VICTOR FEDERATION OF TEACHERS LOCAL 3494, MEA-MFT, and JULIANA ARECHAGA, Applicants and Appellants,
VICTOR SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 7, RAVALLI COUNTY, MONTANA, and its trustees PAUL ROSEN, MARCI SMITH, MARY ALLRED, ROY PERRY, and STEVE WILSON, Respondents and Appellees.
Submitted on Briefs: January 31, 2018
FROM: District Court of the Twenty-First Judicial District,
In and For the County of Ravalli, Cause No. DV 17-275
Honorable Jeffrey H. Langton, Presiding Judge.
Appellants: Karl J. Englund, Karl J. Englund, P.C., Missoula,
Montana, Jonathan McDonald, McDonald Law Office, PLLC,
Appellees: Kris Goss, Debra A. Silk, Tony C. Koenig, Montana
School Boards Association, Helena, Montana.
Juliana Arechaga was a non-tenured teacher for Victor School
District No. 7 (School District) when, on May 23, 2017, the
School District's Board of Trustees (Board) voted to not
renew her employment contract for the 2017-2018 school year.
Arechaga was present at that meeting but did not receive
written notice of the School District's decision until
June 7. Arechaga applied for a writ of mandamus in the
Twenty-First Judicial District Court, arguing that because
she did not receive the written notice by June 1, the School
District was statutorily obligated to renew her contract for
the ensuing school year. The District Court denied her
application. We reverse and remand for issuance of the writ.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Arechaga worked as a social studies teacher for the School
District from 2014 to 2017. As a non-tenured teacher,
Arechaga was subject to the School District's annual
decision to renew or not renew her contract. The School
District had renewed her employment contract for both the
2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.
When the School District hired Arechaga in 2014, she lived on
Foothills Drive in Missoula. In March 2016, Arechaga moved.
She did not notify the School District of her new address.
The School District rarely communicated with Arechaga by
mail, and it had no policy-in its faculty handbook or
otherwise-obligating teachers to inform it of any change to
their mailing addresses. The School District typically
communicated with Arechaga in person, by telephone, or by
Arechaga went on maternity leave on March 31, 2017, through
the end of the school year. On May 16, while Arechaga was
present at the school to sign up for health insurance, the
School District hand-delivered her written notice that the
Board was going to discuss her contract at a meeting on May
23. At the meeting-with Arechaga present-the Board voted to
not renew Arechaga's contract for the 2017-2018 school
The next day, the School District drafted a letter to
Arechaga notifying her that her employment contract for the
ensuing school year had not been renewed. The School District
sent this letter via certified U.S. mail to the address it
had on file-Arechaga's outdated Foothills Drive address.
Arechaga never received the letter; it was returned to the
School District as "unclaimed" on June 18. Arechaga
did not receive written notice of the School District's
decision until June 7, when the School District Clerk
hand-delivered her a copy while she was present at the
Arechaga and the Victor Federation of Teachers Local 3494
(Federation)-the collective bargaining unit representing
her-filed an application for a writ of mandamus in the
District Court. Arechaga and the Federation asserted that
because Arechaga had not received the School District's
written notice by June 1, the School District was statutorily
obligated to renew her contract for the 2017-2018 school
The court held a show cause hearing at which Arechaga
testified. Arechaga asserted that she did not "in any
way attempt to avoid receiving the written notice" and
that, given the School District's history of
communicating with her in person, by telephone, and by email,
it "didn't even occur" to her to notify the
School District of her updated mailing address.
After the hearing, the District Court denied the application.
The court agreed with Arechaga that under § 20-4-206(1),
MCA-which obligates a school district to "provide"
written notice by June 1 of its decision to not renew a
teaching contract for the ensuing school year-written notice
becomes effective only upon receipt by the teacher. But the
court noted that "constructive receipt and notice are
chargeable to one who willfully avoids or frustrates written
notice." The court found as a matter of fact that
Arechaga "did not take active steps, per se, to avoid
notice." It concluded nonetheless that "her neglect
and lack of diligence in maintaining a current address on
file with the school district were the sole cause of her
failure to receive timely notice of the non-renewal of her
contract." The court held that this excused the School
District's "mandatory duty to provide her ...