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Decision No. 16,958

Appeal of MARIE and HENRY ROBERTS, on behalf of their daughter ISABELLA, from action of the superintendent of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District regarding a school district boundary.

Decision No. 16,958

(August 26, 2016)

Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Erin R. Morris, Esq., of counsel

Harris Beach PLLC, attorneys for Schenectady City School District, Douglas E. Gerhardt, Esq., of counsel

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal from the determination of the Board of Education of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District[1] (“Mohonasen” or “district”) denying petitioners’ request to enroll their daughter in the district.  The appeal must be dismissed.

According to petitioners, they live “within the Mohonasen School District or on its border.” By letter dated September 3, 2015, petitioners notified Mohonasen and the Schenectady City School District (“Schenectady”) that, pursuant to Education Law §3203, they were designating Mohonasen as the school district their daughter would attend commencing in the 2016-2017 school year.  By letter dated December 1, 2015, Mohonasen’s superintendent advised petitioners that the district had determined that petitioners’ property was located entirely within Schenectady.  She explained that Mohonasen had no evidence that the boundary line between Mohonasen and Schenectady intersected petitioners’ property and that “the fact that the boundary ‘coincides’ with your boundary does not equate to a ‘dissection.’”  This appeal ensued.

Petitioners assert that they reside within Mohonasen or on its border and that, pursuant to Education Law §3201(1), they designated Mohonasen as their daughter’s school district.  They seek a determination that they are residents of Mohonasen or that their property lies on the boundary line between Mohonasen and Schenectady and that their daughter is entitled to attend Mohonasen schools without the payment of tuition.

Respondent superintendent contends that the appeal should be dismissed because she was not properly served and because the Board of Education of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District was not named as a party in the petition.  Respondent also asserts that petitioners have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Schenectady maintains that it was not identified in the caption as a respondent, and also asserts that petitioners failed to demonstrate entitlement to the relief requested.

Initially, I will address the procedural issues.  Petitioners filed a reply to each answer.  The purpose of a reply is to respond to new material or affirmative defenses set forth in an answer (8 NYCRR §§275.3 and 275.14).  A reply is not meant to buttress allegations in the petition or to belatedly add assertions that should have been in the petition (Appeal of Caswell, 48 Ed Dept Rep 472, Decision No. 15,920; Appeal of Hinson, 48 id. 437, Decision No. 15,908; Appeal of Baez, 48 id. 418, Decision No. 15,901).  Therefore, while I have reviewed the replies, I have not considered those portions containing new allegations or exhibits that are not responsive to new material or affirmative defenses set forth in the answers.

Schenectady and respondent superintendent allege that petitioners failed to name and serve necessary parties.  A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).  Joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).

Initially, I note that the notice of petition contains what appear to be different captions, as does the verified petition.  The caption appearing in the header of the notice of petition reads:

IN THE MATTER OF MARIE ROBERTS, ON BEHALF OF ISABELLA ROBERTS FROM THE ACTION OF THE SUPERINTENDENT OF THE ROTTERDAM MOHONASEN SCHOOL DISTRICT REGARDING THE DENIAL OF ADMISSION BASED ON SCHOOL DISTRICT BOUNDARIES AND SCHENECTADY CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT.[2]

The caption below it on the notice of petition reads:

In the Matter of Marie and Henry Roberts, on behalf of Isabella Roberts from action of the Superintendent of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen School District regarding the denial of admission on the basis of residency between Schenectady City School District and Rotterdam Mohonasen School District (sic).[3]

In its answer, Schenectady asserts that it was not identified in the caption as a respondent, but that it was providing an answer because it was served.  I find that the caption set forth in the header sufficiently names Schenectady as a respondent.  Moreover, because petitioners are not represented by counsel and there is no prejudice to Schenectady, which was timely served and answered the petition, I will not dismiss for failure to join Schenectady (see Appeal of Carrion, 50 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,228).

Nevertheless, as noted above, petitioners request a determination that their daughter is a resident of the Mohonasen school district or that their property “lies on the border of the school district” and that she is entitled to attend district schools without the payment of tuition.  However, as respondent superintendent argues, petitioners failed to clearly name the Board of Education of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District in the caption in the header on the notice of petition and verified petition or in the caption on the notice of petition and verified petition.  Each caption indicates that petitioners are appealing from the action of the superintendent of the school district regarding the denial of admission.  As noted above, the superintendent’s December 1, 2015 letter states, “Please accept this as the District’s final determination of your residency.”  Here, petitioners named only the superintendent and failed to name the board of education as a respondent, even though they are challenging a determination of the district.  The Board of Education of the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District, therefore, is a necessary party and failure to clearly name it in the caption requires dismissal (see Appeal of Lilly, et al., 42 Ed Dept Rep 307, Decision No. 14,863).

Respondent superintendent also asserts that the appeal should be dismissed for improper service.  Section 275.8(a) of the Commissioner’s regulations requires that the petition be personally served upon each named respondent.  If a school district is named as a respondent, service upon the school district shall be made personally by delivering a copy of the petition to the district clerk, to any trustee or any member of the board of education, to the superintendent of schools, or to a person in the office of the superintendent who has been designated by the board of education to accept service (8 NYCRR §275.8[a]; Appeal of Peterson, 48 Ed Dept Rep 530, Decision No. 15,939; Appeal of Naab, 48 id. 339, Decision No. 15,877).  Petitioners name the superintendent of the district in the captions.  While the record indicates that petitioners served a copy of the petition upon the district clerk, there is no evidence in the record that petitioners personally served a copy of the petition upon the superintendent or that they seek any relief against her.  Accordingly, to the extent petitioners assert any claims against the superintendent individually, they must be dismissed as to her for lack of personal service (see Appeal of K.M., 51 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,320).

