Indep. Sch. Dist. of Okla. Cnty. v. Hofmeister

Decision Date23 June 2020
Docket NumberNo. 117,081,117,081
Citation473 P.3d 475
Parties INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT # 52 OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY (Midwest City-Del City); Independent School District #57 of Garfield County (Enid); Independent School District #71 of Kay County (Ponca City); and Independent School District #89 of Oklahoma County (Oklahoma City), Plaintiffs/Appellants, v. Joy HOFMEISTER, Superintendent of Oklahoma State Department of Education; Oklahoma Tax Commission; and Ken Miller, Oklahoma State Treasurer, Defendants/Appellees, and Tulsa Public School District, I-1 of Tulsa County; Sand Springs Public School District, I-2 of Tulsa County; Broken Arrow Public School District, I-3 of Tulsa County; Bixby Public School System, I-4 of Tulsa County; Jenks Public School District, I-5 of Tulsa County; Union Public School District, I-9 of Tulsa County and Owasso Public School District, I-11 of Tulsa County and Oklahoma Public Charter School Association, Intervenor Defendants/Appellees, Western Heights Independent School District No. 1-41 of Oklahoma County, Plaintiff, v. The State of Oklahoma ex rel., Oklahoma State Department of Education; Oklahoma State Board of Education; Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for The State of Oklahoma; Oklahoma Tax Commission; and Ken Miller, Oklahoma State Treasurer, Defendants/Appellees.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

473 P.3d 475

INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT # 52 OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY (Midwest City-Del City); Independent School District #57 of Garfield County (Enid); Independent School District #71 of Kay County (Ponca City); and Independent School District #89 of Oklahoma County (Oklahoma City), Plaintiffs/Appellants,
v.
Joy HOFMEISTER, Superintendent of Oklahoma State Department of Education; Oklahoma Tax Commission; and Ken Miller, Oklahoma State Treasurer, Defendants/Appellees,
and
Tulsa Public School District, I-1 of Tulsa County; Sand Springs Public School District, I-2 of Tulsa County; Broken Arrow Public School District, I-3 of Tulsa County; Bixby Public School System, I-4 of Tulsa County; Jenks Public School District, I-5 of Tulsa County; Union Public School District, I-9 of Tulsa County and Owasso Public School District, I-11 of Tulsa County and Oklahoma Public Charter School Association, Intervenor Defendants/Appellees,

Western Heights Independent School District No. 1-41 of Oklahoma County, Plaintiff,
v.
The State of Oklahoma ex rel., Oklahoma State Department of Education; Oklahoma State Board of Education; Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for The State of Oklahoma; Oklahoma Tax Commission; and Ken Miller, Oklahoma State Treasurer, Defendants/Appellees.

No. 117,081

Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

Filed: June 23, 2020
As Corrected: July 1, 2020
Petition for Rehearing Denied: September 14, 2020


Joe E. Edwards, Clyde A. Muchmore, and Mary H. Tolbert, Crowe & Dunlevy, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiffs/Appellants, Independent School District No. 52 of Oklahoma County (Midwest City-Del City), Independent School District No. 57 of Garfield County (Enid), Independent School District No. 71 of Kay County (Ponca City), and Independent School District No. 89 of Oklahoma County (Oklahoma City).

A. Scott McDaniel, Stacy L. Acord, McDaniel Acord, PLLC, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Intervenor Defendants/Appellees, for Tulsa Public School District I-1 of Tulsa County, Sand Springs Public School District I-2 of Tulsa County, Broken Arrow Public School District I-3 of Tulsa County, Bixby Public School System I-4 of Tulsa County, Jenks Public School District I-5 of Tulsa County, Union Public School District I-9 of Tulsa County, and Owasso Public School District I-11 of Tulsa County.

Melissa Oxford, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Intervenor Defendants/Appellees, for Tulsa Public School District I-1 of Tulsa County, Sand Springs Public School District I-2 of Tulsa County, Broken Arrow Public School District I-3 of Tulsa County, Bixby Public School System I-4 of Tulsa County, Jenks Public School District I-5 of Tulsa County, Union Public School District I-9 of Tulsa County, and Owasso Public School District I-11 of Tulsa County.

Mithun Mansinghani, Solicitor General, and Michael Velchik, Asst. Solicitor General, Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendants/Appellees.

William H. Hickman, Hickman Law Group, PLLC, Norman, Oklahoma, for Intervenor/Appellee, Oklahoma Public Charter School Association.

EDMONDSON, J.

