429 U.S. 274 (1977), 75-1278, Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle

Docket Nº:No. 75-1278
Citation:429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471
Party Name:Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle
Case Date:January 11, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 274

429 U.S. 274 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471

Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist.

v.

Doyle

No. 75-1278

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 11, 1977

Argued November 3, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent, an untenured teacher (who had previously been involved in an altercation with another teacher, an argument with school cafeteria employees, an incident in which he swore at students, and an incident in which he made obscene gestures to girl students), conveyed through a telephone call to a radio station the substance of a memorandum relating to teacher dress and appearance that the school principal had circulated to various teachers. The radio station announced the adoption of the dress code as a news item. Thereafter, petitioner School Board, adopting a recommendation of the superintendent, advised respondent that he would not be rehired, and cited his lack of tact in handling professional matters, with specific mention of the radio station and obscene gesture incidents. Respondent then brought this action against petitioner for reinstatement and damages, claiming that petitioner's refusal to rehire him violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Although respondent asserted jurisdiction under both 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and § 1331, the District Court rested jurisdiction only on § 1331. The District Court, which found that the incidents involving respondent had occurred, concluded that the telephone call was "clearly protected by the First Amendment" and that, because it had played a "substantial part" in petitioner's decision not to rehire respondent, he was entitled to reinstatement with backpay. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Petitioner, in addition to attacking the District Court's jurisdiction under § 1331 on the ground that the $10,000 jurisdictional requirement of that provision was not satisfied in this case, raised an additional jurisdictional issue after this Court had granted certiorari and after petitioner had filed its reply brief, claiming that respondent's only substantive constitutional claim arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that, because petitioner School Board is not a "person" for purposes of § 1983, liability may no more be imposed on it where federal jurisdiction rests on § 1331 than [97 S.Ct. 570] where jurisdiction is grounded on § 1343.

Held:

1. Respondent's complaint sufficiently pleaded jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Though the amount in controversy thereunder must

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exceed $10,000, even if the District Court had chosen to award only compensatory damages, it was far from a "legal certainty" at the time of suit that respondent would not have been entitled to more than that amount. St. Paul Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-289. Pp. 276-277.

2. Petitioner, in making its belated contention concerning § 1983, failed to preserve the issue whether the complaint stated a claim upon which relief could be granted against it. Because the question involved is not of the jurisdictional sort which the Court raises on its own motion, it is assumed without deciding that respondent could sue under § 1331 without regard to the limitations imposed by § 1983. Pp. 277-279.

3. Since, under Ohio law, the "State" does not include "political subdivisions" (a category including school districts), and the record shows that a local school board like petitioner is more like a county or city than it is an arm of the State, petitioner is not immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 279-281.

4. Respondent's constitutional claims are not defeated because he did not have tenure. Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593. Pp. 283-284.

5. That conduct protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments played a substantial part in the decision not to rehire respondent does not necessarily amount to a constitutional violation justifying remedial action. The proper test is one that protects against the invasion of constitutional rights without commanding undesirable consequences not necessary to the assurance of those rights. Since respondent here satisfied the burden of showing that his conduct was constitutionally protected and was a motivating factor in the petitioner's decision not to rehire him, the District Court should have gone on to determine whether petitioner had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision even in the absence of the protected conduct. Pp. 284--287.

529 F.2d 524, vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Doyle sued petitioner Mt. Healthy Board of Education in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Doyle claimed that the Board's refusal to renew his contract in 1971 violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. After a bench trial, the District Court held that Doyle was entitled to reinstatement with backpay. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment, 529 F.2d 524, and we granted the Board's petition for certiorari, 425 U.S. 933, to consider an admixture of jurisdictional and constitutional claims.

I

Although the respondent's complaint asserted jurisdiction under both 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the District Court rested its jurisdiction only on § 1331. Petitioner's first jurisdictional contention, which we have little difficulty disposing of, asserts that the $10,000 amount in controversy required by that section is not satisfied in this case.

The leading case on this point is St. Paul Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283 (1938), which stated this test:

[T]he sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim is apparently made in good faith. It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less [97 S.Ct. 571] than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal. The inability of plaintiff to recover an amount adequate to give the court jurisdiction does not show his bad faith or oust the jurisdiction.

Id. at 288-289. (Footnotes omitted.)

We have cited this rule with approval as recently as Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636, 642 n. 10 (1975), and think it requires disposition of the jurisdictional question

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tendered by the petition in favor of the respondent. At the time Doyle brought this action for reinstatement and $50,000 damages, he had already accepted a job in a different school system paying approximately $2,000 per year less than he would have earned with the Mt. Healthy Board had he been rehired. The District Court in fact awarded Doyle compensatory damages in the amount of $5,158 by reason of income already lost at the time it ordered his reinstatement. Even if the District Court had chosen to award only compensatory damages and not reinstatement, it was far from a "legal certainty" at the time of suit that Doyle would not have been entitled to more than $10,000.

II

The Board has filed a document entitled "Supplemental Authorities" in which it raises quite a different "jurisdictional" issue from that presented in its petition for certiorari and disposed of in the preceding section of this opinion. Relying on the District Court opinion in Weathers v. West Yuma County School Dist., 387 F.Supp. 552, 556 (Colo.1974), the Board contends that, even though Doyle may have met the jurisdictional amount requirement of § 1331, it may not be subjected to liability in this case because Doyle's only substantive constitutional claim arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because it is not a "person" for purposes of § 1983, the Board reasons, liability may no more be imposed on it where federal jurisdiction is grounded on 28 U.S.C. § 1331 than where such jurisdiction is grounded on 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

The District Court avoided this issue by reciting that it had not

stated any conclusion on the possible Monroe-Kenosha problem in this case, since it seems that the case is properly here as a § 1331 case, as well as a § 1983 one.

App. to Pet. for Cert. 14a-15a. This reference to our decisions in Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961), and City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507 (1973), where it was held

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that a municipal corporation is not a suable "person" under § 1983, raises the question whether petitioner Board in this case is sufficiently like the municipal corporations in those cases so that it, too, is excluded from § 1983 liability.

The quoted statement of the District Court makes clear its view that, if the jurisdictional basis for the action is § 1331, the limitations contained in 42 U.S. C § 1983 do not apply. The Board argues, on the contrary, that, since Congress, in § 1983, has expressly created a remedy relating to violations of constitutional rights under color of state law, one who seeks to recover for such violations is bound by the limitations contained in § 1983 whatever jurisdictional section he invokes.

The question of whether the Board's arguments should prevail, or whether, as respondent urged in oral argument, we should, by analogy to our decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), imply a cause of action directly from the Fourteenth Amendment which would not be subject to the limitations contained in § 1983, is one which has never been decided by this Court. Counsel for respondent at oral argument suggested that it is an extremely important question, and one which should not be decided on this record. We agree with respondent.

The Board has raised this question for the first time in a document filed after its reply brief in this Court. Were it in truth a contention that the District Court [97 S.Ct. 572] lacked jurisdiction, we would be obliged to consider it, even as we are obliged to inquire sua sponte whenever a doubt arises as...

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