining its position that the same were outside the scope of the statutory authority of the Trustee to implement.
(28) Since the implementation of the Appearance Requirement by the Trustee and the School Corporation's resulting refusal to provide notice of the Appearance Requirement, the applications for and amount of book fee assistance granted have dramatically decreased.
(29) The net effect of the decrease in the number of applications made and increase in the number of denials made based on the failure of an applicant to appear, has resulted in a substantial amount of money, i.e. in excess of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00) that remains due and owing for book fee rental.
(30) The School Corporation maintains the Trustee has exceeded his statutory authority by imposing his Appearance Requirement. The School Corporation contends the Trustee has no authority to require applicants for assistance to provide the numerous documents required by the Trustee[Footnote 3] in that the Book Fee Statute indicates the Trustee is to rule upon the application "without requiring any additional form." I.C. 20-8.1-9-6(a). The School Corporation further contends the Trustee is only authorized to deny an application where the Trustee "determines that the parent's income exceeds the Financial Eligibility Standards." I.C. 20-8.1-9-7(a). The School Corporation agrees the Trustee has authority to investigate applicants for assistance. The School Corporation maintains the Trustee can, in conducting his investigation, examine his own ...