State ex rel. Miller v. McLeod

Decision Date15 October 1980
Docket NumberNo. 11317,11323.,11317
Citation605 S.W.2d 160
PartiesSTATE of Missouri ex rel. Bessie Elaine MILLER, a minor, by next friend Donald E. Miller, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. James M. McLEOD, John W. Webb, Robert Dunn, William Gladden, Billy C. Sponsler, a/k/a William Sponsler, Linville Hardin, Glenn Arthur, Alice Crawford and Houston Reorganized School District No. 1 of Texas County, Defendants-Respondents.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Ronald J. Fuller, Rolla, for plaintiff-appellant.

Glenn A. Burkart, Mann, Walter, Burkart, Weathers & Walter, Springfield, for defendants-respondents.

Motion for Rehearing or to Transfer to Supreme Court Denied August 20, 1980.

GREENE, Judge.

Plaintiff Bessie Miller, a minor, through her father and next friend Donald Miller, brought this action for a mandatory injunction (Count I), declaratory judgment (Count II) and a writ of mandamus (Count III). There are eight defendants: The principal of Houston Senior High School, the superintendent of schools for the school district, and six members of the broad of education of Houston Reorganized School District No. 1 of Texas County.

Bessie entered Houston High School in the fall of 1974 as a freshman. She quit school in the spring of 1978 during the second semester of her senior year. The dispute arose out of the refusal of the defendants to issue her a diploma. The refusal was on the ground that she had failed to meet the "high school graduation requirements" contained in the rules of the school district.

The trial court dismissed Count I on the ground it was moot and neither side challenges that ruling. In Count II, Bessie sought a declaratory judgment to the effect that the rules "requiring attendance at high school for a period longer than is required to successfully complete the number of units of credit which constitute and satisfy the minimum measure of academic achievement required for graduation are unconstitutional and in derogation of the due process and equal protection rights of Bessie and serve no reasonable educational purpose." In Count III, Bessie sought a writ of mandamus commanding the defendants to issue her a diploma. After hearing, the trial court filed extensive findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a judgment, which are set out in the Appendix to this opinion. Finding of Fact II listed the graduation requirements, which included the right to graduate after seven semesters, if the student had completed 22 units of credit, three of which could be earned through on-the-job training.

The trial court found the issues in Count II in favor of defendants and declared that the rules containing the graduation requirements were not inherently discriminatory, unreasonable or arbitrary and were not unconstitutional. The court found the issues in Count III in favor of Bessie and entered its order directing the defendants to issue or cause to be issued and delivered to Bessie a diploma bearing her name in the same form as all other diplomas issued by defendants to those graduating from Houston High School on May 25, 1978.

Bessie appeals from the judgment on Count II and defendants appeal from the judgment on Count III. We affirm the trial court's judgment on Count III and dismiss Bessie's appeal on Count II.

A graduation rule, although inherently reasonable, may not be applied unreasonably, capriciously, arbitrarily, or inequitably to deny a diploma to a qualified candidate for graduation and that when such is done, mandamus is the proper remedy. State ex rel. Sageser v. Ledbetter, 559 S.W.2d 230, 234 (Mo.App.1977). In its findings and conclusions, the trial court found that defendants acted unreasonably, arbitrarily and capriciously in denying Bessie a diploma (conclusion No. 11), and, in its judgment on Count III, ordered defendants to give Bessie a diploma. Since this was a court-tried case, the judgment of the trial court should be sustained if it is supported by substantial evidence, is not against the weight of the evidence, and does not erroneously declare or apply the law. Appellate courts should exercise the power to set aside a judgment on the ground that it is "against the weight of the evidence" with caution and with a firm belief that the decree or judgment was wrong. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). Where, as here, the question is whether the judgment is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing court is required to accept as true all evidence favorable to the prevailing party and all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, and is to disregard all contradictory testimony. Ayers Plastics Co., Inc. v. Packaging Products Corp., 597 S.W.2d 177, 179 (Mo.App.1979). Our review is based on that premise.

