Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, No. 481 Commonwealth Docket 1966, in case of Rose Tree Media School District v. Department of Public Instruction, State Treasurer and Auditor General.
George W. Thompson, with him Baile, Thompson & Shea, for appellant.
Warren G. Morgan, Deputy Attorney General, with him William C. Sennett, Attorney General, for appellees.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell and Mr. Justice Eagen join in this concurring opinion.
This is a mandamus action instituted by appellant, Rose Tree Media School District, to compel appellees, the Department of Public Instruction, the State Treasurer, and the Auditor General to pay an alleged $21,601.25 deficiency due appellant on account of reimbursement for pupil transportation costs for the years 1958-59 through 1964-1965.
Appellees filed a preliminary objection to the complaint averring that appellant failed to state a cause of action. The court below, after argument, sustained the objection and dismissed the complaint. This appeal followed.
The principal issue for our determination is whether or not the refusal of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to reimburse a school district for pupil transportation costs under the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P. L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. §§ 25-2541-43 is a proper subject for an action of mandamus. In order to resolve this issue, it is necessary to determine whether the Superintendent of Public Instruction has mandatory or discretionary powers with respect to the payment of reimbursable transportation costs actually incurred by the school district. The law is clear that mandamus will only lie to compel public officials to perform their duties in accordance with the law when those duties are ministerial in character and not discretionary. Volunteer Firemen's Relief Association v. Minehart, 415 Pa. 305,
A.2d 476 (1964); Meadville Area School District v. Department of Public Instruction, 398 Pa. 496, 159 A.2d 482 (1960); Mellinger v. Kuhn, 388 Pa. 83, 130 A.2d 154 (1957); Maxwell v. Farrell School District Board of Directors, 381 Pa. 561, 112 A.2d 192 (1955); Dechert, Controller of the City and County of Philadelphia v. Commonwealth, 113 Pa. 229, 6 Atl. 229 (1886); 17 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations § 51.16 (3d ed. 1968). A ministerial act has been defined as one which a public officer is required to perform upon a given state of facts in a prescribed manner in obedience to the mandate of legal authority. See Meadville Area School District v. Department of Public Instruction, supra; 17 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, supra, § 51.19. In our view, the Public School Code of 1949, as amended, provides a mandatory statutory directive for the Department of Public Instruction to follow. Section 2543 provides: "On or before the first day of July of each year, each school district entitled to reimbursement on account of public transportation shall present to the Superintendent of Public Instruction in such form as he may prescribe and on blanks to be furnished by him, a sworn statement of the amount expended during the previous school year for reimbursable transportation of pupils to and from school, and any amount expended during the previous school year for board and lodging in lieu of reimbursable transportation. On the basis of such statement, the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall, by requisition upon the State Treasurer, pay, during the month of September, to such school district, such reimbursement for the previous school year as is provided for in this act. The Department of Public Instruction may, for cause specified by it, withhold such reimbursement, in any given case, permanently, or until
the school district has complied with the law or regulations of the State Board of Education." (Emphasis supplied). The procedure for reimbursing pupil transportation costs incurred by a school district for the previous school year is outlined under § 2541 wherein the statute reads: "School Districts shall be paid by the Commonwealth for every school year on account of pupil transportation which, and the means and contracts providing for which, have been approved by the Department of Public Instruction, in the cases hereinafter enumerated, an amount to be determined by multiplying the cost of approved reimbursable pupil transportation incurred by the district by the district's aid radio. . . ." It is clear from reading these statutory requirements that once the department has approved the amount of reimbursable transportation costs, there is no discretion left to the department in arriving at the actual amount which must be paid to the school district. After approval, the department is mandated by the statute to remit an amount which is to be determined by applying the mechanical formula of multiplying the cost of the approved reimbursable pupil transportation incurred during the school year by the district's aid ratio. The application of that formula does not involve any discretion but merely involves the ministerial duty of making the proper computations in accordance with the directives of the statute. In the event that the Department approves the ...