Martin v. Allegany Cnty. Bd. of Educ.

Decision Date28 June 2013
Docket NumberNo. 1070,Sept. Term, 2012.,1070
Citation69 A.3d 1224,212 Md.App. 596
PartiesLinda MARTIN, et al. v. ALLEGANY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Jasin C. Buckel (S. Ramani Pillai, Buckel, Levasseur & Pillai, LLC, on the brief), Cumberland, MD, for Appellant.

G. Gary Hanna, Cumberland, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: MEREDITH, GRAEFF, and HOTTEN, JJ.

HOTTEN, J.

Appellants, Linda Martin and other similarly situated parents, filed a petition for judicial review of the Maryland State Board of Education's (State Education Board) determination, which affirmed the decision of appellee, the Allegany County Board of Education (Allegany Education Board). At issue was the termination of an agreement between the Allegany Education Board and the Washington County Board of Education (Washington Education Board), which provided approximately forty students, who resided in Allegany County, the opportunity to attend schools in Washington County. Appellants allege that the Allegany Education Board's decision violated the Md.Code (1978, 2008 Repl.Vol., 2012 Cum.Supp.), § 4–121 of the Education Article1 [hereinafter Education Article § 4–121]. The Circuit Court for Allegany County affirmed the State Education Board's ruling. Appellants noted an appeal, and present two questions for our consideration:

I. Was the decision of the Allegany County Board of Education in violation of § 4–121 of the Education Article, and thus properly subject to reversal by the State Board and/or the lower court?

II. Was the decision of the Allegany County Board of Education arbitrary or capricious and violative of sound educational policy, thereby mandating reversal by the State Board and/or the lower court?

For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 1, 2000, the Allegany Education Board voted to close a school in the most eastern region of its county,2 and to consolidate students from the closing facility to nearby institutions.3 To address the parents' apprehension regarding the consolidation, the Allegany Education Board and the Washington Education Board entered into an agreement, which allowed students, who resided in Little Orleans, Allegany County, Maryland to attend secondary schools in either Cumberland, Maryland in Allegany County or Hancock, Maryland in Washington County. Many students opted to attend school in Allegany County, while others decided to attend the Washington County schools. “The students who attended school in Washington County were counted as Washington County students for the purpose of calculating state aid to schools. The Allegany [Education Board] paid the transportation costs for all of said students.” 4

On February 28, 2011, the superintendent of Allegany County Public Schools, David Cox (“Mr.Cox”), drafted letters to the parents whose children opted to attend school in Washington County, stating (parenthesis omitted):

... For the 20112012 school year[,] Allegany County Public Schools face a reduction in state funding of over $6.5 million due to our declining enrollment and loss of state revenues. As a result, we must consider the termination of our contract with Washington County Public [S]chools to continue providing some $191,000 of Allegany County revenue for approximately 40 students to attend Washington County Public Schools. This arrangement also costs Allegany County Public Schools about $400,000 in lost state revenue. As you can see, this arrangement costs [Allegany County Public Schools] about $600,000 per year.

* * *

We recognize the impact that this consideration would have on your child(ren) and on students who are in their secondary years of study, and do not take that lightly. We wish that this consideration were [sic] not necessary. The cuts in state funding will all be finally determined by the General Assembly, and the final impact and recommended arrangements will not be known until then.

Thereafter, the Allegany Education Board extensively debated the issue, and held a public hearing for parents, students, and the community to assert their viewpoints regarding the possible termination of the agreement, answer countless questions, and provide information to impacted families. On June 3, 2011, Mr. Cox again corresponded with the parents via letter, indicating:

At the June 1, 2011 meeting of the Allegany County Board of Education, the Board voted to phase out the tuition support program that currently supports residents in the Little Orleans community to attend middle and high school in Washington County. Allegany County residents who are students in the 10[th]—12[th] grades at Hancock High School in the 20112012 school year will receive tuition support. It is the intent of the Board to allow these students to complete their high school experience at Hancock High School over the next three years, contingent on available funding. Transportation will be provided to Hancock High School at least for one more year.

