Jane Doe v. St. Louis Cmty. Coll., ED 104574.

Decision Date11 July 2017
Docket NumberNo. ED 104574.,ED 104574.
Parties Jane DOE, Appellant, v. ST. LOUIS COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Anthony E. Rothert, Jessica M. Steffan, Co-Counsel, 454 Whitter Street, Saint Louis, Mo. 63108, Gillian R. Wilcox, Co-Counsel, 3601 Main Street, Kansas City, Mo. 64111, for appellant.

Ian P. Cooper, 34 N. Meramec Ave, Mollie E. Hennessee, Co-Counsel, Suite 600, Clayton, Mo. 63105, for respondent.

OPINION

Angela T. Quigless, P.J.

Jane Doe ("Ms. Doe") appeals from a judgment of the Circuit Court of St. Louis County entered in favor of St. Louis Community College ("St. Louis Community College" or "SLCC") denying her petition for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, which sought to prevent SLCC from charging her tuition at the international student rate rather than the in-district tuition rate. Ms. Doe argues the trial court erred in interpreting 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010(7) (2015)1 as excluding her from establishing in-state residency for purposes of calculating her tuition rate. We affirm the judgment.

Factual and Procedural Background

At all times relevant to this case, Ms. Doe has lived in St. Louis County, Missouri, within the St. Louis Community College District. Ms. Doe is neither a citizen of the United States nor does she possess any lawful immigration status. She was brought to the United States as a child, and has lived in Missouri continuously for the past ten years.

In 2012, Ms. Doe applied for and was granted "deferred action" through a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA"). This program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), an administrative agency of the executive branch of the federal government. Deferred action grants individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States a formal reprieve from the risk of being removed from the country. So long as her DACA approval remains valid, Ms. Doe is not subject to removal from the United States and she is authorized to work. However, DACA confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship on recipients and is revocable at any time at the sole discretion of DHS.

SLCC is a Missouri state-funded community college, which charges different tuition rates to students depending on their residency status. For the fall 2015 semester, in-district students, those residing within the SLCC District, were charged $103 per credit hour to attend the college. Missouri residents residing outside the SLCC District were charged $149 per credit hour. Out-of-state residents were charged $205 per credit hour. International students were charged $215 per credit hour.

For the purpose of calculating tuition rates, residency status is determined by 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010 ("Student Residency Regulation" or the "Regulation"), a state regulation promulgated by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. The Student Residency Regulation states:

In determining resident status for the state of Missouri, either of the following shall be sufficient proof of domicile of a person and his/her unemancipated minor or dependent children within the state of Missouri:
1. Presence within the state of Missouri for a minimum of the twelve (12) immediate past, consecutive months coupled with proof of intent to make the state of Missouri a permanent home for an indefinite period; or
2. Presence within the state of Missouri for the purpose of retirement, full-time employment, full-time professional practice, or to conduct a business full-time coupled with proof of intent to make the state of Missouri a permanent home for an indefinite period.

6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010(9)(C) ("General Residency Requirements") (emphasis added). The Regulation also imposes additional requirements, which students who are not citizens of the United States must satisfy prior to consideration for the in-state or in-district tuition rate, stating:

(A) Students who are not citizens of the United States must possess resident alien status, as determined by federal authority , prior to consideration for resident status.
(B) Aliens present within Missouri as representatives of a foreign government or at the convenience of the United States or Missouri governments and holding G visas shall be entitled to resident status, except for those who are government-funded students.
(C) Aliens and their dependents holding A or L visas may be granted resident status if determined to be individually designated as representatives of their governments and whose education is not government-funded.

6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010(7) ("Noncitizen Residency Requirements") (emphasis added).

The parties agreed to submit the case based on stipulated facts. The parties stipulated that "[p]rior to May 8, 2015, any student who could establish residency in the [SLCC] District, in accordance with 6 C.S.R § 10-3.010, was eligible for the rate charged to District residents."2 On May 8, 2015, House Bill 3 was signed into law. H.B. 3, 98th Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2015) ("House Bill 3"). House Bill 3 is an appropriations bill funding the Department of Higher Education and other related programs and agencies, including SLCC. The preamble to House Bill 3 states "no funds shall be expended at public institutions of higher education that offer a tuition rate to any student with an unlawful immigration status in the United States that is less than the tuition rate charged to international students." Id.

In 2015, Ms. Doe enrolled in classes at SLCC for the fall semester. She paid her initial tuition deposit in July and was expecting to receive the in-district tuition rate of $103 per credit hour. However, a few weeks later she received a tuition bill charging the international student rate of $215 per credit hour.

