475 U.S. 534 (1986), 84-773, Bender v. Williamsport Area School District

Docket Nº:No. 84-773
Citation:475 U.S. 534, 106 S.Ct. 1326, 89 L.Ed.2d 501
Party Name:Bender v. Williamsport Area School District
Case Date:March 25, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 534

475 U.S. 534 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 1326, 89 L.Ed.2d 501

Bender

v.

Williamsport Area School District

No. 84-773

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1986

Argued October 15, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

When a group of high school students in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, formed a club for the purpose of promoting "spiritual growth and positive attitudes in the lives of its members," they asked the Principal for permission to hold club meetings on the school premises during student activity periods. The matter was referred to the School Superintendent, who denied permission on the basis of an opinion of the School District Solicitor, and the School Board upheld the denial. The students then filed suit in Federal District [106 S.Ct. 1328] Court against the School District, members of the School Board, the Superintendent, and the Principal, alleging that the refusal to allow the club to meet on the same basis as other student groups because of its religious activities violated the First Amendment, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court, on motions for summary judgment, ruled in the students' favor, but entered no injunction and granted no relief against any defendant in his individual capacity. The School District took no appeal, but complied with the judgment and allowed the students' club to conduct the meetings as requested. However, respondent Youngman (hereafter respondent), who was then still a member of the School Board, did appeal. No one raised any question about his standing to appeal, and the Court of Appeals held in his favor.

Held: Respondent had no standing to appeal, and therefore the Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction to hear his appeal. Pp. 541-549.

(a) Federal courts have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the federal statutes enacted pursuant thereto. Every federal appellate court must satisfy itself that the party seeking to invoke its jurisdiction has a sufficient stake in the outcome of the litigation to support that jurisdiction. Pp. 541-543.

(b) Respondent had no standing to appeal in his individual capacity. Although the complaint alleged that the action was brought against the defendants "in their individual and official capacities," there is nothing else in the complaint or in the record to support the suggestion that relief was sought or awarded against any School Board member in his individual capacity. P. 543.

(c) As a member of the School Board sued in his official capacity, respondent had no personal stake in the outcome of the litigation, and

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therefore had no standing to appeal in that capacity. His status as a Board member did not permit him to "step into the shoes of the Board" and invoke its right to appeal. Pp. 543-545.

(d) Nor did respondent have standing to appeal in his capacity as a parent of a student attending the high school. There is nothing in the record to indicate anything about his status as a parent, or to indicate that he or his children have suffered any injury as a result of the District Court's judgment or of the activities of the club in question subsequent to the entry of that judgment. Respondent was not sued as a parent, and thus was plainly not a "party" in that capacity in the District Court. Pp. 545-549.

741 F.2d 538, vacated and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 549. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 551. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 555.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises an important question of federal appellate jurisdiction that was not considered by the Court of Appeals: whether one member of a School Board has standing to appeal from a declaratory judgment against the Board. We conclude that, although the School Board itself had a sufficient stake in the outcome of the litigation to appeal, an individual Board member cannot invoke the Board's interest in the case to confer standing upon himself.

I

In September 1981 a group of high school students in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, formed a club called "Petros" for the purpose of promoting "spiritual growth and positive attitudes in the lives of its members." App. 46. The group asked the Principal of the high school for permission to meet on school premises during student activity periods scheduled during the regular schoolday on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Principal allowed Petros to hold an organizational meeting that was attended by approximately 45 students. At that meeting, passages of scripture were read and some students prayed. There is no evidence that any students, or parents, expressed any opposition or concern about future meetings of Petros. The Principal nevertheless advised the group that they could not hold any further meetings until he had discussed the matter with the School Superintendent.

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The Superintendent, in turn, advised the students that he would respond to their written request for recognition after he received "competent legal advice [from the School District's Solicitor] as to the propriety of approving establishment of the proposed prayer club" on school premises. Id. at 42.

On November 16, 1981, the Principal and the Superintendent met with representatives of Petros and advised them that, "based on the Solicitor's legal opinion, their request must be denied." 563 F.Supp. 697, 701 (MD Pa.1983). The legal opinion is not a part of the record; nor does the record contain any evidence that the Principal, the Superintendent, or any other person except the Solicitor had voiced any opposition to the proposed meetings by Petros. Indeed, Petros was informed that it could meet off school premises, and "would be given released time during the activity period" if it could secure "a location and an adult supervisor, preferably a clergyman" for their meetings. Ibid.

The students thereafter wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Williamsport Area School Board appealing the Superintendent's decision. At a meeting held January 19, 1982, the Board upheld the Superintendent's decision and "denied the appeal on the basis of the Solicitor's opinion." Ibid. (citations omitted).

II

On June 2, 1982, 10 of the students filed suit in the United States District Court against the Williamsport Area School District, the 9 members of the School Board, the Superintendent of the District, and the Principal of the high school. Although there is a general allegation in the first paragraph of the complaint that the action was brought against the defendants "in their individual and official capacities," App. 13, the specific allegation concerning each of the named members of the Board was in this form: "John C. Youngman, Jr., is a member of the Williamsport Area School Board and is sued in that capacity," id. at 16. The complaint alleged that the

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defendants' refusal to recognize Petros and to allow it to meet on the same basis as other student groups because of its religious activities violated the First Amendment. The complaint prayed for declaratory and injunctive relief.

One answer was filed on behalf of all the defendants. Although they admitted most of the material allegations of the complaint, they alleged that they had

requested and received in writing an opinion from the school district solicitor and legal counsel that it would be unlawful, improper and unconstitutional to recognize said group as a student organization.

Id. at 33.

After plaintiffs completed their discovery (defendants took no depositions), the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment supported by affidavits, the deposition testimony, and statements of material fact not in dispute. On November 9, 1982, the District Court entered an order finding that the record was incomplete. It thereupon directed the parties to submit affidavits or other documentation concerning

the exact nature of the activity period, the type of activities or clubs that have been, and would be, approved, and what proposed [106 S.Ct. 1330] groups, if any, have been denied approval.

Id. at 101. After that additional information was supplied, and after the case had been fully briefed, the District Court, on May 12, 1983, filed a detailed and carefully written opinion in which it stated:

Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. . . . Although the case presents only a question of law, this is not to say that the facts are unimportant. On the contrary, the undisputed facts are of paramount importance to the resolution of the legal question presented in this case. A slight change in the facts could very well have dictated a contrary decision.

After carefully reviewing those facts, and after giving full consideration to all pertinent legal authority,

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the court concludes that, because the defendant school district is not constitutionally required to deny the plaintiffs the opportunity to meet, by doing so solely on constitutional grounds, it has impermissibly burdened their free-speech rights. Accordingly, summary judgment will be granted in favor of the plaintiffs.

563 F.Supp. at 699-700. The final order entered by the District Court was a ruling "in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants on plaintiffs' freedom of speech claim."1 No injunction was entered, and no relief was granted against any defendant in his individual capacity. The District Court, in effect, merely held that the Board's attorney...

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