St. Augustine School v. Underly, No. 22-2846 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
In 2015, the Forro children attended St. Augustine, a self-identified Catholic school in Hartford, Wisconsin. Wisconsin provides transportation benefits for parents who send their children to private sectarian schools, Wis.Stat. 121.54. The school district and the state superintendent of public instruction denied the Forros' request because transportation was being provided to St. Gabriel, another Catholic school in the area. The law stipulates that only one school from a single organizational entity in each “attendance area” may qualify for benefits. While both claim an affiliation with Catholicism, the two schools are not affiliated with one another in other significant ways. St. Augustine and the Forros sued. Several years of litigation ensued, including a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, two published Seventh Circuit opinions, and a Supreme Court of Wisconsin opinion, after which the Seventh Circuit concluded that the denial of transportation benefits violated Wisconsin law because it rested on an improper methodology for determining affiliation between two schools of similar faith.
After noting that certain state law claims had been waived and that the federal constitutional issues did not require resolution, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that a declaratory judgment remains in effect against the Superintendent and the School District. The district court may decide what attorneys’ fees the plaintiffs should be awarded, if any, given that they have prevailed only in obtaining declaratory relief under state law.