611 F.2d 1109 (5th Cir. 1980), 77-2995, Kingsville Independent School Dist. v. Cooper

Docket Nº:77-2995.
Citation:611 F.2d 1109
Party Name:KINGSVILLE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, a Municipal Corporation, Plaintiff- Appellant, Cross-Appellee, v. Janet COOPER, Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.
Case Date:February 15, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 1109

611 F.2d 1109 (5th Cir. 1980)


Corporation, Plaintiff- Appellant, Cross-Appellee,


Janet COOPER, Defendant-Appellee, Cross-Appellant.

No. 77-2995.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

February 15, 1980

As Modified on Denial of Rehearing April 21, 1980.

Page 1110

Scott T. Cook, Corpus Christi, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant, cross-appellee.

Robert M. Weinberg, Julia Penny Clark, Michael H. Gottesman, Washington, D. C., for defendant-appellee, cross-appellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before THORNBERRY, GODBOLD and TATE, Circuit Judges.

GODBOLD, Circuit Judge:

Beginning in 1967, Janet Cooper was employed by the Kingsville (Texas) Independent School District as a high school teacher under a series of annual contracts and without tenure. In the spring of 1972 the District decided not to renew her contract for the 1972-73 academic year. The District initiated this suit, seeking a declaratory judgment that it had not violated Cooper's rights. Cooper counterclaimed for equitable

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relief, including reinstatement with back pay, alleging violation of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and basing her action on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and on the Constitution.

In August 1973, after a trial, the district court found for Cooper and awarded her $15,000, described as "the damages for all the injuries of any kind suffered by her as a result of the controversy," plus attorneys' fees of $4,500. Presumably the "damages" were intended to be approximately the amount of her salary for the 1972-73 and 1973-74 school years. 1

The Board appealed and Cooper cross-appealed raising as one of her issues the failure of the district court to order that she be reinstated. By an unpublished opinion this court vacated the judgment and remanded for full consideration in light of several intervening Supreme Court decisions. We stated our intention that the remand "open all issues to all parties," with right to amend all pleadings.

On remand the district court entered a pre-trial order in which it noted that Cooper's claim for reinstatement was before the court and that, if she prevailed, she would be entitled to reinstatement. The district court, in 1977, held § 1983 inapplicable but inferred a direct cause of action under the Constitution with jurisdiction grounded on 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The court again found for Cooper and again awarded $15,000 damages and attorneys' fees of $4,500. It also ordered that she be reinstated.

The District again appealed and Cooper cross-appealed. At the request of the District the trial court stayed Cooper's reinstatement pending appeal.

I. The facts

Cooper was hired as an American history teacher in 1967. The District has no formal system of tenure, and all teachers are employed under annual teaching contracts. Renewal decisions are made each spring for the following academic year. Despite the fact that some complaints were received about Cooper's teaching, her contract was renewed each year until 1972. The number of complaints received was about average for a Kingsville teacher, and most were neither investigated nor discussed with Cooper.

In the fall of 1971, Cooper employed a technique known as "Sunshine simulation" to teach American history of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. The technique involved role-playing by students in order to recreate the period of history. It evoked strong student feelings on racial issues. Parental complaints about Cooper increased significantly as a result of the Sunshine project. Cooper was twice called before the principal to discuss the project. The District's personnel director was present at the second meeting, and he told Cooper "not to discuss Blacks in American history" and that "nothing controversial should be discussed in the classroom." However, no District official ever prohibited her from completing the project, and she did complete it.

Despite the controversy engendered by the Sunshine project, both the principal and the superintendent recommended that Cooper's contract be renewed for the 1972-73 academic year. The Board of Trustees disagreed, however, and declined to renew her contract. Board members testified at trial and by deposition that they disapproved of the Sunshine project and that the volume of complaints received diminished Cooper's effectiveness as a teacher. Although vague references were made to other complaints, Board members, when pressed, could remember few complaints other than those about the Sunshine project. The...

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