Board of Ed. of Green Mountain Independent School Dist. v. Iowa State Bd. of Public Instruction

Decision Date09 April 1968
Docket NumberNo. 52870,52870
Citation157 N.W.2d 919,261 Iowa 1203
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Haupert, Robertson & Johnson, and Mote, Wilson & Welp, Marshalltown, for appellants.

David B. Hendrickson, and Elizabeth Nolan, Asst. Attys. Gen., Des Moines, for appellee.

LeGRAND, Justice.

We are required by this appeal to determine the propriety of certain acts of defendant in connection with proceedings affecting Marion Independent School District #4, Green Mountain Independent School District, and Marshalltown Independent School District, all in Marshall County, Iowa. The governing statute is 275.1, Code, 1966, the pertinent part of which provides, '* * * It is further declared to be the policy of the state that all the area of the state shall be in a district maintaining twelve grades by July 1, 1966. If any area of the state is not a part of such a district by April 1, 1966, or is not included in a reorganization petition filed in accordance with section 275.12 on or before April 1, 1966, the area shall be attached by the county board of education to a district, or districts maintaining twelve grades, such attachment to become effective July 1, 1966, and provided such attachment has the approval of the state board of public instruction. Any such district or part thereof attached by the county board of education, with the approval of the state board of public instruction, shall have the right to appeal this attachment to a court of record in the county in which said district or part thereof is located within twenty (20) days after the date of the approval by the state board of public instruction.'

Prior to April 1, 1966 an attempt to merge the Marion district with the Marshalltown district as provided in chapter 275 had failed, and on that date the Marion district neither maintained 12 grades, nor was it included as part of any reorganization petition filed upon section 275.12, Code, 1966. It was therefore within the statutory directive requiring the Marshall County Board of Education to attach it to a 12-grade district by July 1, 1966. The parties have been unable to agree which district that shall be, Green Mountain Independent School District or Marshalltown Independent School District. Pending the outcome of this appeal, it stands attached to Marshalltown Independent School District.

For convenience the school districts involved are hereafter referred to simply as Marion, Green Mountain, and Marshalltown.

I. Plaintiffs brought this district court action in certiorari to challenge the legality of defendant's order of June 28, 1966, rescinding its previous order of June 16, 1966. The June 16th order approved attachment of Marion to Green Mountain; the June 28th order withdrew that approval. Plaintiffs attack both the authority of defendant to take this action and the manner in which it did so. The district court found against plaintiffs and dismissed their petition. If defendant had jurisdiction and did not exceed its statutory power, the trial court must be affirmed. The function of certiorari is to test the authority of an inferior tribunal, not the correctness of its findings. Rule 306, Rules of Civil Procedure; Hohl v. Board of Education, 250 Iowa 502, 508, 94 N.W.2d 787; Iowa-Illinois Gas & Electric Company v. Gaffney, 256 Iowa 1029, 1041, 129 N.W.2d 832. Certiorari is a law action and this appeal is not de novo. We are bound by the trial court's findings if they have substantial support in the evidence. Rule 318, Rules of Civil Procedure; 14 C.J.S. Certiorari § 172, p. 311; Grant v. Norris, 249 Iowa 236, 253, 85 N.W.2d 261; Hubka v. County Board of Education, 251 Iowa 659, 664, 102 N.W.2d 167; Iowa-Illinois Gas & Electric Company v. Gaffney, supra.

Plaintiffs allege two assignments of error: (1) The defendant's order of June 16, 1966, approving the attachment of Marion to Green Mountain was a finality and defendant had no authority thereafter to rescind it; (2) Even if such authority did exist, defendant acted in such a capricious, arbitrary and illegal manner that its subsequent order of June 28, 1966 is void and cannot stand.