Students who are in grades Pre–K through 9[th] grade for the 20112012 school year who live in the Little Orleans community are districted to attend Flintstone Elementary, Washington Middle School, and Fort Hill High School, as some have chosen even while we have supported the Washington County choice. We welcome all the children of Little Orleans to Washington Middle and Fort Hill High School and will plan an orientation session for a better transition experience....5

On June 29, 2011, appellants requested that the State Education Board review the Allegany Education Board's decision pursuant to the Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”) 13A.01.05.02.6

On July 27, 2011, the Allegany Education Board filed a motion for summary affirmance,7 requesting that the State Education Board summarily affirm its decision pursuant to COMAR 13A.01.05.03D.8Thereafter, a “Save Orleans Students” group requested that the Circuit Court for Allegany County issue a temporary restraining order and an interlocutory injunction, which would permit Little Orleans residents to continue schooling in Washington County. The court ruled in favor of the Allegany Education Board, denying both the temporary restraining order, as well as the injunction on August 23, 2011. The group noted an appeal to our Court, but the action was dismissed.

On October 25, 2011, the State Education Board granted review and determined that (1) Education Article § 4–121included the word “may,” so there was no requirement of a cross-boundary school attendance and (2) [i]t [was] incumbent on local boards when making decisions to consider the validity of all expenditures and to weigh and balance the needs of all students in th[o]se tough fiscal times.”

On November 22, 2011, appellants filed a petition for judicial review. On November 29, 2011, the Allegany Education Board filed its response. On February 24, 2012, both parties filed a joint motion for extension of time to file their briefs, which was granted. On March 23, 2012, appellants filed an appeal in the Circuit Court for Allegany County pursuant to Md.Code (1984, 2009 Repl.Vol., 2012 Cum.Supp.), § 10–222(a) of the State Government Article, for judicial review of the State Education Board's decision.9 On April 13, 2012, the Allegany Education Board filed its response.

Following a hearing on June 21, 2012, the trial court issued a memorandum and order on July 9, 2012, affirming the State Education Board, where it concluded that appellants did not support their assertion that Education Article § 4–121 was not discretionary, and that the State Education Board did not err in finding that the Allegany Education Board's decision was not arbitrary and capricious.

Appellant noted a timely appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The doctrine that an individual has a Maryland constitutional right to judicial review regarding an administrative action is mostly predicated on Article 19 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.10Jackson v. Dackman Co., 422 Md. 357, 378, 30 A.3d 854 (2011) (citing State v. Bd. of Educ., 346 Md. 633, 647, 697 A.2d 1334 (1997)) (additional citation omitted). It provides:

That every man, for any injury done to him [or her] in his [or her] person or property, ought to have remedy by the course of the Law of the [L]and, and ought to have justice and right, freely without sale, fully without any denial, and speedily without delay, according to the Law of the [L]and.

Id. at 376, 30 A.3d 854.

In examining the propriety of a trial court's consideration of a petition for judicial review, we analyze the agency's decision, not the trial court's ruling. Venter v. Bd. of Educ., 185 Md.App. 648, 664, 972 A.2d 328 (2009) (quoting Days Cove Reclamation Co. v. Queen Anne's County, 146 Md.App. 469, 484, 807 A.2d 156 (2002)) (quoting Gigeous v. E. Corr. Instit., 363 Md. 481, 495–96, 769 A.2d 912 (2001)). In this regard, we examine “the materials that were in the record before the agency at the time it made its final decision.” Bd. of Educ. of Talbot County v. Heister, 392 Md. 140, 146, 896 A.2d 342 (2006) (citing Chertkof v. Dep't of Nat. Res., 43 Md.App. 10, 17, 402 A.2d 1315 (1979)).

We review the agency's determination to consider whether such a ruling was ‘in accordance with the law or whether it [was] arbitrary, illegal, and capricious.’ Venter, 185 Md.App. at 664–65, 972 A.2d 328 (quoting Maryland Dep't of the Env't v. Ives, 136 Md.App. 581, 585, 766 A.2d 657 (2001)). Hence, our Court will affirm the agency's decision if it was predicated on substantial evidence from the record, and not erroneous as a matter of law. Id. at 665, 972 A.2d 328 (quoting United Parcel Serv., Inc. v. People's Counsel, 336 Md. 569, 577, 650 A.2d 226 (1994)).

“The substantial evidence standard of review asks ‘whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have reached the factual conclusion the agency reached,’ Comptroller of the Treasury v. Clise Coal, Inc., 173 Md.App. 689, 697–98, 920 A.2d 561 (2007) (quoting...

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