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Pennsylvania International Academy, LLC v. Fort LeBoeuf School District

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 3, 2017

PENNSYLVANIA INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
FORT LeBOEUF SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Arthur J. Schwab, United States District Judge

         This case was initiated by Pennsylvania International Academy, LLC (“the Academy”), a company which operates a residential boarding facility for high school students who attend Mercyhurst Preparatory School (“Mercyhurst Prep”), located in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Academy's residential facilities fall within the boundaries of the Fort LeBoeuf School District (“School District”).

         The Academy originally filed this lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Pennsylvania, but the matter was removed to the United States Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Because Count Three of the Academy's Complaint sets forth a federal civil rights claim, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for deprivation of property without due process of law, the removal was proper, as this District Court has original jurisdiction over this matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         In addition to its Section 1983 claim, the Academy seeks a mandamus in the form of a permanent injunction requiring the School District to provide free transportation to its students to and from Mercyhurst Prep. The Academy's request for mandamus alleges that the School District, after six years of providing free bus transportation between the Academy's residential facility and Mercyhurst Prep, refused to provide free transportation for the 2016-2017 school year.

         Finally, the Academy's Complaint also sets forth a subrogation claim to recover the costs it incurred for its students' transportation for the 2016-2017 school year, when the School District refused to provide free transportation to the Academy's students. To this end, the Academy seeks reimbursement in the amount of $26, 207.00 to recoup its transportation payment and costs for the 2016-2017 school year.

         Presently before the Court are the Parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.[1] The parties have fully briefed their cross-motions and there are no relevant, material facts in dispute. Thus, this matter is ripe for disposition.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, “the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Melrose, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 613 F.3d 380, 387 (3d Cir. 2010).

         A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011). Disputes must be both: (1) material, meaning concerning facts that will affect the outcome of the issue under substantive law, and (2) genuine, meaning there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute “to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” In re Lemington Home for Aged, 659 F.3d 282, 290 (3d Cir. 2011).

         A party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of supporting its assertion that fact(s) cannot be genuinely disputed by citing to particular parts of materials in the record - i.e., depositions, documents, affidavits, stipulations, or other materials - or by showing that: (1) the materials cited by the non-moving party do not establish the presence of a genuine dispute, or (2) that the non-moving party cannot produce admissible evidence to support its fact(s). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The moving party may discharge its burden by “pointing out to the district court” the “absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case” when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof for the claim in question. Conoshenti v. Public Service Elec. & Gas Co, 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004), quoting Singletary v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, 266 F.3d 186, 192 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001), quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

         Conversely, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must support its assertion that fact(s) are genuinely disputed by citing to particular parts of materials in the record, or by showing that: (1) the materials cited by the moving party do not establish the absence of a genuine dispute, or (2) the moving party cannot produce admissible evidence to support its fact(s). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). When determining whether there are any genuine issues of material fact, all inferences should be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Berckeley Inv. Group, Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006).

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court does not make credibility determinations, and summary judgment is “inappropriate when a case will turn on credibility determinations.” El v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority, 479 F.3d 232 (3d Cir. 2007), citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         In the instant case, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. It is well established that the filing of contradictory motions for summary judgment, “does not constitute an agreement that if one is rejected the other is necessarily justified or that the losing party waives judicial consideration and determination whether genuine issues of material fact exist.” Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, Pa., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008), quoting Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968).

         II. Relevant Material Uncontested Facts

         The Academy operates a residential building facility for high school-aged students who attend a private school, known as Mercyhurst Prep. The students, who reside at the Academy's facility and attend Mercyhurst Prep, possess F-1 Visas. The possession of an F-1 Visa renders these students lawful residents of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

         The Academy's residential facility is located within the School District. Mercyhurst Prep is located within ten miles of the School District's boundaries by way of the nearest public highway.

         For six years prior to the 2016-2017 school year, the School District provided free bus transportation to the students who resided at the Academy's residential facility and who attended Mercyhurst Prep. Then, in June of 2016, the School District notified the Academy that it would no longer provide free bus transportation to the students residing at the Academy because of their F-1 Visa status. However, the School District offered to transport the Academy's students to and from the Academy's facility to and from Mercyhurst Prep at a cost of $765.00 per student for the 2016-2017 school year. Rather than pay approximately $87, 975.00 to the School District, the Academy contracted with the same transportation service provider to provide transportation for its students for the 2016-2017 school year at a cost of $26, 207.00.

