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Kennedly v. Commonwealth

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Hampshire

January 18, 2018

RUTH KENNEDY & others[1]
v.
COMMONWEALTH & others.[2]

          Heard: September 19, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October 31, 2014.

         Motions to dismiss were heard by Bertha D. Josephson, J.

          James B. Lampke (Russell J. Dupere also present) for the plaintiffs.

          Layla G. Taylor for town of Worthington.

          Kerry David Strayer, Assistant Attorney General (Juliana deHaan Rice, Assistant Attorney General, also present) for the Commonwealth & another.

          Present: Vuono, Blake, & Singh, JJ.

          VUONO, J.

         This appeal arises from the town of Worthington's (Worthington's) withdrawal from the Gateway regional school district (school district) pursuant to special legislation. The school district was established in 1957 and consisted of seven member towns in Hampden and Hampshire Counties until May 7, 2014, when the Legislature adopted "An Act Relative to the Withdrawal of the Town of Worthington From the Gateway Regional School District." St. 2014, c. 97 (act). The act enabled Worthington to withdraw from the school district without the consent of the other member towns. The school district, the town of Huntington (Huntington), Ruth Kennedy (a resident of the member town of Russell), and Derrick Mason (a resident of the member town of Russell), brought an action in Superior Court against Worthington, the Commonwealth, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (department), and the town of Russell, challenging the act. The defendants filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) & (6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), which a judge allowed. Primarily for the reasons set forth in the judge's well-reasoned memorandum of decision, we affirm.

         Background.

         Between 1957 and 1968, the towns of Russell, Worthington, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery, Chester, and Blandford entered into an agreement for the creation and the operation of the school district. See G. L. c. 71, §§ 14-14B, 15. Among other things, the agreement provides for the location of schools, the apportionment and payment of costs by member towns, and the employment of teachers. The agreement also outlines the procedures through which a town may enter and withdraw from the school district. Withdrawal of a member town must be done by amendment to the agreement, and the withdrawal takes effect after each town in the school district accepts the amendment by obtaining a majority vote from its residents during a town meeting. The agreement requires unanimous approval by the remaining towns before a town may withdraw. Any town allowed to withdraw from the school district remains liable under the agreement for its share of unpaid operating costs and indebtedness for capital expenses incurred while the withdrawing town was a member.

         In early 2013, Worthington advised the school district that it wished to withdraw, and then attempted to do so. However, Worthington failed to obtain the approval of the other member towns and, as a result, the residents of Worthington voted to file a home rule petition with the Legislature seeking legislation that would permit Worthington to withdraw from the school district. See art. 89, § 6, of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution (home rule amendment).[3]

         On July 8, 2013, a home rule petition was filed on behalf of Worthington. See 2013 House Doc. No. 3574. The plaintiffs state that the proposed legislation was changed to "a non-home rule bill, " though they dispute that it was changed to a special law.[4] On April 28, 2014, the Legislature approved the act, and it was signed by the Governor on May 7, 2014. The act states in relevant part:

"Notwithstanding chapter 71 of the General Laws or any other general or special law or agreement to the contrary, the town of Worthington may unilaterally withdraw as a member of the Gateway Regional School District."

St. 2014, c. 97, § 1. The act required Worthington to pay the school district (1) any amounts that it would have been obligated to pay under the agreement for operating and capital costs, and (2) any amounts owed under the agreement to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. St. 2014, c. 97, § 2. The act also directed the department to convene a "reorganization needs conference, " to assess, among other things, (1) the impact of Worthington's withdrawal, (2) its effect on current and future enrollments in the school district, (3) an ...


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