In its conclusions of law, the trial court found that the function and goal of the state high school system was to meet student needs, individualize instruction, and humanize education (conclusion No. 8). It found that respondents owed Bessie and her parents a duty to assist Bessie and her family in approving a course of action that would fulfill her needs and, at the same time, meet the goals, function and purpose of the state school system (conclusion No. 10). It found that respondents acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, and capriciously in denying Bessie her diploma (conclusion No. 11). Bessie was taking Industrial Sewing in her 8th semester in school and actually completed all but 27 days of that semester (conclusions 11 and 12). She had 21½ credits (Finding of Fact V). Her job at the shoe factory was industrial sewing. She testified at the hearing that no school official ever told her that she could receive on-the-job training credit for her sewing work at the shoe factory. Her father testified that he had made a request of the School Board that they give a "waiver for our daughter so that she could both work and graduate." Such a plea for help from Bessie's farmer-father leaves a reasonable inference that if Bessie had been told that her work at the shoe factory constituted on-the-job training for which she would receive enough additional credit to complete her graduation requirements, such an offer of assistance would have been accepted.

The school authorities had given Bessie a work permit. They knew she was doing industrial sewing at the shoe factory. They should have approved her work as on-the-job training but did not. In addition, the record indicates that respondent had graduated students with as few as 20 credits (Bessie had 21½) or who had not completed the 7th semester (Bessie had completed the 7th semester and most of the 8th). Defendants were arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious in denying Bessie a diploma, under the facts of this case.

A full review of the record indicates that the judgment of the trial court on Count III, in which it ordered respondents to issue a diploma to Bessie, is supported by substantial evidence, is not against the weight of the evidence, and does not contain any erroneous declaration or application of law. Defendant's appeal on Count III has no merit.

In regard to Bessie's appeal of the trial court's judgment on Count II (the declaratory judgment issue), her single point relied on is that the trial court erred "in finding and declaring that the rules and regulations of the Houston Reorganized District No. 1 of Texas County, Missouri, relative to graduation requirements, are not inherently discriminatory, unreasonable and arbitrary in themselves, as they apply to all students in the Houston High School, and are not unconstitutional and in derogation of the due process and equal protection rights of all students," listing 19 reasons why this is supposedly so. The point commences on page 13 of Bessie's reprinted brief, continues through all of pages 14 through 17, and finally ends about halfway through page 18. The verbose, rambling nature of the point as written, defies summarization. As such, it is grossly violative of the requirement of Rule 84.04(d)1 that points relied on be both brief and concise. Simpson v. Island View Sales Corp., 540 S.W.2d 624, 625 (Mo.App. 1976). Dismissal of Bessie's appeal would be justified on that ground alone under Rule 84.08.

In addition, there are other reasons mandating dismissal of her appeal. The Declaratory Judgment Act is not to be used and applied where an adequate remedy to right a claimed wrong exists. Harris v. State Bank and Trust Company of Wellston, 484 S.W.2d 177, 178-179 (Mo.1972). Bessie is not an aggrieved party in the statutory sense. § 512.020, RSMo 1969, V.A.M.S. The word "aggrieved" is defined as suffering from an infringement or denial of legal rights. Farrell v. DeClue, 382 S.W.2d 462, 466 (Mo.App.1964). Bessie's legal rights have not been denied or infringed upon, as the trial court ordered defendants to give her a diploma, which order granted her the only legal right that she claims defendants violated. Any lengthy dissertation on the whys and wherefores of declaratory judgments and the constitutionality of the graduation rules in question would only amount to empty echoes in the legal cave of the winds, in the form of an advisory opinion, a practice too often indulged in by our appellate courts.

The trial court's judgment on Count III is affirmed. Bessie's appeal on Count II is dismissed.

All concur except FLANIGAN, J., dissents and files dissenting opinion.

APPENDIX

"COURT'S FINDING OF FACTS, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND ORDER

This cause was heard by the Court on Wednesday, October 18, 1978, and taken under advisement. Counsel for plaintiff (relator) and counsel for defendants (respondents) have filed their suggestions as to Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The court having heard and considered all the evidence and the suggestions and arguments of counsel, and being fully advised in the premises, now this 13th day of February, 1979...

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