616 F.2d 152 (5th Cir. 1980), 77-1792, Walsh v. Louisiana High School Athletic Ass'n

Docket Nº:77-1792.
Citation:616 F.2d 152
Party Name:Catherine WALSH, etc., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. LOUISIANA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellant, Lutheran High School Association of Greater New Orleans, Defendant.
Case Date:April 30, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 152

616 F.2d 152 (5th Cir. 1980)

Catherine WALSH, etc., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

LOUISIANA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellant,

Lutheran High School Association of Greater New Orleans, Defendant.

No. 77-1792.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 30, 1980

Page 153

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Charles M. Hughes, R. Bradley Lewis, Bogalusa, La., for defendant-appellant.

Robert J. Oster, Edmund T. Wegener, Jr., New Orleans, La., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Thomas L. Giraud, New Orleans, La., for Lutheran High Assn.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before CHARLES CLARK, RONEY and HENDERSON, Circuit Judges.

CHARLES CLARK, Circuit Judge:

Catherine Walsh, Charles Lodriguss, William LeBouef, Jr., and Elmer A. Groth, Jr., individually and on behalf of their named minor children, brought this action against the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) and the Lutheran High School Association of Greater New Orleans. 1 The plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that the existence and enforcement of the LHSAA's student transfer rule unduly burdened their first amendment right to the free exercise of religion and deprived them of their fourteenth amendment right of equal protection. The district court's April 1, 1976, pre-trial order referred to an additional claim based on a denial of the plaintiffs' fourteenth amendment right to due process. In an opinion dated September 21, 1976, the district court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss for mootness. Subsequently, in an opinion dated March 18, 1977, the district court determined that it had subject matter jurisdiction of this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), that the transfer rule did not unconstitutionally burden the plaintiffs' first amendment right to the free exercise of religion, that the transfer rule did not unconstitutionally offend due process, but that the transfer rule as applied in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, unconstitutionally denied the plaintiffs the equal protection of the laws. Walsh v. Louisiana High School Athletic Ass'n, 428 F.Supp. 1261 (E.D.La.1977). The defendants appealed. We agree with the district court's determination of the issues of jurisdiction, mootness, free exercise of religion, and due process, but disagree with district court's determination that the transfer rule as applied in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment.

I. FACTS

The LHSAA is a voluntary association of public, private, and parochial high schools in the State of Louisiana. The purpose of the LHSAA is to promote, regulate, and direct the interscholastic athletic activities of its member schools. In fulfilling its purpose, it promulgates and enforces various rules and regulations governing the competitive athletic activities of its members. The LHSAA promulgated one such rule in an effort to discourage or eliminate the recruitment of promising young athletes upon graduation from elementary or junior high schools. This rule provides in relevant part

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that, upon the completion of elementary or junior high school, a student is eligible to participate immediately in interscholastic athletic competition only at a high school within his home district. 2 These home districts are the geographical areas designated as the attendance zones for the public high schools by the local school boards of the State of Louisiana. The home district for a private or parochial school is the geographical attendance zone of the public school in which the private or parochial school is situated. Under the transfer rule, a student is ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletic competition for a period of one year if he matriculates at a high school outside of his home district after completing elementary or junior high school.

Lutheran High School is the only high school in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area that is owned and operated by members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. There are seven Lutheran-affiliated elementary or junior high schools in the greater New Orleans area. However, none of these elementary or junior high schools are located in Lutheran High School's designated home district. As a result, any student who enrolls at Lutheran High School upon graduation from any of the seven Lutheran elementary or junior high schools in the metropolitan New Orleans area is ineligible to compete in interscholastic athletic competition for one year. Each of the minor plaintiffs originally named in the complaint graduated from Lutheran elementary schools, enrolled at Lutheran High School, and were declared ineligible for interscholastic athletic competition during their ninth grade year.

II. JURISDICTION

The LHSAA contends that the district court erred in determining that it had jurisdiction of this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). It argues first that, as to it, this is not a "civil action authorized by law" within the meaning of § 1343 because it is not a "person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It contends second that § 1343(3) jurisdiction is lacking because the action fails to raise a substantial federal question. We reject these arguments.

The LHSAA argues that, because it is not a "person" within the meaning of § 1983, this is not a "civil action authorized by law" and hence the district court is without § 1343(3) jurisdiction as to it. 3 See, e g., Johnson v. City of Arcadia, 450 F.Supp. 1363, 1377 (M.D.Fla.1978). It reasons that it is a local governing body similar to municipalities and other political subdivisions of a state and, hence, is not a "person" for the purposes of § 1983. It relies on Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961), and its progeny, Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 93 S.Ct. 2222, 37 L.Ed.2d 109 (1973); Moor v. County of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 93 S.Ct. 1785, 36 L.Ed.2d 596 (1973). Whatever merit there may have been in the association's argument has vanished in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Monell v. Department

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of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). See Gay Student Services v. Texas A & M University, 612 F.2d 160, 164 (5th Cir. 1980); Kingsville Independent School District v. Cooper, 611 F.2d 1109, 1112 (5th Cir. 1980).

The LHSAA is a voluntary association of private, parochial, and public high schools. It is not a regularly constituted agency of the State of Louisiana. Neither is its existence provided for by the constitution, statutes, or regulations of the State of Louisiana. The fact that its conduct constitutes state action for the purposes of the fourteenth amendment, see Louisiana High School Athletic Ass'n v. St. Augustine High School, 396 F.2d 224, 227 (5th Cir. 1968), does not dictate that it is not a "person" for the purposes of the Civil Rights Acts. We therefore conclude that the LHSAA is a person for the purposes of § 1983, see Wright v. Arkansas Activities Ass'n, 501 F.2d 25, 28 (8th Cir. 1974), and that as to the LHSAA there exists a "civil action authorized by law" within the meaning of § 1343(3).

The defendants next contend that § 1343(3) jurisdiction is lacking because this action fails to raise a substantial federal question. Under § 1343(3), federal district courts have original jurisdiction over "civil action(s) authorized by law" that seek "(t)o redress the deprivation, under color of State law, . . . of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights." 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). A district court must entertain such suits unless the federal question alleged is clearly immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or is wholly insubstantial and frivolous. See generally Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 279, 97 S.Ct. 568, 572, 50 L.Ed.2d 471, 478 (1977); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 681-83, 66 S.Ct. 773, 776, 90 L.Ed. 939, 942-44 (1946); Southpark Square, Ltd. v. City of Jackson, 565 F.2d 338, 341 (5th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 946, 98 S.Ct. 2849, 56 L.Ed.2d 787 (1978). The first exception that the federal question be "immaterial" is not involved in this case because the constitutional claims, whatever their merit or substance, are the...

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