State, Dept. of Educ. v. Glasser, 91-02336

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation622 So.2d 1003
Parties17 Fla. L. Week. D1846 STATE of Florida, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Appellant, v. Kay E. GLASSER, Janice K. Mee, Nancy C. Detert, E. Lee Byron, and M. Jane Hartman, individually and as members of the School Board of Sarasota County, Florida, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 91-02336,91-02336
Decision Date31 July 1992

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., and Joseph C. Mellichamp, III, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Sydney H. McKenzie, III, General Counsel, and Barbara J. Staros, Deputy General Counsel, Tallahassee, for appellant.

A. Lamar Matthews, Jr., Jeanne S. Medawar, and Arthur S. Hardy of Matthews, Hutton & Eastmoore, P.A., Sarasota, for appellees.

Claire L. Hamner of Dickinson, Gibbons, Shields, Partridge, Dahlgren & Collins, P.A., Sarasota, for Sarasota Classified/Teachers Ass'n, amicus curiae.


The appellant, State of Florida, Department of Education (DOE), challenges the trial court's order declaring section 236.25(1), Florida Statutes (1989), and section 1, item 509 of chapter 91-193, Laws of Florida, unconstitutional. We affirm.

Section 236.25(1) provides in part: "In addition to the required local effort millage levy, each school board may levy a nonvoted current operating discretionary millage. The Legislature shall prescribe annually in the appropriations act the maximum amount of millage a district may levy...." This section further provides that the annual millage rate prescribed shall not exceed the lesser of 1.6 mills or 25 per cent of the required local effort millage. The required local effort millage, as set forth in section 236.081(4), Florida Statutes (1989), represents the local funds that each school district must contribute annually toward the cost of the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) to be eligible to receive funding from the FEFP. The nonvoted discretionary ad valorem taxes, at issue in this case, provide additional local funds to school districts for operating expenses.

In the 1991-92 General Appropriations Act, section 1, item 509 of chapter 91-193 (item 509), the legislature prescribed 0.510 mills as the maximum rate for nonvoted discretionary millage that may be levied by district school boards in 1991-92. This rate was substantially lower than the 1.019 maximum rate that the legislature prescribed for school boards in 1990-91. As a result of the lower maximum rate for discretionary millage, the School Board of Sarasota County (school board) would receive approximately $7 million less from discretionary local ad valorem taxes in 1991-92 than it received in 1990-91.

The school board received a copy of item 509, setting the 0.510 maximum millage rate, in May 1991. Pursuant to section 200.065, Florida Statutes (1989), the school board had to submit a tentative budget and set proposed millage rates prior to July 24, 1991. To avoid major budget shortfalls, the school board needed to set a millage rate higher than the maximum rate permitted by the legislature for discretionary ad valorem taxes. Based on article VII, section 9 and article IX, section 4 of the Florida Constitution, the school board believed that it had the constitutional authority to do so.

Accordingly, in June 1991, the appellees, Kay E. Glasser, Janice K. Mee, Nancy C. Detert, E. Lee Byron, and M. Jane Hartman, individually and as members of the school board, filed an action for declaratory judgment against Barbara Ford-Coates, as Tax Collector of Sarasota County (tax collector), requesting the trial court to determine the validity of item 509 and section 236.25(1). The school board alleged, among other things, that due to the conflict between its constitutional authority and the legislature's actions, it was in doubt as to the nonvoted discretionary millage rate it could set, which the tax collector would be required to collect and remit to the school board.

In addition to serving the tax collector, the school board hand delivered a copy of the complaint to the state attorney in its judicial district. The tax collector subsequently filed an answer denying that the subject laws were unconstitutional. On June 26, 1991, the school board and the tax collector stipulated to an expedited hearing to be held the following day. The school board notified the attorney general, via facsimile on June 26, that the final hearing had been scheduled for June 27.

At the hearing, the attorney general filed a notice of appearance and moved for a dismissal or, in the alternative, postponement of the final hearing, alleging that the school board failed to serve the real party in interest, either the State Board of Education or DOE. The trial court denied the motion. Pursuant to section 86.091, Florida Statutes (1989), the trial court allowed the attorney general to participate in the hearing and defend the constitutionality of the challenged laws. Counsel representing the tax collector and counsel representing the state attorney also attended the hearing.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court entered an order declaring section 236.25(1) and item 509 unconstitutional to the extent that each law limits the school board's authority to assess nonvoted discretionary millage within the ten mill limit prescribed by article VII, section 9. The trial court also declared that both sections violated article III, section 12 by attempting to inject substantive law in an appropriations bill and that item 509 also violated article III, section 6 by amending an existing substantive law by reference to its title or number only. Based on the foregoing, the trial court ordered the tax collector to collect and remit to the school board taxes assessed against the nonvoted discretionary millage set by the school board without regard to section 236.25(1) or item 509.

The attorney general moved for rehearing and clarification of the order. Thereafter, DOE filed a motion to intervene as a party defendant. After the parties stipulated to DOE's intervention, the attorney general withdrew the motion for rehearing and clarification. DOE filed this timely appeal. The trial court subsequently granted the school board's motion to vacate the automatic stay conditioned upon the school board depositing all taxes collected in excess of the legislature's maximum rate into a separate reserve account until the matter is finally resolved.

Before reaching the merits of this case, we must first address DOE's contention that the trial court erred in denying the motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion to postpone. DOE's argument on this point is twofold. First, DOE asserts that the tax collector has no adverse interest, nor any interest for that matter, in this litigation. Therefore, since the tax collector was the only named defendant, DOE contends that there was no justiciable dispute or bona fide controversy between adverse parties. Second, DOE argues that the trial court should have dismissed the action for failure to join an indispensable party, DOE. DOE states that it is the only party whose interest would be adversely affected by the trial court's order. We disagree with both arguments and find that the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss or postpone.

The goals of the declaratory judgment act are to relieve litigants of the common law rule that a declaration of rights cannot be adjudicated unless a right has been violated and to render practical help in ending controversies which have not reached the stage where other legal relief is immediately available. Bell v. Associated Independents, Inc., 143 So.2d 904 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962). The tax collector is authorized and obligated to collect and remit ad valorem taxes levied by the school board. Secs. 192.001(4), 197.332, 237.091, Fla.Stat. (1989). If the school board had attempted to levy taxes pursuant to its constitutional authority rather than asking the court for a declaration on the validity of the subject laws, the tax collector could not have performed her duties in compliance with state law. To comply with the challenged statutes, the tax collector would have had to ignore the school board's resolution and infringe upon the school board's constitutional authority.

The tax collector is the party who must act for the school board to receive funds from its levy of ad valorem taxes. Sec. 237.091(3). In fact, complete and full relief could not be given as requested in the complaint unless the tax collector was made a party. To grant the relief requested by the school board, it was necessary for the trial court to order the tax collector to collect and remit a certain amount based on the trial court's declaration. Accordingly, the tax collector's interest was sufficient to create a bona fide and practical need for declaration pursuant to section 86.091. See May v. Holley, 59 So.2d 636 (Fla.1952). See also Riviere v. Orlando Parking Comm'n, 74 So.2d 694 (Fla.1954) (both parties in doubt as to legal rights); Rigby v. Liles, 505 So.2d 598 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987) (declaratory judgment act should be liberally construed to accomplish purpose of act).

Although DOE may have been a proper party for the school board to join in its action, it was not a necessary nor indispensable party. A proper party is one who has an interest in the subject matter of the action, but whose absence will not prevent a judgment determining the issues between the parties. N & C Properties v. Vanguard Bank & Trust Co., 519 So.2d 1048 (Fla. 1st DCA), review denied, 529 So.2d 694 (Fla.1988). The school board was alleging that section 236.25(1) and item 509 were facially unconstitutional, not unconstitutional as applied. Thus, it was not necessary for the trial court to consider DOE's interest or position concerning the validity of the challenged legislation to make a determination as a matter of law. See Department of Revenue v. Florida Home Builders Ass'n, 564 So.2d 173 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990), review denied, 576 So.2d 286 (Fla.), appeal dismissed, 581 So.2d...

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    ...available. Bell v. Associated Indeps., Inc., 143 So.2d 904, 907–08 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962) ; see also State, Dep't of Educ. v. Glasser, 622 So.2d 1003, 1006 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992), rev'd on other grounds, 622 So.2d 944 (Fla.1993). To further these goals, the use of declaratory judgments should be “l......
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    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
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    ...Tallahassee, amicus curaie for Dade, Hernando and Orange Counties. SHAW, Justice. We have for review State, Department of Education v. Glasser, 622 So.2d 1003 (Fla.2d DCA 1992), in which the district court affirmed the trial court's declaratory judgment that section 236.25(1), Florida Statu......
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