Ms. Doe filed a petition against SLCC, seeking a declaratory judgment that she possesses "resident alien status" and an injunction prohibiting SLCC from charging her the international student rate. In her trial brief, Ms. Doe argued " [r]esident alien status' is a term used only by a single federal authority: the Internal Revenue Service" and that under the Internal Revenue Code, she qualifies as a "resident alien." SLCC argued that federal tax law was irrelevant, that the only relevant federal authority is federal immigration law, and that Ms. Doe's DACA approval does not qualify as "resident alien status" under immigration law. SLCC also argued that the legislative intent of 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010(7) should be interpreted in light of the preamble to House Bill 3, which states individuals with an unlawful immigration status, such as Ms. Doe, should be charged the international student tuition rate.

The trial court denied the petition for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, and entered judgment in favor of SLCC. In its judgment, the court concluded that 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010(7) was ambiguous, and interpreted the phrase "resident alien status, as determined by federal authority" to mean only individuals with lawful permanentresident ("LPR")3 status, as determined by federal immigration authority. The court also partially relied on the preamble to House Bill 3 to guide its interpretation of the Regulation. The court further concluded Ms. Doe did not possess "resident alien status" as required by 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010(7) because DACA does not qualify as LPR status under federal immigration law. This appeal follows.

Points on Appeal

Ms. Doe raises three points on appeal. In Point I, Ms. Doe argues the trial court erred in relying on the preamble language of House Bill 3, a state appropriations bill, to support its finding that she is required to pay tuition at the international student rate because the language in this preamble is neither binding nor enforceable, and cannot be used to qualify an unrelated state regulation. In Point II, Ms. Doe argues the trial court erred in concluding that the phrase "resident alien status, as determined by federal authority" in 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010 is ambiguous and refers only to persons who possess LPR status, commonly referred to as a "green card." In Point III, Ms. Doe argues that, even if 6 C.S.R. § 10-3.010 is ambiguous, the trial court erred in interpreting the phrase "resident alien status, as determined by federal authority" to mean only persons who possess LPR status because this interpretation injected a "potential constitutional infirmity" into the Regulation, which this Court has an obligation to avoid.

Standard of Review

Our standard of review is governed by Murphy v. Carron when reviewing the trial court's judgment in a bench-tried case. Pearson v. Koster , 367 S.W.3d 36, 43 (Mo. banc 2012) (citing Murphy v. Carron , 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976) ). Under this standard of review, this Court will affirm the judgment "unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law." Pearson , 367 S.W.3d at 43. This court will affirm the judgment on different grounds if the trial court reached the correct result but for the wrong reason. Kubley , 141 S.W.3d at 27 n.5 ("Although the trial court reached this result on a different ground, we will affirm where it reached the right result, even if for the wrong reason."). "It is not necessary that we agree with the trial court's basis for the judgment.... If the judgment is properly sustainable on other grounds, the judgment must be affirmed." Hulse v. Warren , 777 S.W.2d 319, 322 (Mo. App. S.D. 1989).

The application of this standard of review varies depending on the burden of proof applicable at trial and the type of error claimed on appeal. Pearson , 367 S.W.3d at 43. A claim that the judgment erroneously declares or applies the law involves review of the trial court's construction and application of the law. Id. The interpretation of a law, such as a regulation, is a...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16 cases
  • Alford v. Hernandez, A17A1124
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • October 24, 2017
    ...present’ for purposes of eligibility for in-state tuition or other state or local public benefits."); Doe v. St. Louis Community College, 526 S.W.3d 329, 339 (C) (Mo. Ct. App. 2017) (The trial court did not err in finding that the petitioner's status as a DACA recipient did not entitle her ......
  • In re L.Q.F.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • March 15, 2022
    ...principles of statutory interpretation. Stiers v. Dir. of Revenue, 477 S.W.3d 611, 615 (Mo. banc 2016); Doe v. St. Louis Cmty. Coll., 526 S.W.3d 329, 336 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). When interpreting a statute or a regulation, we look to the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used. Franks v.......
  • In re L.Q.F.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • March 15, 2022
    ...principles of statutory interpretation. Stiers v. Dir. of Revenue , 477 S.W.3d 611, 615 (Mo. banc 2016) ; Doe v. St. Louis Cmty. Coll. , 526 S.W.3d 329, 336 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). When interpreting a statute or a regulation, we look to the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used. Franks......
  • Townsend v. Jefferson Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 21, 2020
    ...is unambiguous, statutory construction is unnecessary, and we give effect to the language as written. Doe v. St. Louis Cmty. Coll., 526 S.W.3d 329, 336 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017) (citing Brady v. Curators of Univ. of Mo., 213 S.W.3d 101, 107 (Mo. App. E.D. 2006) ). In so doing, we give the words ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT