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Schaefer v. Tea Area School District 41-5

Supreme Court of South Dakota

November 10, 2015

CHRIS SCHAEFER, et al., Petitioners and Residents of Westwood Valley, Appellants,
v.
TEA AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT 41-5, Appellee.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE DOUGLAS E. HOFFMAN Judge

SAMUEL M. GOODHOPE LAURA T. BRAHMS of Kading, Kunstle & Goodhope, LLP Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for appellants.

WILLIAM G. BECK JOEL E. ENGEL III of Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, PC Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for appellee.

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

[¶1.] Chris Schaefer appeals the Tea Area School Board's (the Board) denial of his request for a minor boundary change. If granted, the change would have resulted in the detachment of Schaefer's and other property from the Tea Area School District (TASD) and the annexation of the same to the Sioux Falls School District (SFSD). Schaefer asserts the denial was an abuse of discretion. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] The city of Sioux Falls spans at least eight different school districts.[1]

The TASD, one of those districts, was created in 2004 by the Lennox School District 41-4 Reorganization Plan. This plan was approved by the Department of Education in 2003. The TASD covers the city of Tea and includes portions of southwest Sioux Falls. One such area is the Westwood Valley Addition to Sioux Falls, which is located in Sioux Falls but is a part of the TASD. On February 7, 2014, four residents of Westwood Valley-Chris and Crystal Schaefer, Kirsten Dunlap, and Nancy VonHaden (the Petitioners)-submitted a petition (the Petition) to the Board requesting the TASD's boundary be changed to exclude their residences, which would instead be annexed by the SFSD.

[¶3.] The Schaefers moved from the SFSD and into their current home in the TASD in 2007. They were aware that their new home was located in the TASD prior to purchase. They have one child, who attended school in the TASD from kindergarten through sixth grade before transferring to the SFSD for the seventh grade through open enrollment. She will begin high school in the fall of 2016. Prior to school, she attended daycare in Tea. The Schaefers are members of the Family Wellness Center, located several blocks from their home, within the TASD. Until recently, the Schaefers used the services of a veterinarian in Tea. According to the Schaefers, they otherwise work, worship, and socialize in Sioux Falls but not in Tea.

[¶4.] Dunlap moved into the TASD from the SFSD in 2009. She was also aware that her new home was located in the TASD prior to purchase. She has four children of ages 10, 9, 8, and 6. All four children attend elementary school in the SFSD through open enrollment. One of Dunlap's children has special needs and is on an individualized education program. Like the Schaefers, Dunlap asserts that she works, worships, and socializes in Sioux Falls but not in Tea.

[¶5.] VonHaden moved from the SFSD and into the TASD in 2013. She, too, was aware that her new home was located in the TASD. She has four children of ages 11, 10, 8, and 6. All four children attend school in the SFSD through open enrollment. One of VonHaden's children has special needs and is on an individualized education program. Like the Schaefers and Dunlap, VonHaden asserts that works, worships, and socializes in Sioux Falls but not in Tea.

[¶6.] After the Petitioners submitted the Petition on February 7, 2014, the Board sent a letter to the Petitioners requesting, among other things, more information regarding the Petitioners' children and employers. The Petitioners did not provide this additional information to the Board. The Board held a publicly noticed meeting to consider the Petition on March 25, 2014. None of the Petitioners appeared at the hearing either personally or through counsel. The Board unanimously passed a resolution denying the petition.

[¶7.] Schaefer appeals, and we consider the following issues:

1. Whether the notice of appeal was defective because it failed to individually name each of the Petitioners.
2. Whether the denial of the petition for minor boundary change was arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.

Standard of Review

[¶8.] Any person aggrieved by a school board decision may appeal that decision. SDCL 13-46-1. If appealed to the circuit court, "[t]he trial . . . shall be de novo[.]" SDCL 13-46-6. However, "[s]chool boards are creatures of the Legislature[, ]" Onnen v. Sioux Falls Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 49-5, 2011 S.D. 45, ¶ 8, 801 N.W.2d 752, 755 (quoting Hicks v. Gayville–Volin Sch. Dist., 2003 S.D. 92, ¶ 10, 668 N.W.2d 69, 73), and "[t]he creation, enlargement, consolidation, alteration and dissolution of school districts is a legislative function which authority the [L]egislature may delegate to county boards of education[, ]" Warner Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 230 v. Brown Cty. Bd. of Educ., 85 S.D. 161, 167, 179 N.W.2d 6, 9 (1970) (emphasis added). The separation of powers required by our constitution prevents a court from interfering with a school board's decision "unless the decision is made contrary to law." Onnen, 2011 S.D. 45, ¶ 8, 801 N.W.2d at 755 (quoting Hicks, 2003 S.D. 92, ¶ 10, 668 N.W.2d at 73). Consequently, although SDCL 13-46-6 uses the term de novo, that statute "may not be given a literal construction." Mortweet v. Ethan Bd. of Educ., Davison Cty., 90 S.D. 368, 372, 241 N.W.2d 580, 582 (1976) (quoting Dunker v. Brown Cty. Bd. of Educ., 80 S.D. 193, 203, 121 N.W.2d 10, 17

(1963)). "[T]he trial de novo required by SDCL 13-46-6 permits an independent inquiry into the facts, " id. at 373, 241 N.W.2d at 582-83, but "[o]nly the legality of the decision, not the propriety of the decision, may be reviewed by the courts[, ]" Onnen, 2011 S.D. 45, ¶ 8, 801 N.W.2d at 755 (quoting Hicks, 2003 S.D. 92, ¶ 10, 668 N.W.2d at 73). "[T]he court may [not] substitute its judgment for that of the board" and need not "justify its decision by a preponderance of the evidence received in the trial de novo." Mortweet, 90 S.D. at 374, 241 N.W.2d at 583. Thus, a school board's decision will be upheld if it is procedurally regular and is not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. Onnen, 2011 S.D. 45, ¶ 8, 801 N.W.2d at 755. Under this standard,

[a] reviewing court must "consider whether the decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment. . . . Although this inquiry into the facts is to be searching and careful, the ultimate standard of review is a narrow one. The court is not empowered to substitute its judgment for that of the [board]." The [board] must articulate a "rational connection between the facts found and the choice made."

Marshall v. Knutson Constr. Co., 566 F.2d 596, 600-01 (8th Cir. 1977) (quoting Bowman Transp., Inc. v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys., Inc., 419 U.S. 281, 285-86, 95 S.Ct. 438, 442, 42 L.Ed.2d 447 (1974). "The proper scope of review for this court is the same as that of the circuit court." Oelrichs Sch. Dist. 23-3 v. Sides, 1997 S.D. 55, ¶ 9, 562 N.W.2d 907, 911.

Analysis and Decision

[¶9.] 1. Whether the notice of appeal was defective because it failed to individually name each of the Petitioners.

[ΒΆ10.] Before addressing the merits, we must first address an issue raised by the Board. As the Board points out, Chris Schaefer is the only named appellant in this case. The notice of appeal filed by the original petitioners identifies "Appellants" as "Chris Schaefer, et al., Petitioners and Residents of Westwood Valley." The Board asserts that "[b]y using the ambiguous term 'et al., ' the only individual who actually timely served and filed a notice of appeal was Chris Schaefer. Crystal Schaefer, VonHaden, and Dunlap have never filed or served a notice of appeal, and the deadline to do so has now passed. This is a ...


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