460 U.S. 37 (1983), 81-896, Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association

Docket Nº:No. 81-896
Citation:460 U.S. 37, 103 S.Ct. 948, 74 L.Ed.2d 794
Party Name:Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association
Case Date:February 23, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court

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460 U.S. 37 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 948, 74 L.Ed.2d 794

Perry Education Association


Perry Local Educators' Association

No. 81-896

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1983

Argued October 13, 1982




Under a collective bargaining agreement between the Board of Education of Perry Township, Ind., and Perry Education Association (PEA) as the exclusive bargaining representative for the School District's teachers, PEA was granted access to the interschool mail system and teacher mailboxes in the Perry Township schools. The bargaining agreement also provided that access rights to the mail facilities were not available to any rival union, such as Perry Local Educators' Association (PLEA). PLEA and two of its members filed suit in Federal District Court against PEA and individual members of the School Board, contending that PEA's preferential access to the internal mail system violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court entered summary judgment for the defendants, but the Court of Appeals reversed.


1. The appeal is not proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1254(2), which grants this Court appellate jurisdiction over federal court of appeals' decisions holding a state statute repugnant to the Federal Constitution. Here, only certain provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, not the Indiana statute authorizing such agreements, were held to be constitutionally invalid, and the bargaining agreement cannot be considered to be in essence a legislative act. However, regarding the jurisdictional statement as a petition for a writ [103 S.Ct. 951] of certiorari, certiorari is granted because the constitutional issues presented are important and the decision below conflicts with the judgments of other federal and state courts. Pp. 42-44.

2. The First Amendment is not violated by the preferential access to the interschool mail system granted to PEA. Pp. 44-54.

(a) With respect to public property that is not, by tradition or government designation, a forum for public communication, a State may reserve the use of the property for its intended purposes, communicative or otherwise, as long as a regulation on speech is reasonable, and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker's view. The school mail facilities were not a "limited public forum" merely because the system had been opened for periodic use by

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civic and church organizations, or because PLEA was allowed to use the school mail facilities on an equal footing with PEA prior to PEA's certification as the teachers' exclusive bargaining representative. Pp. 45-49.

(b) The differential access provided PEA and PLEA is reasonable, because it is wholly consistent with the School District's legitimate interest in preserving the property for the use to which it was lawfully dedicated. Use of school mail facilities enables PEA to perform effectively its statutory obligations as exclusive representative of all Perry Township teachers. Conversely, PLEA does not have any official responsibility in connection with the School District, and need not be entitled to the same rights of access to school mailboxes. The reasonableness of the limitations on PLEA's access to the school mail system is also supported by the substantial alternative channels that remain open for union-teacher communication to take place. Moreover, under Indiana law, PLEA is assured of equal access to all modes of communication while a representation election is in progress. Pp. 50-54.

3. The differential access provided the rival unions does not constitute impermissible content discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Since the grant of exclusive access to PEA does not burden a fundamental right of PLEA, the School District's policy need only rationally further a legitimate state purpose. That purpose is clearly found in the special responsibilities of an exclusive bargaining representative. Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, and Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455, distinguished. Pp. 54-55.

Appeal dismissed and certiorari granted; 652 F.2d 1286, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J. and BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 55.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Perry Education Association is the duly elected exclusive bargaining representative for the teachers of the Metropolitan

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School District of Perry Township, Ind. A collective bargaining agreement with the Board of Education provided that Perry Education Association, but no other union, would have access to the interschool mail system and teacher mailboxes in the Perry Township schools. The issue in this case is whether the denial of similar access to the Perry Local Educators' Association, a rival teacher group, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.


The Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, Ind., operates a public school system of 13 separate schools. Each school building contains a set of mailboxes for the teachers. Interschool delivery by school employees permits messages to be delivered rapidly to teachers in the District. [103 S.Ct. 952]1 The primary function of this internal mail system is to transmit official messages among the teachers and between the teachers and the school administration. In addition, teachers use the system to send personal messages, and individual school building principals have allowed delivery of messages from various private organizations.2

Prior to 1977, both the Perry Education Association (PEA) and the Perry Local Educators' Association (PLEA) represented teachers in the School District, and apparently had equal access to the interschool mail system. In 1977, PLEA

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challenged PEA's status as de facto bargaining representative for the Perry Township teachers by filing an election petition with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (Board). PEA won the election and was certified as the exclusive representative, as provided by Indiana law. Ind.Code § 20-7.5-1-2(1) (1982).

The Board permits a school district to provide access to communication facilities to the union selected for the discharge of the exclusive representative duties of representing the bargaining unit and its individual members without having to provide equal access to rival unions.3 Following the election, PEA and the School District negotiated a labor contract in which the School Board gave PEA "access to teachers' mailboxes in which to insert material" and the right to use the interschool mail delivery system to the extent that the School District incurred no extra expense by such use. The labor agreement noted that these access rights were being accorded to PEA "acting as the representative of the teachers," and went on to stipulate that these access rights shall not be granted to any other "school employee organization" -- a term of art defined by Indiana law to mean

any organization which has school employees as members and one of whose primary purposes is representing school employees

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in dealing with their school employer.4

The PEA contract with these provisions was renewed in 1980, and is presently in force.

The exclusive-access policy applies only to use of the mailboxes and school mail system. PLEA is not prevented from using other school facilities to communicate with teachers. PLEA may post notices on school bulletin boards; may hold meetings on school property after school hours; and may, with approval of the building principals, make announcements on the public address system. Of course, PLEA also may communicate with teachers by word of mouth, telephone, or the United States mail. Moreover, under Indiana law, the preferential access of the bargaining agent [103 S.Ct. 953] may continue only while its status as exclusive representative is insulated from challenge. Ind.Code § 20-7.5-1-10(c)(4) (1982). While a representation contest is in progress, unions must be afforded equal access to such communication facilities.

PLEA and two of its members filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against PEA and individual members of the Perry Township School Board. Plaintiffs contended that PEA's preferential access to the internal mail system violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They sought injunctive and declaratory relief and damages. Upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court entered judgment for the defendants. Perry Local Educators' Assn. v. Hohlt, IP 79-189-C (SD Ind., Feb. 25, 1980).

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed. Perry Local Educators' Assn. v. Hohlt, 652 F.2d 1286 (1981). The court held that, once the School District "opens its internal mail system to PEA but denies it to PLEA, it violates both the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment." Id. at 1290. It acknowledged that PEA had "legal duties to the teachers that PLEA does not have," but reasoned

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[w]ithout an independent reason why equal access for other labor groups and individual teachers is undesirable, the special duties of the incumbent do not justify opening the system to the incumbent alone.

Id. at 1300.

PEA now seeks review of this judgment by way of appeal. We postponed consideration of our jurisdiction to the hearing of the case on the merits. 454 U.S. 1140 (1982).


We initially address the issue of our appellate jurisdiction over this case. PEA submits that its appeal is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1254(2), which grants us appellate jurisdiction over cases in the federal courts of appeals in which a state statute has been held...

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