II. Before discussing plaintiffs' first assignment of error, we briefly outline the background of this dispute. Prior to April 1, 1966, a merger of Marion and Marshalltown was attempted under section 275.40, Code, 1966. This merger failed. On April 11, 1966, the Marshall County Board of Education voted to attach part of Marion to Marshalltown, and part to Green Mountain. The defendant, whose approval to any attachment between districts is required by section 275.1, refused to sanction this split plan. Therefore, it too failed On June 14, 1966, the Marshall County Board considered a motion to attach Marion to Marshalltown. This proposal was defeated by a three-to-two vote. It next considered attaching Marion to Green Mountain; this was adopted by a three-to-two vote. On June 16th, acting under the authority of 275.1, defendant approved the attachment of Marion to Green Mountain. However, this by no means ended the matter. Almost immediately defendant had misgivings about its approval. On the very next day a proposal to reconsider barely failed by a four-to-four vote. Then on June 28th, perilously close to the July 1st date upon which the attachment of Marion to Green Mountain would have become effective under section 275.1, defendant rescinded its approval of June 16th and returned the problem to the Marshall County Board of Education 'to re-evaluate, reaffirm * * * or re-assign.' On June 30th the Marshall County Board of Education, reversing its own June 14th decision, voted unanimously to attach Marion to Marshalltown. There the dispute rests. Pending outcome of this appeal, defendant has neither approved hor disapproved this last attachment resolution.

The parties agree our determination is not controlled by the statutory provisions relating to mergers or reorganizations. This is a proceeding contesting the attachment of one district to another as provided for under section 275.1. As we point out in Division III, infra, the statutory requirements for attachment are entirely different from those by which mergers and reorganizations are effected.

Although we have considered a seemingly endless stream of cases dealing with school districts, the present cause is unique. We have not heretofore been called upon to decide the precise question it raises.

It is this: Once the defendant approved the attachment of Marion to Green Mountain, on June 16, 1966, did it thereby lose jurisdiction to later withdraw that approval and rescind that order? If so, the subsequent order of June 28, 1966, is a nullity and Marion stands attached to Green Mountain. There is authority permitting either an affirmative or negative answer to this inquiry. An annotation on the subject appears at 73 A.L.R.2d, page 939.

Defendant is an administrative body created by statute and enjoys only such powers as the legislature has given it. Brighton Independent School District v. County Board of Education, 252 Iowa 734, 737, 108 N.W.2d 510; Springville Community School District v. Iowa Department of Public Instruction, 252 Iowa 907, 914, 109 N.W.2d 213, and citations.

Those jurisdictions which hold an administrative decision, once made, is final, usually do so on the ground there should be an end to controversy and interested parties, subject only to whatever right of appeal the statute grants, should be able to rely upon the certainty of a formal determination by such body. Annotation, 73 A.L.R.2d 939, 943; Murdock v. Perkins, 219 Ga. 756, 135 S.E.2d 869. However, attention is also called to the dissenting opinion in that case. The opposite view holds the purposes for which the administrative body was created should be protected by the courts, and reconsideration of prior decisions should be permitted to serve the ends of essential justice and the policy of the law. 2 Am.Jur.2d, Administrative Law, 520--523, page 329; Anchor Casualty Company v. Bongards Co-operative Creamery Association, 253 Minn. 101, 91 N.W.2d 122, 73 A.L.R.2d 933.

Even when a redetermination is permitted, courts usually require that certain circumstances be first shown. A review of authorities assembled in the annotation in 73 A.L.R.2d, supra, discloses one or more of the following are most generally relied on: (1) The original order must not have become final; (2) Rights of interested persons must not have become vested; (3) There must be no statutory prohibition against such reconsideration; and (4) The board making the order must not have lost jurisdiction by reason of appeal from its finding. See also 2 Am.Jur.2d, Administrative Law, sections 520--523, page 329.

It is significant here that All these are present. When defendant acted on June 28th, the original order had not yet become effective; no right had become vested and no change of position in reliance thereon is shown; our statute does not prohibit reconsideration of a prior decision; and, the limited right of appeal granted by section 275.1 had not been exercised.

We might mention, too, what little language there is in section 275.1 relative to defendant's approval of attachment proceedings favors the right to reconsider. The statute declared a proposed attachment would become effective July 1, 1966, 'provided such attachment Has the approval of the state board of public instruction.' (Emphasis added.) We take this to mean such approval must exist on the date the attachment takes effect. If this be true, it must necessarily follow that approval previously given could be withdrawn prior to July 1. This conclusion is strengthened by Davies v. Monona County Board of Education, 257 Iowa 985, 991, 135 N.W.2d 663, 666, where we tacitly recognized the right of an administrative body to change its...

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