McCormick v. Board of Education of Hobbs Municipal School Dist. No. 16, 5707

Docket NºNo. 5707
Citation1954 NMSC 94, 274 P.2d 299, 58 N.M. 648
Case DateSeptember 14, 1954
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

Neal & Girand, Hobbs, for appellants.

Reese, McCormick, Lusk & Paine, Carlsbad, for appellee.

SEYMOUR, Justice.

The facts found by the trial court are quoted in full because they clearly present the factual and legal problems before the Court, and because appellants' exceptions to these findings, as subsequently demonstrated, do not disturb or attack the facts which we deem controlling of our decision.

They are as follows:

'1. Plaintiff was employed as a classroom teacher in the elementary grades in the Hobbs Public Schools for six consecutive years commencing with the school year 1946-1947 and until the close of the school year 1951-1952.

'2. Each year of employment was evidenced by a written contract between the parties. At the time of transmitting the contracts for the first three school years the defendants sent plaintiff a letter stating in substance that she had been approved for tenure. The three letters accompanying the last three contracts stated in substance that the plaintiff had been approved for continuation on tenure.

'3. In 1946 the State Board of Education issued to plaintiff a 5-year Master Elementary Teacher's Certificate and in 1951 issued to plaintiff another 5-year Master Elementary Teacher's Certificate. Both certificates were on the standard forms used by the State Board of Education and were not War Emergency Certificates.

'4. Prior to 19 March 1948 the defendants had adopted no rules or regulations setting up professional qualifications for classroom teachers. On 19 March 1948 the Board of Education of Hobbs Municipal School District adopted certain rules, regulations and conditions of employment which were stated to be considered by the employer and employee as a part of the contract. One of such regulations was that a teacher in the elementary grades have the equivalent of a major in elementary education. Plaintiff had a B.A. degree which was granted to her in 1931. However, her credits did not amount to a major in elementary education on 19 March 1948.

'5. During the school year 1948-1949, plaintiff had conferences with her supervisors and with the superintendent of the Hobbs Municipal School District, as a result of which said superintendent recommended to plaintiff that she take summer school work and correspondence work with the view of bringing her credits up to a major in elementary education, which plaintiff agreed to do. Thereafter plaintiff took courses of instruction at New Mexico Eastern University at Portales and at New Mexico Highlands University at Las Vegas, and earned sufficient credits so that at the beginning of the school year 1950-1951 her credits amounted to a major in elementary education.

'6. The last year that plaintiff taught in Hobbs Public Schools, she had a major in elementary education and the last contract which she actually entered into with the defendants was made after she had acquired such credits.

'7. On 22 May 1952 plaintiff was advised by letter from defendants that they had determined to discontinue her services following completion of the school year 1951-1952. Said letter also advised that a hearing would be held before the defendants on 30 May 1952 at which she could appear. Plaintiff attended such hearing and following the same and on 3 June 1952, she received a notice from the defendants that they had again determined not to renew her teaching contract.

'8. At such hearing on 30 May 1952, and in correspondence relative thereto, defendants did not contend that the plaintiff was not entitled to tenure, but based their action on alleged infractions of rules.

'9. At no time during the last three years of her employment did defendants advise plaintiff that she did not have tenure, but on the contrary advised her that she was continued on tenure.

'10. Pursuant to provisions of Section 55-1111 N.M.S.A.1941 as amended, plaintiff on 7 June 1952 filed an appeal to the State Board of Education of the State of New Mexico.

'11. On July 22nd and 23rd, 1952, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the appeal of the plaintiff was heard by the State Board of Education. No transcript was made of the evidence received at such hearing.

'12. As a result of such hearing and on 24 July 1952 the State Board of Education entered an order sustaining the appeal of the plaintiff, a copy of which order is attached to the application for Writ of Mandamus filed herein by the plaintiff and which order is hereby adopted by reference and the findings of fact therein adopted as findings of fact of this court.

