Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Committee, No. 82-087

Docket NºNo. 82-087
Citation142 Vt. 400, 457 A.2d 1368
Case DateJanuary 27, 1983
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Page 1368

457 A.2d 1368
142 Vt. 400, 10 Ed. Law Rep. 207
Eric RUTZ b/n/f Floyd Rutz
v.
ESSEX JUNCTION PRUDENTIAL COMMITTEE and Hollis Emery.
No. 82-087.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
Jan. 27, 1983.

Page 1369

[142 Vt. 403] Blum Associates, Inc., Burlington, for plaintiff-appellant.

Doremus, Congleton, Jenkins & Sutherland, Essex Junction, for defendants-appellees.

Before [142 Vt. 400] BARNEY, C.J., and BILLINGS, HILL, UNDERWOOD and PECK, JJ.

[142 Vt. 403] PECK, Justice.

This is an appeal by plaintiff from an order of the Chittenden Superior Court dismissing his untitled complaint in which he sought to enjoin the defendants from suspending or expelling him as a student at the Essex Junction High School. Plaintiff also claimed damages in an unspecified amount, but presented no evidence as to what the damages amounted to.

The grounds for the proposed disciplinary action was an alleged sale of a small quantity of marijuana by plaintiff to a fellow student on October 16, 1981. The court below granted a temporary restraining order pending a hearing on the merits which was held on November 12, 1981. The findings of fact, conclusions of law and the order issued on February 3, 1982. Plaintiff's expulsion has been stayed pending this appeal. We affirm.

The underlying fact of the sale of the drug by plaintiff has never been in dispute. It was admitted by him to school authorities on the date it occurred. The issues raised below and on this appeal relate exclusively to the procedures followed in deciding to remove him from the school, originally for the remainder of the fall 1981 semester. They are four in number and all highly technical in nature. The first relates to the authority of the Prudential Committee to act. The second issue challenges the adequacy of the notice of the committee hearing; and, more generally, charges the committee with failing to follow its own established expulsion procedures; thirdly, plaintiff contends the court erred in finding that he had been removed from school by the assistant principal as the duly [142 Vt. 404] authorized agent of the principal. Finally, he contends the committee failed to make a finding that his continued presence at the school would be harmful to the welfare of the school as, he argues, is required by 16 V.S.A. § 1162.

We consider the issues in the order presented.

I.

Plaintiff challenges the authority of the defendant committee to suspend or expel a student. He relies on 16 V.S.A. § 1162, which reads in part:

A superintendent or principal may, pursuant to regulations adopted by the governing board, suspend, or with the approval of a majority of the ... board ..., dismiss or expel a pupil for misconduct when the misconduct makes the continued presence of the pupil harmful to the welfare of the school.

From this language, plaintiff would have us hold that only the superintendent or principal, subject to regulations adopted by the defendant committee as the "governing board," had the power to act in this case. We reject this interpretation of § 1162, however, as an improbable limitation on the authority of the governing boards of our state schools.

Page 1370

The purpose of § 1162 is not to limit the authority of school boards in disciplinary matters, nor does it mandate that boards must adopt regulations in favor of superintendents or principals. We hold that the purpose of § 1162 is to prescribe the conditions under which school boards may authorize certain officials to suspend, dismiss, or expel students, that is, by the adoption of appropriate regulations. In the absence of regulations adopted for that purpose, the enumerated disciplinary powers remain with the boards. In this respect we agree with defendants, and hold further that these powers are inherent in school boards, deriving by necessary implication from their statutory powers of governance in all matters pertaining to the schools under their jurisdiction.

One fault with plaintiff's argument is a familiar and frequently recurring one. His interpretation of 16 V.S.A. § 1162, even standing alone, is neither necessary nor compelled[142 Vt. 405] by the literal or plain meaning rule. See State v. Baldwin, 140 Vt. 501, 509-10, 438 A.2d 1135, 1139 (1981). It is a construction which isolates this statute from others standing with it in pari materia. We have held frequently, and reiterate here, that statutes in pari materia, that is, dealing with the same general subject matter, must be read together and construed as parts of a statutory system. In re Preseault, 130 Vt. 343, 346, 292 A.2d 832, 834 (1972).

Applying this rule, we approve as a sound starting point the defendants' argument that 16 V.S.A. § 563 grants to school boards, including the defendant prudential committee, the power to establish educational policies, and to prescribe rules and regulations for the conduct and management of their respective schools. See 16 V.S.A. § 563(1). Student discipline is an important and necessary element of school management. The defendant committee was well within the scope of its statutory powers in adopting rules and procedures, reserving to itself the power to expel students. Therefore, we repudiate the validity of plaintiff's contention that in reserving the power of expulsion, the committee "has arrogated to itself the authority to expel, contrary to established Vermont law."

It is true of course that § 1162 is specific and § 563 is general. When two such statutes are in conflict to the extent they cannot be reconciled, the specific will usually prevail. Aube v. O'Brien, 140 Vt. 1, 4, 433 A.2d 298, 299 (1981). The rule does not aid the plaintiff; the two statutes are not in conflict. Section 1162 authorizes but does not require school boards to delegate the power to expel. In the instant case the defendant committee elected to retain the power to itself, as it had the right to do. The first sentence of the committee's "Procedures for Expulsion" reads: "Only the Prudential Committee shall have the authority to expel a student, and its decision shall be final."

We conclude that the defendant committee has the authority under Vermont law to expel students.

II.

