Heard: September 19, 2017.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October
to dismiss were heard by Bertha D. Josephson, J.
B. Lampke (Russell J. Dupere also present) for the
G. Taylor for town of Worthington.
David Strayer, Assistant Attorney General (Juliana deHaan
Rice, Assistant Attorney General, also present) for the
Commonwealth & another.
Present: Vuono, Blake, & Singh, JJ.
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.
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.
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
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. 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 ...