         The Academy brought the instant lawsuit against the School District seeking: (1) a mandamus in the form of a permanent injunction requiring the School District to provide free transportation to its students; (2) subrogation of the $26, 207.00 amount the Academy incurred during the 2016-2017 school year in costs to transport its students from their residence to Mercyhurst Prep; and/or (3) damages in the amount of $26, 207.00, for the School District's alleged violation of the Academy's students' property right to be provided with free bus transportation from their place of residence (the Academy) to their private school (Mercyhurst Prep) as per Pennsylvania law.

         III. DISCUSSION

         a. The School District's Motion for Summary Judgment i. Pennsylvania's Busing Statute

         The School District has argued that all three of the Academy's claims set forth in its Complaint are “founded upon the flawed legal premise that the [School] District is legally obligated to provide the Academy's students with [free] transportation to and from their private secondary school.” Doc. no. 6, p. 4.

         Pennsylvania's Public School Code, 24 Pa. C. S. A. §1-101 et seq., contains a provision for the transportation of public school students (herein, “the busing statute”), which reads in pertinent part:

(1) The board of school directors in any school district may, out of the funds of the district, provide for the free transportation of any resident pupil to and from the kindergarten, elementary school, or secondary school in which he is lawfully enrolled, provided that such school is not operated for profit and is located within the district boundaries or outside the district boundaries at a distance not exceeding ten miles by the nearest public highway . . . . When provision is made by a board of school directors for the transportation of public school pupils to and from such schools or to and from any points within or without the Commonwealth in order to provide field trips as herein provided, the board of school directors shall also make identical provision for the free transportation of pupils who regularly attend nonpublic kindergarten, elementary and high schools not operated for profit to and from such schools or to and from any points within or without the Commonwealth in order to provide field trips as herein provided. Such transportation of pupils attending nonpublic schools shall be provided during regular school hours on such dates and periods that the nonpublic school not operated for profit is in regular session, according to the school calendar officially adopted by the directors of the same in accordance with provisions of law. . . .

24 Pa. C. S. A. § 13-1361.

         The Court applies the rules of statutory construction when interpreting the above-quoted state statute. “It is well settled that the first step in interpreting a statute is to determine whether the language at issue has a plain and unambiguous meaning with regard to the particular dispute in the case.” United States v. Cooper, 396 F.3d 308, 310 (3d Cir. 2005) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “Where the language of the statute is clear . . . the text of the statute is the end of the matter.” Steele v. Blackman, 236 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2001). “The plainness or ambiguity of statutory language is determined by reference to the language itself, the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole.” Marshak v. Treadwell, 240 F.3d 184, 192 (3d Cir. 2001), quoting Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 341 (1997).

         The Court finds Pennsylvania's busing statute, quoted above, to be unambiguous. The statute specifically indicates that “[w]hen provision is made by a board of school directors for the transportation of public school pupils to and from such schools . . . the board of school directors shall also make identical provision for the free transportation of pupils who regularly attend nonpublic . . . schools not operated for profit to and from such schools[.]” Simply put, Pennsylvania's busing statute requires a school district to provide free bus transportation to students residing within the school district who attend nonpublic, nonprofit schools, if it provides free bus transportation to its students who attend public schools.

         Based upon the uncontested facts presented herein, the School District provides free bus transportation to its public school students. The state's busing statute requires the same free bus transportation to its nonpublic school students. The parties to this lawsuit concur that the Academy's students reside within the school district and attend Mercyhurst Prep, a nonpublic, nonprofit school which is located outside the district boundaries, but at a distance not exceeding ten miles by the nearest public highway.

         Given these uncontested facts, the Court finds that Pennsylvania's busing statute requires the School District to provide free bus transportation to the students who reside at the Academy to and from Mercyhurst Prep.

         ii. Conflict Preemption

         1. Overview of Conflict Preemption

         However, the School District argues that the above-quoted busing statute, which this Court has now determined would require the School District to provide free bus transportation from the residential facility operated by the Academy to and from Mercyhurst Prep, conflicts with federal law. The School District argues that under the Supremacy Clause of ...


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