Paquette v. City of Fall River

Decision Date25 January 1932
Citation278 Mass. 172
PartiesLILLIAN J. PAQUETTE v. CITY OF FALL RIVER. ALVIN A. GAFFNEY v. SAME.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

January 7, 1932.

Present: RUGG, C.

J., CROSBY, WAIT SANDERSON, & FIELD, JJ.

School and School Committee. Fall River. Constitutional Law, Control of municipalities, Obligation of contract. Statute Construction. Words, "Discretion," "Grade."

The "discretion" of the school committee at which certain teachers in public schools must be employed under G.L.c. 71, Section 41, denotes freedom of the committee to act according to honest judgment not only with regard to tenure within the limitation of Section 42, but also with regard to compensation within the limitation of Section 43. A vote of the board of finance of the city of Fall River under authority of

St. 1931, c.

44, Section 8, that they would not approve the expenditure of any moneys for the salary of any school teacher greater in amount than a sum twenty per cent less than that in force immediately prior to April

1, 1931, was sufficient basis for action by the school committee in exercising its discretion to make such reduction in the midst of the school year in salaries of teachers serving at discretion under G.L.c.

71, Section 41.

Such action by the board of finance and the school committee did not impair any contractual obligation existing between such teachers and the city. The enactment of St. 1931, c. 44, was within the general power of the

Legislature even if its Section 8 be regarded as an amendment or suspension of G.L.c. 71, Section 43; and such statutory provisions are constitutional with respect to school teachers employed at discretion under G.L.c. 71, Section 41.

Action by the school committee of Fall River above described was not a violation of G.L.c. 71, Section 43, although no reduction was made in salaries of some teachers who were receiving the same amount of salary as that received by others who were affected by the vote, where it appeared that none of those not suffering a reduction had come within the terms of

G.L.c. 71, 41, and been elected to serve at discretion: identity of amount of salary was not the sole test of validity under Section 43 of the action of the committee.

TWO ACTIONS OF CONTRACT. Writs dated June 26, 1931. In the Superior Court the actions were heard together by T.J. Hammond, J., upon an agreed statement of facts. He found for the defendant in each action, ordered them consolidated, and reported them for determination by this court.

A.E. Seagrave, for the plaintiffs. E.T. Murphy, Corporation Counsel, (H.K. Hudner with him,) for the defendant.

RUGG, C.J. The plaintiffs are teachers in the public schools of the defendant. Each had been elected, after preliminary employment for at least three years, to serve at the discretion of the school committee. They had received stated salaries for performance of their duties prior to September 1930. In that month they returned to their work and performed their duties, receiving the same salary previously paid until April 6, 1931. On April 4, 1931, the school committee voted to reduce the salaries of all teachers by an amount equal to twenty per cent, the reduction to take effect on April 6, 1931, excepting those who had not been employed for more than three years and who had not been elected to serve at its pleasure. That vote was passed pursuant to action by the Fall River board of finance under St. 1931, c. 44, to the effect that that board would not approve the expenditure of any moneys for the salary of any school teacher greater in amount than a sum twenty per cent less than that in force immediately prior to April 1, 1931. Payments to the plaintiffs for salary were reduced accordingly. These actions are brought to recover sums equivalent to that reduction of twenty per cent for the remainder of the school year which began in September, 1930.

The plaintiffs had no contracts in writing with the school committee of the defendant. The rights of the plaintiffs and the obligations of the defendant are those created and defined by the statutes as applied to the facts here disclosed. The plaintiffs were elected teachers under the terms of G.L.c. 71, Section 41. It is there provided with respect to teachers in the positions of the plaintiffs that the "school committee . . . in electing a teacher . . . who has served in its public schools for the three previous consecutive school years . . . shall employ him to serve at its discretion. . . ." The terms of this section are mandatory. The school committee has no option to elect the teachers there described except "to serve at its discretion." The meaning of this statutory language is that such discretion includes every essential element in the service thus established save as otherwise specified by statute. In this connection the discretion of the school committee denotes freedom to act according to honest judgment. Corrigan v. School Committee of New Bedford, 250 Mass. 334 , 339. "The term discretion implies the absence of a hard-and-fast rule. The establishment of a clearly defined rule of action would be the end of discretion, and yet discretion should not be a word for arbitrary will or inconsiderate action. `Discretion means a decision of what is just and proper in the circumstances.'" The Styria v. Morgan, 186 U.S. 1, 9. We are of opinion that the words of the statute describing the relation of the plaintiffs as an employment to serve at the discretion of the school committee govern compensation as well as tenure. The power vested in school committees under our statutes includes the authority to fix the compensation. G.L.c. 71, Section 38. Leonard v. School Committee of Springfield, 241 Mass. 325 , 329-330. The plaintiffs had no other contract touching salaries than that implied from their employment and from the compensation paid them in previous years. They were secured against reduction in salary except under a general salary revision by G.L.c. 71, Section 43. They were also protected against summary dismissal by G.L.c. 71, Section 42. These provisions indicate the purpose of the General Court to cover the field of relations between teachers and school committees and not to leave operative general rules arising from implication which would govern the rights between independent parties. School Committee of Lowell v. Mayor of Lowell, 265 Mass. 353 . It is not necessary to consider cases like Maynard v. Royal Worcester Corset Co. 200 Mass. 1 , 4-5, where implied contracts of employment arising from preceding conduct are involved, because that principle is not here relevant. The plaintiffs cannot hold the defendant to any obligations not authorized by the statutes, and the school committee has no power to impose any such obligation upon the defendant. Sheldon v. School Committee of Hopedale, 276 Mass. 230.

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