The Lebanon Daily News reports that a federal district court has denied Lebanon School District’s (LSD) motion to dismiss a class action suit brought by a group of parents over truancy fines. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the NAACP filed the suit on behalf of the parents who claimed the court-imposed truancy fines assessed to them were above the state’s limit of $300 per violation. The lawsuit asked the court to force the district to stop collecting the fines and repay 500 truancy fines that the group alleged were excessive and levied illegally.
The judge noted that between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2009, district judges awarded LSD some 935 fines in excess of $300, at least 178 of which were more than $1,000. During the same period, LSD accepted fines exceeding the statutory maximum of $300 on 323 occasions for an amount of at least $107,000. In 2010, LSD sought and obtained adjustments to reduce at least 340 fines that had been assessed above the $300 maximum. The parents who filed the suit claimed that at least 273 illegal fines that have outstanding balances were excluded from the adjusted fines.
A district judge – not the school district – sets the fines, but the fines are paid to the school district.
LSD asked the court to dismiss the suit, contending that it was improperly named as a defendant. It argued that the district court judges, not the school district, have the authority to issue and collect truancy fines. The federal district court concluded, “While it is ultimately the province of the magisterial district [court] judges to formally set or reduce fines, (the parents) have a plausible claim that such action are procedurally instituted by the district, and the district plays an active role in truancy adjudication.”
The judge emphasized that the parents’ suit does not challenge the imposition of the fines, but rather the alleged selective reduction of some fines and not others. The parents claimed that LSD used undisclosed criteria for deciding which fines would be reduced and failed to give them an opportunity to determine whether the fines imposed on them fit the criteria. The parents claimed that, by doing so, LSD deprived them of their due-process right to challenge the fines.
LSD argued that the parents failed to provide evidence of discriminatory intent. The federal court maintained that the district had “fundamentally misconstrue[d]” the parents’ claims. ”Each of (the district’s) arguments assume that (the parents) have challenged the imposition of the statutorily excessive fines. They have not. Rather, (the parents) challenge (the school district’s) actions in selectively seeking to reduce only a fraction of the fines imposed that exceeded the statutory maximum.”
Source: Lebanon Daily News, 11/28/11, By Les Stewart
[Editor's Note: In January 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Lebanon Daily News reporting that the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP (NAACP-PA) and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILC) had announced this lawsuit. NAACP-PA and PILC said the suit challenged the LSD truancy policy on the grounds that it unfairly targets minorities.]