Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools

RESPONDENT:Dickinson Public Schools
LOCATION:Dickinson School District Superintendent’s Office

DOCKET NO.: 86-7113
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)

CITATION: 487 US 450 (1988)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1988
GRANTED: Oct 05, 1987

Facts of the case

North Dakota was a sparsely populated state, and as late as the mid-20th century some children were educated in crowded one-room schools. Since 1947, the legislature encouraged thinly populated school districts to reorganize themselves into larger districts; once reorganized, districts could only charge for transportation provisions with voter approval. Dickinson Public Schools chose not to participate in the reorganization. In 1973, the district began charging a fee for door-to-door bus service; about thirteen percent of students rode the bus, and the district charged their parents ninety-seven dollars a year for one child or one hundred fifty dollars a year for two children. In 1979, North Dakota enacted legislation expressly indicating that non-reorganized school districts could charge fees for transporting students.

Sarita Kadrmas, her mother Paula, and the rest of her family lived about sixteen miles from Sarita’s school. In September 1985, the family’s annual income was at or near the poverty level. Until 1985, the Kadrmas family agreed each year to pay the busing fee for Sarita, but they refused to sign a contract for the 1985 school year and the bus no longer stopped for Sarita. The Kadrmas family then used private transportation, but the costs exceeded $1,000 per school year.

In September 1985, Paula Kadrmas and other parents in the district filed an action in state court seeking to enjoin the Dickinson Public Schools and various school district officials from collecting any bus service fees. The district court rejected their action on the merits. On appeal to the Supreme Court of North Dakota, rejected Kadrmas’ argument that the busing fee violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It characterized the statute as purely economic legislation, concluding that the charges authorized by the statute were rationally related to the legitimate government objective of allocating limited resources. In the spring of 1987, while her appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States was pending, the Kadrmas family signed a busing contract for the remainder of the 1986 school year and paid part of the fee. They also signed a contract for the 1987 school year.


1. Was Kadrmas’ petition for a writ of certiorari barred because she was contracting for bus service with Dickinson Public Schools while her appeal was pending?

2. Did the application of a busing fee by Dickinson Public Schools deprive Sarita Kadrmas of a minimum access to education?

3. Did the application of a busing fee by Dickinson Public Schools to students at some but not all districts deprive students of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 30, 1988 in Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 24, 1988 in Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools

Sandra Day O’Connor:

In the case of Kadrmas versus Dickinson Public Schools, it comes to us on appeal from the Supreme Court of North Dakota.

Under the statutes of that State, some local school districts are required to provide free school bus service for their students.

Other districts are given the option of providing transportation to school and they may impose a user fee on families who take advantage of the bus service if it is provided.

Appellants or a school child and her mother who live in a district that imposes a user fee covering part of the school bus service.

This family whose resources put it at or near the official poverty level refused to pay the user fee and the child was denied access to the school bus.

The family thereafter arranged for private transportation and the appellant sued the school district in the state court.

This law suit which sought an injunction prevent the school district from collecting any fee for the bus service, raised two federal claims that are at issue in the — in this Court.

The appellants argued that the bus fee violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminates against the poor.

Second, the appellants argue that the state statutes violate equal protection because they irrationally allow some school districts but not others to impose user fees for the bus service.

The North Dakota courts dismissed the suit on the merits.

In an opinion filed to day, we affirm.

We hold that the Equal Protection Clause does not require strict scrutiny in this case because poverty does not define a suspect class and education is not a fundamental right within the meaning of our prior decisions.

We therefore test the state laws by asking whether they have irrational relation to a legitimate government objective.

For reasons explained in the opinion, we hold that the user fee is rationally related to a legitimate objective.

Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Brennan has joined.

Justice Stevens has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun has joined.