Even if the appeal were not dismissed on procedural grounds, it would be dismissed on the merits.  Petitioners claim that their property is within Mohonasen, lies on the border between Mohonasen and Schenectady or intersects Mohonasen.  Both Mohonasen and Schenectady assert that petitioners’ daughter is entitled to attend school in Schenectady.  As noted above, Mohonasen determined that petitioners’ property was located entirely within the Schenectady.  In her affidavit, Schenectady’s director of business and finance states that petitioners’ daughter is entitled to attend the Schenectady City School District and that the Schenectady City School District is prepared to admit her.

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief (8 NYCRR §275.10; Appeal of Aversa, 48 Ed Dept Rep 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884; Appeal of P.M., 48 id. 348, Decision No. 15,882).

To support their claim, petitioners submit tax maps and maps from the Schenectady City School District and the Schenectady Internet Mapping System.  However, the maps are not consistent in indicating the relationship between the school district boundary and petitioners’ property boundary.  The tax map indicates that the school district boundary is aligned with petitioners’ property boundary, with all of petitioners’ property located in Schenectady.  The Schenectady City School District maps provide insufficient detail to definitively ascertain the location of petitioners’ property in relation to the school district boundary.[4]  I note that in its answer, Schenectady asserts that the maps contained on its website are not as accurate as those maintained by the Schenectady Interactive Mapping System.  Respondent superintendent submits with its answer a disclaimer found on the Schenectady Interactive Mapping System indicating that the information should not be used as a definitive source.  On this record, therefore, I cannot conclude that petitioners have met their burden of establishing that their property is within the Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District (see e.g. Appeal of Minard, 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,529). 

Nor have petitioners established that “the boundary line between two school districts intersects” their property, which they must do to effect a valid designation under Education Law §3203(1) (Crowe, et al. v. MacFarland, et al., 138 AD2d 788; Appeal of Bd. of Educ. of the Harborfields Cent. School Dist., 41 Ed Dept 15, Decision No 14,597; Appeal of Bd. of Educ. of the Syosset Cent. School Dist., 38 id. 791, Decision No. 14,144, aff’d, Bd. of Ed. Oyster Bay-East Norwich C.S.D. v. Mills, Sup. Ct., Albany Co. [Sheridan, J.], January 31, 2000).

Education Law §3203(1) provides:

The owner of taxable property that is so located that the boundary line between two school districts intersects (a) the dwelling on said property or (b), in the case of an owner-occupied single family dwelling unit, the property on which the dwelling unit is located may designate the school in either of such districts to which the children lawfully residing in said dwelling on said property shall attend by filing with the district clerk of each of such districts a notice of such designation on or before August first in any year and thereafter ... and, until a subsequent designation shall be made and filed, such children shall be deemed to be resident children of the district designated and shall be entitled to the school privileges of such district as resident pupils without the payment of tuition.

Assuming, arguendo, that petitioners’ property line “lies on the border” between Mohonasen and Schenectady as petitioners claim, in order to effect a valid designation under Education Law §3203(1), petitioners must, nevertheless, demonstrate that the school district boundary line actually intersects petitioners’ property.  Although petitioners’ property line may be aligned with the border between the school districts, such does not constitute an intersection of petitioners’ property.  Accordingly, I find that petitioners have failed to carry their burden of proof (see e.g. Appeal of Minard, 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,529).

I note that petitioners contacted the district superintendent regarding this matter prior to filing this appeal.[5]  I also note that the parties do not agree on the accuracy and reliability of several of the maps in evidence in this appeal, although both school districts agree that petitioners’ property lies in Schenectady.  Pursuant to Education Law §2215(1), the district superintendent of schools shall ascertain whether the school district boundaries within his or her supervisory district are “definitely and plainly described” in the office of the proper town clerk.  To the extent the boundary location is uncertain, the appropriate district superintendent of schools may determine where the boundary properly lies.  If there is no order presently filed in the office of the appropriate town clerk, the district superintendent will provide such order in accordance with the provisions of Education Law §2215(1) (see Matter of Horowitz, 9 Ed Dept Rep 82, Decision No. 8,071).

Finally, to the extent petitioners claim that Mohonasen has admitted Schenectady residents in the past, such action does not bind or estop the district from making a different determination in this case (see e.g., Appeal of Perez, 42 Ed Dept Rep 71, Decision No. 14,779).  It is well settled that equitable estoppel does not apply against a governmental subdivision except in limited circumstances not applicable here (Parkview Assoc. v. City of New York, 71 NY2d 274; Hamptons Hosp. and Medical Center v. Moore, et al., 52 NY2d 88; Appeal of Perez, 42 Ed Dept Rep 71, Decision No. 14,779).

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE

 

[1] A letter dated December 1, 2015 from the superintendent of schools states, “Please accept this as the District’s final determination of your residency.”

 

[2] Similarly, the verified petition contains the same header on each page.

 

[3] The caption on the verified petition reads the same except it uses “Mohonasen School District” and “Mohonasen Central School District” instead of “Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central School District.”

 

[4] It appears that the various maps submitted were each created for a different purpose.

 

[5] By email dated December 3, 2015, the district superintendent responded to petitioners’ request and declined to consider it.