473 P.3d 481

¶1 This case involves the procedure specified in 70 O.S. § 18-118. This statute is used when the State Board of Education requires a school district to return to the Board an excessive payment of State Aid funds. Plaintiffs are allegedly owed State Aid funds and they seek to compel the State Board of Education to audit other schools, demand return of funds, collect funds, and then pay some of these funds to plaintiffs. We read plaintiffs' petition as seeking to compel the State Board of Education to seek an audit from the State Auditor and Inspector. We agree with the trial court that 70 O.S. § 18-118 requires an audit by auditors approved by the State Auditor and Inspector when the Board demands a return of State Aid funds pursuant to the statute.

473 P.3d 482

¶2 The parties raised the issue whether plaintiffs' claims were justiciable and barred by the political question doctrine, but they did not address the plaintiffs' standing to bring their claims. The State Board of Education has a statutory duty to make the correct apportionment to a particular school district regardless of excessive amounts paid to a different school district, and a school district's right to receive the proper apportionment is not necessarily contingent upon the Board's recovery of improper amounts paid to other school districts. A school district lacks a cognizable legal interest and standing in a claim to compel the State Board of Education to fund a lapsed appropriation.

¶3 A standing issue is presented on whether plaintiffs possess a cognizable legal interest in legislatively appropriated funds. The issue of plaintiffs' right to compel the State Board to seek a proper audit, or demand and collect funds from other school districts is premature and may not be adjudicated in this appeal.

I. Case Summary

¶4 School districts located in Midwest City/Del City, Enid, Ponca City, and Oklahoma City1 commenced a legal proceeding in the District Court of Oklahoma County. They sought mandamus relief for several purposes including the payment of additional State Aid funds. The named defendants in the petition were: "Joy Hofmeister, Superintendent of Oklahoma State Department of Education," (OSDE); (2) "Oklahoma Tax Commission," and (3) "Ken Miller, Oklahoma State Treasurer." The schools alleged they had received less State Aid funds between 1992 and 2014 because the OSDE used an incorrect assessment rate in its calculations for State Aid. A fifth school district located in Oklahoma County, Western Heights,2 filed a separate action in the District Court of Oklahoma County and against the OSDE and others.3 This school district also sought mandamus relief and additional State Aid funds.4 Defendants filed an unopposed motion to consolidate the two proceedings in District Court and the court granted the motion.

¶5 An unopposed motion to intervene was filed by seven school districts located in Tulsa County.5 They intervened as defendants and filed an Answer to the petitions filed by the plaintiffs.6 The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association (OPCSA) filed a motion to intervene and it was granted by the trial court.

¶6 Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. They argued the OSDE had agreed plaintiffs had received less than the proper amount of State Aid funds they were entitled to during the years 2004-2014. Plaintiffs argued the OSDE was required to recoup the State Aid funds overpaid to other school districts, and then apportion those funds to school districts such as plaintiffs. They argued their claim was not barred by laches or a three-year statute of limitations.

473 P.3d 483

¶7 State entities argued the case "is about whether there is a clear duty [by mandamus] on SBE [State Board of Education] to take action to withhold payments from some schools and apply those payments to other schools." They argued the summary judgment requested by plaintiffs sought relief against the Oklahoma State Department of Education but not the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Treasurer for the State of Oklahoma, or the Oklahoma State Board of Education. They argued the State Board of Education had certain statutory duties and not the State Department of Education. They then argued the State Board of Education's statutory duty had not been "triggered" because an audit by auditors approved by the State Auditor and Inspector had not been performed. Defendants also asserted laches, and alleged plaintiffs knew for twenty years how the State Aid was supposed to be apportioned, and for at least ten years prior to commencing their legal action knew or suspected that State Aid was incorrectly calculated.

¶8 Intervenors (Tulsa County Schools) filed a motion for summary judgment against plaintiffs. They characterized plaintiffs' action as seeking to (1) correct alleged errors in calculating State Aid to every public school district in the State for a twenty-two year period, 1992-2014, and (2) recoup payments from hundreds of school districts by reducing their current State Aid payments and then transferring these funds to plaintiffs. The Tulsa County school districts argued the plaintiffs "had all the information at their disposal to discern they had been shorted State Aid by no later than 1993, and they did nothing" to correct the error. They asserted laches as a defense. They asserted plaintiffs' claims "present a non-justiciable political question." They also asserted all school districts in the State which received overpayments of State Aid during 1992–2014 must be joined as necessary parties.

¶9 Plaintiffs responded to the motion for summary judgment filed by the intervenors. Plaintiffs objected to the assertion they possessed "actual knowledge" for many years of the "calculation errors" committed by the OSDE. Plaintiffs asserted they did not have the means to discover miscalculations in the State Aid formula. They objected to classifying the legal controversy as a non-justiciable political question.

¶10 Intervenors (Tulsa County) replied to plaintiffs' motion and plaintiffs replied to intervenors' motion for summary judgment. An intervening defendant, Oklahoma Public Charter School Association (OPCSA), filed an objection to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The OPCSA argued State Aid "is the...

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