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Board of Trustees for the Fairfield County School District v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 16, 2014

Board of Trustees for the Fairfield County School District, Appellant,
v.
State of South Carolina, Chester County School District, Fairfield County Treasurer, and State Department of Education, Respondents

Heard November 7, 2013

Appeal from Richland County. Appellate Case No. 2012-212697. J. Ernest Kinard, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.

Armand G. Derfner, of Derfner Altman & Wilborn, LLC, of Charleston, Alice F. Paylor and Rene Stuhr Dukes, both of Rosen Rosen & Hagood, LLC, of Charleston, for Appellant.

James S. Meggs, of Callison Tighe & Robinson, LLC, of Columbia, John Marshall Reagle, Allison Aiken Hanna and Kimberly Kelley Blackburn, all of Childs & Halligan, PA, of Columbia, Attorney General Alan.

JUSTICE PLEICONES. TOAL, C.J. and KITTREDGE, J., concur. BEATTY, J., dissenting in a separate opinion in which HEARN, J., concurs.

OPINION

Page 242

[409 S.C. 121] PLEICONES JUSTICE

In this direct appeal, the Board of Trustees for the Fairfield County School District

Page 243

(FCSD) appeal the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the State of South Carolina, Chester County School District (CCSD), the Fairfield County Treasurer, and the State Department of Education (collectively Respondents). We affirm.

[409 S.C. 122]FACTS

For the past four decades between 100 and 200 children residing in the Mitford Community of Fairfield County have been attending CCSD schools in the Great Falls area of Chester County. The CCSD schools are closer to the Mitford Community than are any FCSD schools. The Mitford students have been attending CCSD schools at no cost to the students or their families.

Mitford students' attendance at CCSD schools began as a result of a Federal 1970 desegregation order, which required the all African-American Mitford Elementary School be closed, and its students be given the choice of attending CCSD's Great Falls schools. In 1972, the General Assembly passed Act No. 1236, consolidating the Mitford Community into CCSD. This Act was repealed the following year based on an agreement between FCSD and CCSD respecting the Mitford Community's students' enrollment in CCSD's schools. Under this agreement, FCSD paid CCSD $25,000 per year for educational expenses.

In 2007, this long standing agreement began to break down and finally ended in the 2009-10 school year when no agreement was reached for that year or thereafter. In light of the school districts' failure to reach an agreement for payment to CCSD for the cost of educating Mitford Community's students in CCSD's schools and FCSD's refusal to continue negotiations, the General Assembly passed Act No. 294 of 2010 (Act No. 294)[1] in

Page 244

order to provide for a uniform arrangement between FCSD and CCSD.

[409 S.C. 123] Pursuant to section 59-63-485(C), CCSD has invoiced the Fairfield County Treasurer $1,838,703 for the expenses of educating the Mitford children for the past three school years.

FCSD filed suit against the Respondents seeking a declaratory judgment that Act No. 294 was unconstitutional. FCSD [409 S.C. 124] contended that Act No. 294 was unconstitutional special legislation in violation of S.C. Const. art. III, § 34(IX), " because it directly conflicts with and undermines South Carolina's general law governing residence requirements for school attendance and general law governing the financing of schools." CCSD, the State, and FCSD filed cross motions for summary judgment as to the constitutionality of Act No. 294. The circuit court issued an order denying FCSD's motion and granting CCSD and the State's motions for summary judgment, holding that Act No. 294 was constitutional special legislation, and FCSD appealed.

Standard of Review

" In reviewing the grant of summary judgment, [an appellate court] applies the same standard that governs the trial court under Rule 56, SCRCP: summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Pittman v. Grand Strand Entm't, Inc., 363 S.C. 531, 536, 611 S.E.2d 922, 925 (2005).

Discussion

The only issue before this Court is whether the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment because FCSD failed to carry its burden of production. The parties agree that Act No. 294 is special legislation because the more general law found in S.C. Code Ann. § 59-63-480 (2004)[2] applies to the transfer of students between school districts based upon geographic proximity. In addition, FCSD contends [409 S.C. 125] that Act No. 294 violates Article III, ยง 34(IX) because the General Assembly has failed to set forth any logical basis or sound reason for Act No. 294's enactment. We agree with the circuit court that FCSD failed to present any ...


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