The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane
Before the Court is Defendant Lebanon School District's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 45) and Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 48). The motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The Court will deny in part and grant in part Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.
Under Pennsylvania's compulsory school attendance law, any parent or guardian in control of a child of compulsory school age may be fined if his or her child fails to attend school.
24 Pa. Stat. § 13-1333(a)(1). School districts and magisterial district courts assess and collect truancy fines under the law. Id.; id. at § 13-1332. First, the school district reports the truancy violation by submitting a citation to the magisterial district judge. Once the citation has been received, the judge holds a mandatory hearing before convicting the parent. Id. at § 13-1333(a)(2). If convicted, the judge then imposes a fine, which is set at a maximum of $300 plus costs on each citation. Id. at § 13-1333(a)(1). The magisterial district court collects the fine from the parent, and the fine is then remitted to the school district's treasurer. 24 Pa. Stat. § 1-109.
Pursuant to this compulsory school attendance law, during the period between the start of the 2004-05 school year and the 2008-09 school year, over seven hundred fines in excess of $300 plus costs per citation were assessed against parents and students in the Lebanon School District. (Doc. No. 48-2 ¶ 10.) Some of the fines were for as much as $9,000. (Id.) Although the magisterial district courts subsequently reduced any unpaid truancy fines to $300 plus costs, no adjustment was made to truancy fines paid in full. Monies collected from these fines were remitted to the Lebanon School District. (Id.) Over two hundred parents paid truancy fines in excess of $300 plus costs that are being retained by the Lebanon School District. (Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 13.)
On January 20, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in this Court. (Doc. No. 1.) In Count I of their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Lebanon School District violated the Equal Protection Clause by collaborating with the magisterial district courts to reduce unpaid truancy fines in excess of the statutory maximum while retaining paid truancy fines also in excess of the statutory maximum. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 32.) Plaintiffs claim this behavior was arbitrary and denied Plaintiffs equal protection of the laws. (Id.) Plaintiffs further claim that Defendant used "undisclosed" criteria to determine which excessive fines would be reduced, and thus intentionally deprived plaintiffs due process of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 33.) In Count II of their complaint, Plaintiffs raise state law claims, seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendant is not entitled to receive truancy fines in excess of the amount allowable by 24 Pa. Stat. § 13-1333(a)(1), and that Defendant was unjustly enriched by its receipt of excessive truancy fines and thus should make restitution to Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs originally consisted of four parents of children attending school in the Lebanon School District who had paid excessive truancy fines, and the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches (PA-NAACP), a non-partisan organization with operations in Pennsylvania and affiliated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (Id. ¶ 5.) In the complaint, the PA-NAACP alleges its members and its Lebanon Chapter were aggrieved by Defendant's actions, and the PA-NAACP diverted resources to addressing Defendant's alleged actions with respect to the truancy fines. (Id.) The PA-NAACP's claims are not brought as a class representative. (Id.)
On April 5, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, proposing that the following individuals be certified as a class: "[a]ll persons who had fines in excess of $300 per citation for truancy violations in the Lebanon School District. . . and who have paid an amount in excess of $300 plus costs on a citation." (Doc. No. 33.) On June 28, 2012, the Court granted the motion for class certification. (Doc. No. 43.) Soon after, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 45.) Plaintiffs filed their own motion for partial summary judgment on Count II of their complaint seeking a declaratory judgment on their state law claims. (Doc. No. 48.) Both motions have been briefed and are now ripe for disposition. The Court will evaluate each motion in turn, discussing Defendant's motion for summary judgment first, and proceeding to Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.
Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Court must view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences flowing from these facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the law applicable to the case. Levendos v. Stern Entm't, Inc., 860 F.2d 1277, 1229 (3d Cir. 1988). A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-moving party. Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999).
The summary judgment standard does not change when parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Applemans v. City of Phila., 826 F.2d 214, 216 (3d Cir. 1987). The court must rule on each party's motion on an individual basis, determining separately for each side whether summary judgment may be entered. Marciniak v. Prudential Fin. Ins. Co. of Am., 184 F.App'x. 266, 270 (3d Cir. 2006). If review of cross-motions reveals no genuine issue of material fact, then judgment may be granted in favor of the party entitled to judgment in view of the law and undisputed facts. Iberia Foods Corp. v. Romeo, 150 F.3d 298, 302 (3d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).
The standard for granting summary judgment on a declaratory judgment request is identical to any other type of relief. Cloverland-Green Spring Dairies, Inc. v. Penn. Milk Mktg. Bd., 298 F.3d 201, 210 (3d Cir. 2002). After viewing the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, a court may enter summary judgment if no genuine dispute of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Bailey v. United Airlines, 279 F.3d 194, 198 (3d Cir. 2002).
A. Defendant's motion for summary judgment
In Count I of their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant collaborated with the magisterial district courts by "selectively seeking reduction of statutorily excessive fines" and therefore denied Plaintiffs equal protection of the laws. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 32.) Plaintiffs claim that Defendant's exclusion of class members with paid truancy fines from the class of truancy fines that were reduced was arbitrary and capricious. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant used "undisclosed criteria" to determine which excessive fines would be selected for adjustment, and therefore intentionally deprived Plaintiffs of due process. (Id. ¶ 33.)
Section 1983 applies to "[e]very person who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. When the defendant's actions do not burden a fundamental right, nor target a fundamental class, the Court reviews the plaintiff's claims under rational basis review. Doe v. PA Bd. of Probation & Parole, 515 F.3d 95, 108 (3d Cir. 2008). To survive rational basis review, the state action must bear a rational relationship to some legitimate end. Id. Although this is a low threshold, the Supreme Court has emphasized that a relationship must exist between the classification adopted and the object to be obtained. FCC v. Beach Comm., Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 313 (1993).
Defendant advances three principal arguments supporting its motion for summary judgment: (1) Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred and raised against the wrong party, (2) the Pennsylvania National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (PA-NAACP) lacks standing to bring this action, and (3) Plaintiffs have not produced any evidence that Defendant was involved in setting or reducing truancy fines. (Doc. No. 47 at 2.) The Court will separately address each argument.
1. Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred and raised against the wrong party.
Defendant first claims that Plaintiffs are barred from challenging the fines as a matter of law because fines imposed by a magisterial district court must be appealed within thirty days following a conviction. (Id.) Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs' lawsuit must be dismissed because it is raised against the wrong party, claiming that Plaintiffs' challenge to the legality of the truancy fines must be presented to the sentencing court or the proper appellate court. (Id. at 8.)
The Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims are not time-barred, because Plaintiffs are not challenging the imposition of fines. (Doc. No. 53 at 15.) Instead, Plaintiffs have brought a Section 1983 claim, alleging that Defendant arbitrarily reduced unpaid truancy fines while neglecting to adjust paid truancy fines. (Id.) Second, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims are directed to the correct party. Plaintiffs are challenging Defendant's alleged selective ...