Court rules in favor of GMR: Rules against Middle River Annexation Property Owners Group

 

Back at a February 19, 2019 Greenbush-Middle River (GMR) School Board meeting, David Thompson, a petitioner part of the Middle River Annexation Property Owners Group, told the board what would likely happen– based on what he had heard from his fellow petitioners– if the district didn’t approve allowing the petitioners to detach their properties from GMR.

“They want to continue pursuing, which would mean ultimately a lawsuit against the school district, take it to district court, and the district judge would decide the outcome,” Thompson said at that time.

The group would file that lawsuit and nearly two years after that Thompson comment, on January 22, 2021, Roseau County Ninth Judicial Court Judge Donna Dixon officially decided the outcome. She ruled a judgment in favor of the defendant, GMR School, and against the petitioner, the Middle River Annexation Property Owners Group.

In this case, the Court found “no genuine issues of material fact” and “no procedural or substantive due process rights were violated.” It also found that the board “exercised its discretionary power” by denying the petitions and didn’t show any “arbitrary and capricious conduct.”

For those reasons, the Court ruled in favor of GMR’s “Motion for Summary Judgment,” according to January 22, 2021 Ninth District Court documentation related to the case.

Going back, in February 2019, the Middle River Annexation Property Owners group began submitting detachment and annexation petitions to the board. But, the group has been trying to detach their properties from GMR and annex them into the Marshall County Central School District since at least March 2018.

According to January 22, 2021 court documentation, the district considered three detachment and annexation requests from the Middle River group and denied each request. The week prior to the GMR Board’s May 20, 2019 meeting, this group served Board Chairperson Shane Kilen and now former Board Member Laurie Stromsodt the lawsuit against the district, according to prior Tribune reports.

Filing its lawsuit (formerly called a petition for writ of mandamus) through Roseau County and the Ninth Judicial Court, the Middle River group cited why the Court should have directed the GMR District to allow these petitioners to detach from the district.

“The School District’s decision to not give consent was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable and violated Petitioners’ Due Process rights,” the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit mentioned how many of the petitioners have school-age children who currently attend other schools, mostly Marshall County Central. The petitioners wanted their tax dollars supporting the schools their children attend.

In the lawsuit, the group mentioned how the board’s unreasonableness was further demonstrated based on its decision to close the Middle River building at its May 7, 2018 meeting. The lawsuit said that board made this decision despite being warned of students leaving and open enrolling to other schools, a decision that cost the district “almost one million dollars in state funding,” according to the group’s lawsuit.

The district’s enrollment dropped from 387 in 2017 to 323 in 2018 and then dropped to 279 in 2019. GMR’s enrollment as of December 1, 2020 stood at 244.

Besides describing the board’s decision to not grant consent to detach as “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable,” the Middle River group also claimed the decision was driven out of spite and payback due to its members opposing the closure of the Middle River School building.

Judge Dixon disputed the group’s claim of the board’s decision being driven by spite and payback, citing how discovery didn’t reveal any facts to support this claim. She explained how the facts show that the decision was motivated by two concerns:

1.) potential loss of revenue ranging from approximately $92,000 to $288,000 at the time of the March 2019 GMR Board Meeting

2.) the precedent the board would set by allowing the annexation

To find out the latest from the GMR School Board, read an upcoming issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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