Appeals court favors St. Louis Community College in tuition rate dispute

By Sam Knef | Jul 27, 2017

ST. LOUIS — A non-U.S. citizen living in Missouri under a program that provides reprieve from being removed from the country must pay the international tuition rate if she wants to attend St. Louis Community College (SLCC).

In a ruling filed on July 11, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District affirmed a St. Louis County Circuit Court decision in favor of SLCC.

Jane Doe had sued the college, seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief after it charged her in 2015 the international rate of $215 per credit hour versus the $103 per credit hour for in-district students.

Doe came to the U.S. as a child and has lived in Missouri continuously for the past 10 years, according to the ruling. In 2012, she applied for and received protection under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is administered through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As long as a DACA status is valid, a subject can be employed and will not be removed from the U.S.

However, the ruling notes, DACA "confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship on recipients and is revocable at any time at the sole discretion of DHS."

In her suit, Doe claimed that the trial court erred in interpreting state law, excluding her from establishing in-state residency. She also claimed that she possessed "resident alien status," per the Internal Revenue Code.

The college countered that federal tax law did not pertain to her claims and that the only relevant federal authority is immigration law. Under DACA, SLCC argued, she is not qualified as a resident alien.

Further, SLCC claimed that the legislative intent of prevailing state law, House Bill 3, is to charge individuals with unlawful immigration status, such as under DACA, the higher international student tuition rate.

The appeals court panels of judges reached a 2-1 decision in favor of SLCC.

Presiding Justice Angela Quigless wrote the opinion with Justice Robert Dowd Jr. concurring. Justice Lisa Van Amburg dissented.

"We hold that the trial court correctly concluded DACA approval does not qualify as any type of 'resident alien status, as determined by federal authority,' and therefore Ms. Doe was not entitled to the in-district tuition rate at SLCC," Quigless said in the decision. "Although we disagree with the trial court’s holding that 'resident alien status' means only aliens with LPR status, we affirm the trial court’s judgment because it reached the correct result, even if for the wrong reason."

In dissent, Van Amburg found the preamble to House Bill 3 to be unenforceable. She said that given that the language in the bill was the sole reason that prompted the litigation, the panel should have resolved the issue and directed SLCC to resume previous practices.

"Instead, we have been pulled into the weeds of federal immigration and constitutional law in an attempt to interpret a residency regulation heretofore applied without conflict," she said in her dissent.

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Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District St. Louis Community College at Forest Park

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