'13. At the hearing before the State Board of Education six duly qualified members of said board were present, one of whom acted as chairman pro tem. The decision of the State Board of Education was made by a vote of 3 for and 2 against, the chairman pro tem abstaining from voting. At the time of such hearing, the State Board of Education had adopted no rules of procedure for the conduct of hearings before it.

'14. Within 15 days following the 24th of July, 1952, the attorney for defendants advised the attorney for plaintiff that he was going to file a motion for rehearing or a motion to reopen the appeal. A 'Motion to Reopen the Appeal' was actually prepared by the attorneys for defendants and mailed to the State Board of Education at Santa Fe, New Mexico, before the expiration of the 15 day period but was not received by the State Board of Education until after the expiration of said period. Plaintiff had planned to file with defendants an acceptance of employment for the school year 1952-1953 within the 15 day period mentioned in Section 55-1111 N.M.S.A.1941 as Amended. After being advised of such contemplated action by attorney for the defendants, the attorney for plaintiff advised his client that it would be unnecessary to file such written acceptance until final action on such motion.

'15. The 'Motion to Reopen the Appeal' filed by defendants with the State Board of Education was denied by that Board on 22 August 1952 and on 25 August 1952, the plaintiff by letter offered to accept employment as a teacher in the Hobbs Public Schools for the school year 1952-1953 and offered to execute a contract therefor.

'16. On 25 August 1952 the defendants advised plaintiff that they would refuse to abide by the order of the State Board of Education and refused to enter into a contract with plaintiff.

'17. At all times material hereto plaintiff has been ready, able and willing to enter into a contract to teach during the school year 1952-1953 and could have performed such contract had she entered into it. Had such contract been made, she would have earned as a result thereof $3,970.00 from the defendants.

'18. That plaintiff at all times taught in the intermediate grades in Hobbs Municipal School District.

'19. That the reasons for the discharge of the plaintiff were found by the State Board of Education as set out in the findings of fact which are a part of Exhibit 'A' to the Alternative Writ of Mandamus.'

Based upon the foregoing findings of fact, the trial court in seven conclusions of law determined: (1) That the defendants' 1948 conditions of employment did not deprive plaintiff of the right to acquire tenure or interrupt her probationary period because plaintiff was entitled to a reasonable time to meet the more onerous conditions and did so. (2) That defendants are estopped to deny tenure by reason of their letter assurances to Mrs. McCormick that she did have tenure. (3) That said assurances of tenure waived strict enforcement of the conditions of employment. (4) That plaintiff filed timely acceptance. (5) That the state board decision was not arbitrary or unlawful and was binding upon the trial court. (6) That Sec. 55-1111 as amended, and Sec. 55-101, N.M.S.A.1941 do not violate the Constitution of New Mexico. (7) That the alternative writ of mandamus be made permanent.

Referring now to the parties as they are designated in this Court, appellants except to the first sentence in finding '4' on the theory that the rules and regulations setting up professional qualifications for classroom teachers, and formally adopted in 1948, were in fact the rules in practice and effect for many years previous. Our decision is not affected by this factual difference. Appellants' exception to finding '8' is immaterial since our decision assumes that appellants asserted lack of tenure on the part of appellee throughout all proceedings. Appellants assign as error finding '9'; we fail to find any exception addressed to this finding but, regardless of that fact, there is no question whatever that there is substantial evidence to support it. Appellants except to finding '14,' on which exception we make no comment here because it is the subject of a separate point in appellants' brief, and the question raised is of a technical, isolated nature unimportant to the balance of the decision. It will be treated subsequently.

From the foregoing it is apparent that the case is presented to this Court on a basis similar to a case submitted upon a stipulation of facts. The first point relied upon by appellants for reversal reads as follows:

'A teacher in order to be entitled to the benefits of Section 55-1111 of the New Mexico Statutes, Annotated, Compilation of 1941, as amended, commonly known as the Teacher's Tenure Act, must have the educational qualifications required by the local board at the time she starts her probationary period.'

On this contention, we must rule against appellants. In support thereof, appellants cite the following portion of Sec. 55-1111, supra:

'* * * Provided further that teachers holding war emergency certificates and teachers whose...

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