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FRANK KENNEDY v. RINGGOLD SCHOOL DISTRICT (08/31/73)

decided: August 31, 1973.

FRANK KENNEDY, NANCY KOMONDOR, FRANK IREY, JR., GEORGE CROMPTON, JR., KASMIER SALA, ROSE VENANZI AND EDWIN SPADAFORA, APPELLANTS,
v.
RINGGOLD SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County in case of Frank Kennedy, Nancy Komondor, Frank Irey, Jr., George Crompton, Jr., Kasmier Sala, Rose Venanzi and Edwin Spadafora v. The Ringgold School District, No. 6765 in Equity, Book No. 40, page 153.

COUNSEL

Frank A. Conte, with him Lee P. Symons, for appellants.

George B. Stegenga, for appellee.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 192]

The appellants, who are taxpayers in the Ringgold School District (District), brought this action in equity to enjoin the District school directors from proceeding with the implementation of their Long-Range Development Program, including the building of a new high school.

The District was organized in 1964 and is composed of the third class City of Monongahela, the Boroughs of Donora, New Eagle and Finleyville, and the Townships of Carroll, Union and Nottinghorn. It has a student population of 6,804 pupils, housed in 16 school buildings, which include eleven elementary schools, three junior high schools and two high schools. In July of 1968, the District undertook the preparation and development of a Long-Range Plan, which was

[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 193]

    completed and officially adopted on June 26, 1969. Pursuant to this Plan eight school buildings were to be abandoned and a new high school was to be built, while the present high schools were to be converted into elementary centers and two of the junior high schools were to become middle schools. Following adoption of the Plan, the District gave preliminary approval to certain building projects, architects were hired and various building plans were considered. On March 9, 1972, the School Board approved a set of development projects prepared by the architects.

In May of 1972 the appellants brought this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, and, following the taking of extensive testimony, it was stipulated between the parties that, instead of having a preliminary decision by the chancellor, the case would be submitted to the court en banc. This was the same procedure as was followed in Allen v. Uniontown Area School District, 4 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 183, 285 A.2d 543 (1971), and apparently, as in that case, this "approach was utilized so that any subsequent appeal could be filed immediately before this Court." 4 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 185, 285 A.2d at 544. Following argument, the lower court issued an adjudication finding that the school directors did not commit an abuse of discretion and that there were no legal grounds upon which to base a grant of injunctive relief. The appellants filed exceptions to this adjudication, which were stricken, and this appeal was thereafter brought. The District has not yet accepted any bids nor begun any construction on the proposed high school or any other project.

Pursuant to Sections 501 to 503 of the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, 24 P.S. §§ 5-501 to 5-503, the board of school directors is given the authority to establish, equip, furnish and maintain schools, including high schools. When a court is asked

[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 194]

    to interfere with or limit this authority, however, it must first determine what judicial function has been vested in the courts of common pleas in such actions for the equitable relief sought, and our Supreme Court has stated in Landerman v. Churchill Area School District, 414 Pa. 530, 534, 200 A.2d 867, 869 (1964): "In order for a court of equity to grant relief, it must clearly be shown that the school board acted outside the scope of its statutory authority or not in good faith. 'It is only where the board transcends the limits of its legal discretion that it is amenable to the injunctive processes of a court of equity: Detweiler v. Hatfield Borough School District, 376 Pa. 555, 566, 104 A.2d 110; Regan et al. v. Stoddard et al., 361 Pa. 469, 474, 65 A.2d 240.' Spann v. Joint Boards of School Directors, 381 Pa. 338, 349, 113 A.2d 281, 287 (1955)." Our own Court has stated in Dochenetz v. Bentworth School District, 6 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 173, 185 (1972): "This area of the law is one of narrowly drawn lines and subtitles. Courts must be wary on encroaching upon the legislative prerogative. Only in those instances wherein arbitrariness, caprice and wrongdoing characterizes a board's act, will a court interfere. Short of that point is the line wherefrom 'discretion' extends. Arbitrariness and caprice must not be confused with bona fide differences of opinion and judgment. The former are indices of motivation and intention, while the latter, by definition, concede proper motivation and intention and ...


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