Plaintiff claims next that he did not receive a written notice [142 Vt. 406] of the committee hearing containing a statement of the charges against him as contemplated by the committee's own regulations. The trial court agreed with this claim. Paragraph 12 of the findings reads in part: "Contrary to its own rules and regulations, neither the Committee nor its agents gave plaintiff a written statement of the charges ...." In the same paragraph, however, the court found the plaintiff was well aware of the charges and of the procedures to be followed at the committee hearing. Moreover, in another paragraph, the court found he had admitted the charges when first confronted by the school authorities, and the record discloses that at his hearing he again admitted he had sold marijuana to a fellow student.

Plaintiff argues that, as a minor, he has no capacity to waive his legal rights. We need not resolve that issue for purposes of

Page 1371

this case; we are not concerned here with waiver, but, ultimately, with prejudice.

Essentially, the plaintiff's claim raises the issue of procedural due process rights. It is his position that the failure of the committee to provide him with a written notice containing a statement of the charges against him, as contemplated by its own regulations, constituted a deprivation of his due process rights, per se, that is, regardless of actual knowledge and notice, the absence of any resulting prejudice, or considerations of overall fairness. This position compels us to review applicable decisions of the federal courts, as well as the laws of this state.

In a leading decision of the United States Supreme Court involving a student suspension, the Court said:

"[D]eprivation of life, liberty or property by adjudication [must] be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case." (citation omitted) ... At the very minimum, therefore, students ... must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing.

Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 579, 95 S.Ct. 729, 738, 42 L.Ed.2d 725 (1975) (emphasis in the original of the two words "some"; other emphasis added). Thereafter, in the same case, the Supreme Court said, "the student [must] be given oral or written notice of the charges against him." Id. at 581, 95 S.Ct. at 740. It is true that Goss involved a suspension[142 Vt. 407] for ten days or less, and the Court noted further that "[l]onger suspensions or expulsions ... may require more formal procedures." Id. at 584, 95 S.Ct. at 741 (emphasis added). But the Court said also that " '[t]he very nature of due process negates any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation.' " Id. at 578, 95 S.Ct. at 738, (quoting Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 81 S.Ct. 1743, 1748, 6 L.Ed.2d 1230 (1961)).

We construe Goss to mean that, at least beyond the constitutional minimum requirements of notice and hearing, each case, as far as the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution is concerned, must ultimately be determined on its own peculiar facts, and that " 'the rudimentary elements of fair play' meet general requirements of due process." Nzuve v. Castleton State College, 133 Vt. 225, 229, 335 A.2d 321, 324 (1975).

Turning to the lower federal courts, decisions have examined both administrative noncompliance with established procedures on the one hand, and substantial compliance by school authorities with their own disciplinary rules on the other. In the first, one court said:

[T]he legal conclusion that administrative noncompliance with established procedures and guidelines in itself amounts to deprivation of due process, even though said rules establish requirements in excess of the due process minimum ... is incorrect.

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17 practice notes
  • State v. Delaoz, No. 09–001.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 16 de julho de 2010
    ...general purpose—must be read together and construed as parts of a unified statutory system. See Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Comm., 142 Vt. 400, 405, 457 A.2d 1368, 1370 (1983). [22 A.3d 409] ¶ 64. Under 13 V.S.A. § 7031(a), the trial court is to establish a maximum sentence in accorda......
  • State v. Lund, No. 82-047
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 3 de fevereiro de 1984
    ...with other statutes standing in pari materia with it, as parts of a unified statutory system. Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Committee, 142 Vt. 400, 405, 457 A.2d 1368, 1370 (1983); Emmons v. Emmons, 141 Vt. 508, 512, 450 A.2d 1113, 1115 (1982). The true purpose of the legislature should......
  • Merrow v. Goldberg, Civ. A. No. 86-193.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. District of Vermont
    • 2 de novembro de 1987
    ...detail and sufficiently in advance of the hearing to enable him to prepare a defense." Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Committee, 142 Vt. 400, 420, 457 A.2d 1368 (1983) (Billings, J. dissenting). We are not at all sure that plaintiff should not be presumed, based on the school's extensive......
  • State v. Mott, Nos. 95-433
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 10 de janeiro de 1997
    ...the individual asserting a denial of due process can show prejudice from the asserted denial. See Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Comm., 142 Vt. 400, 407, 409, 457 A.2d 1368, 1371-72 (1983) (no violation of due process where student was not prejudiced by lack of written notice). Defendant......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • State v. Delaoz, No. 09–001.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 16 de julho de 2010
    ...general purpose—must be read together and construed as parts of a unified statutory system. See Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Comm., 142 Vt. 400, 405, 457 A.2d 1368, 1370 (1983). [22 A.3d 409] ¶ 64. Under 13 V.S.A. § 7031(a), the trial court is to establish a maximum sentence in accorda......
  • State v. Lund, No. 82-047
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 3 de fevereiro de 1984
    ...with other statutes standing in pari materia with it, as parts of a unified statutory system. Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Committee, 142 Vt. 400, 405, 457 A.2d 1368, 1370 (1983); Emmons v. Emmons, 141 Vt. 508, 512, 450 A.2d 1113, 1115 (1982). The true purpose of the legislature should......
  • Merrow v. Goldberg, Civ. A. No. 86-193.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. District of Vermont
    • 2 de novembro de 1987
    ...detail and sufficiently in advance of the hearing to enable him to prepare a defense." Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Committee, 142 Vt. 400, 420, 457 A.2d 1368 (1983) (Billings, J. dissenting). We are not at all sure that plaintiff should not be presumed, based on the school's extensive......
  • State v. Mott, Nos. 95-433
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 10 de janeiro de 1997
    ...the individual asserting a denial of due process can show prejudice from the asserted denial. See Rutz v. Essex Junction Prudential Comm., 142 Vt. 400, 407, 409, 457 A.2d 1368, 1371-72 (1983) (no violation of due process where student was not prejudiced by lack of written notice). Defendant......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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