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Miller v. Board of Education





Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. Patrick Fleming, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, the Board of Education of District 189, appeals from a judgment against it in the amount of $107,887.96 entered by the circuit court of St. Clair County in a contract action brought by teachers of the district. For the reasons hereinafter set forth, we affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.

Plaintiffs originally filed suit on August 29, 1969. The complaint consisted of 396 separate counts, one for each teacher in the district. The plaintiffs made claims for salary shortages which occurred over a period of years beginning with the fall of 1959 and ending with the 1966-67 school year.

On defendant's motion, the original complaint was dismissed in 1972 for failure to attach a written contract. Plaintiffs immediately filed an amended complaint, adopting their previous complaint and attaching an affidavit which stated the reason for their failure to include the contract. The affidavit explained that the contract between the board and the teachers was based on the minutes and resolutions of board meetings which occurred during the years in question. It stated that the defendant alone had access to these minutes and, thus, plaintiffs were unable to attach them to the complaint. Defendant moved to dismiss on the same grounds as before.

There was very little activity in the case during the next six or seven years. Discovery proceeded at a slow pace and included various motions to produce submitted by plaintiffs and a request for admission of facts and genuineness of documents, also submitted by plaintiffs. Defendant did not respond to these requests and ignored interrogatories propounded during this period.

Then, late in 1979, the activity accelerated. In August a hearing was held at which the court denied defendant's motion to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds and denied plaintiffs' motion to proceed as a class action. However, it granted defendant's motion to dismiss based on laches, thus dismissing all claims arising between the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1963. On May 14, 1980, the court entered an order denying plaintiffs' motion to strike defendant's pleadings and for judgment of default against defendant. Plaintiffs had so moved because of defendant's conduct with regard to discovery.

Several pretrial conferences took place in the ensuing months. On October 6 the plaintiffs submitted request for admission of facts and genuineness of documents. At a pretrial conference in October, the trial judge informed the parties that all remaining plaintiffs who intended to proceed with their cause of action would have to appear at a hearing on June 15, 1981, for roll call. On June 29, when 171 plaintiffs had failed to appear for the "show-up" conference, the judge entered an order dismissing their claims.

After these dismissals and the dismissals based on laches, a total of 96 plaintiffs remained to proceed with the cause of action.

In the interim, on June 15 and again on June 22, 1981, plaintiffs presented two additional requests for admission of facts and genuineness of documents. The defendant did not respond to these. At a hearing on July 14, 1981, the plaintiffs were granted leave to file an amended complaint. Defendant's motion to dismiss was denied and a hearing date was set for the existing plaintiffs. Also at this time, the trial court granted the plaintiffs' motion for sanctions against the school board for failing to respond to discovery attempts. However, it set aside the $200 fine in return for the board's guarantee of future cooperation.

On August 3, 1981, a hearing was to be had on the merits. As the proceedings began, plaintiffs moved for summary judgment. They based their motion on exhibits which had been included in their discovery requests. Plaintiffs maintained that the exhibits constituted admissions by defendant because defendant failed to deny their truth or authenticity in pretrial discovery. Plaintiffs claimed that, from these exhibits, it was apparent that the base salary which was agreed to between the board and the teachers was not the base salary which was actually paid to them. The court construed the motion for summary judgment as a motion for directed verdict and entered a directed verdict for the teachers in the amount of $106,635. Plaintiffs' motion for interest and further sanctions was denied, as was a motion to reinstate the 171 plaintiffs who had been dismissed in the "no-show" order. However, the judge did give defendant five days to produce documentation which would disprove plaintiffs' contentions.

The hearing was continued on August 12, 1981. The defendant produced payroll records for 19 teachers and a handwritten survey sheet which it said proved that the amounts actually paid to the teachers were different than the amounts which were indicated on the personal history sheets. Essentially, defendant hoped to discredit the figures relied upon by plaintiffs by presenting conflicting figures for the same pay period. The court ordered the plaintiffs to file affidavits concerning the 19 teachers listed in defendant's survey. It allowed defendant time to respond to plaintiffs' affidavits, but made it clear that its final rulings as to these 19 plaintiffs would be the basis for its ruling on all 96 plaintiffs. On the 14th day of September, plaintiffs submitted detailed affidavits regarding the 19 teachers. In these affidavits the teachers set forth their level on the salary schedule, the base salary actually paid them, and the other monies they received for performing such duties as coaching, playground monitoring, etc. Defendant introduced counteraffidavits of the personnel director, one for each of the 19 teachers, which were supposed to dispute plaintiffs' figures. The hearing resumed on October 28 at which time the parties explained their positions. In an order entered on November 25, the court decided in favor of plaintiffs and set the amount of recovery, according to computation sheets submitted by plaintiffs' attorney, at $107,887.96.

On December 18, 1981, defendant filed its notice of appeal. The plaintiffs then cross-appealed.

On appeal, the school board has presented two issues for review. The first of these is whether the court erred in granting a motion for directed verdict based upon a motion for summary judgment. The second issue, closely related, is whether the court erred in allowing evidence by affidavit in lieu of plaintiffs' appearance at trial.

• 1, 2 At the hearing on August 3, 1981, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment based on information contained in four exhibits which they deemed admissions by defendant. Exhibit No. 1 consisted of copies of minutes and resolutions of board meetings which occurred during the years in question. Plaintiffs did not include minutes of all the board meetings, of course, but only minutes of those meetings which contained the final negotiations and formal approval of contract terms and salary schedules. These minutes submitted by plaintiffs constitute the record of the contract between the teachers and the school board, and it is these on which the trial judge relied. As plaintiffs ...

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