64 F.Supp. 544 (S.D.Cal. 1946), C. A. 4292, Mendez v. Westminister School Dist. of Orange County

CourtUnited States District Court (Southern District of California)
Citation64 F.Supp. 544
Docket NumberC. A. 4292
PartiesMendez v. Westminister School Dist. of Orange County

Page 544

64 F.Supp. 544 (S.D.Cal. 1946)

MENDEZ et al.



Civil Action No. 4292

United States District Court, S.D. California.

Feb. 18, 1946

Page 545

David C. Marcus, of Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Joel E. Ogle, Co. Counsel, and George F. Holden, Deputy Co. Counsel, both of Santa Ana, Cal., for respondents.

A. L. Wirin and J. B. Tietz, both of Los Angeles, Cal., for American Civil Liberties Union, amicus curiae.

Chas. F. Christopher, Ben Margolis, and Loren Miller, all of Los Angeles, Cal., for National Lawyers Guild, amicus curiae.

McCORMICK, District Judge.

Gonzalo Mendez, William Guzman, Frank Palomino, Thomas Estrada and Lorenzo Ramirez, as citizens of the United States, and on behalf of their minor children, and as they allege in the petition, on behalf of 'some 5000' persons similarly affected, all of Mexican or Latin descent, have filed a class suit pursuant to Rule 23 of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A.following section 723c, against the Westminister, Garden Grove and El Modeno School Districts, and the Santa Ana City Schools, all of Orange County, California, and the respective trustees and superintendents of said school districts.

The complaint, grounded upon the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States 1 and Subdivision 14 of Section 24 of the Judicial Code, Title 28, Section 41, subdivision 14, U.S.C.A., 2 alleges a concerted policy and design of class discrimination against 'persons of Mexican or Latin descent or extraction' of elementary school age by the defendant school agencies in the conduct and operation of public schools of said districts, resulting in the denial of the equal protection of the laws to such class of persons among which are the petitioning school children.

Specifically, plaintiffs allege:

'That for several years last past respondents have and do now in furtherance and in execution of their common plan, design and purpose within their respective Systems and Districts, have by their regulation, custom and usage and in execution thereof adopted and declared: That all children or persons of Mexican or Latin descent or extraction, though Citizens of the United States of America, shall be, have been and are now excluded from attending, using, enjoying and receiving the benefits of the education, health and recreation facilities of certain schools within their respective Districts and Systems but that said children are now and have been segregated and required to and must attend and use certain schools in said Districts and Systems reserved for and attended solely and exclusively by children and persons of Mexican and Latin descent, while such other schools are maintained attended and used exclusively by and for persons and children purportedly known as White or Anglo-Saxon children.

'That in execution of said rules and regulations, each, every and all the foregoing children are compelled and required to and must attend and use the schools in said respective Districts reserved for and attended solely and exclusively by children of Mexican and Latin descent and are forbidden, barred and excluded from attending any other school in said District or System solely for the reason that said children or child are of Mexican or Latin descent.'

The petitioners demand that the alleged rules, regulations, customs and usages be adjudged void and unconstitutional and that an injunction issue restraining further

Page 546

application by defendant school authorities of such rules, regulations, customs, and usages.

It is conceded by all parties that there is no question of race discrimination in this action. It is, however, admitted that segregation per se is practiced in the above-mentioned school districts as the Spanish-speaking children enter school life and as they advance through the grades in the respective school districts. It is also admitted by the defendants that the petitioning children are qualified to attend the public schools in the respective districts of their residences.

In the Westminister, Garden Grove and El Modeno school districts the respective boards of trustees had taken official action, declaring that there be no segregation of pupils on a racial basis but that nonEnglish-speaking children (which group, excepting as to a small number of pupils, was made up entirely of children of Mexican ancestry or descent), be required to attend schools designated by the boards separate and apart from English-speaking pupils; that such group should attend such schools until they had acquired some proficiency in the English language.

The petitioners contend that such official action evinces a covert attempt by the school authorities in such school districts to produce an arbitrary discrimination against school children of Mexican extraction or descent and that such illegal result has been established in such illegal result has been established in such school districts respectively. The school authorities of the City of Santa Ana have not memorialized any such official action, but petitioners assert that the same custom and usage exists in the schools of the City of Santa Ana under the authority of appropriate school agencies of such city.

The concrete acts complained of are those of the various school district officials in directing which schools the petitioning children and others of the same class or group must attend. The segregation exists in the elementary schools to and including the sixth grade in two of the defendant districts, and in the two other defendant districts through the eighth grade. The record before us shows without conflict that the technical facilities and physical conveniences offered in the schools housing entirely the segregated pupils, the efficiency of the teachers therein and the curricula are identical and in some respects superior to those in the other schools in the respective districts.

The ultimate question for decision may be thus stated: Does such official action of defendant district school agencies and the usages and practices pursued by the respective school authorities as shown by the evidence operate to deny or deprive the so-called non-english-speaking school children of Mexican ancestry or descent within such school districts of the equal protection of the laws?

The defendants at the outset challenge the jurisdiction of this court under the record as it exists at this time. We have already denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the action upon the 'face' of the complaint. No reason has been shown which warrants reconsideration of such decision.

While education is a State matter, it is not so absolutely or exclusively. Cumming v. Board of Education of Richmond County, 175 U.S. 528, 20 S.Ct. 197, 201, 44 L.Ed. 262. In the Cumming decision the Supreme Court said: 'That education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states, and any interference on the part of Federal authority with the management of such schools cannot be justified except in the case of a clear and unmistakable disregard of rights secured by the supreme law of the land. ' See, also, Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, 48 S.Ct. 91, 72 L.Ed. 172; Wong Him v. Callahan, C.C., 119 F. 381; Ward v. Flood, 48 Cal. 36, 17 Am.Rep. 405; Piper et al. v. Big Pine School District, 193 Cal. 664, 226 P. 926.

Obviously, then, a violation by a State of a personal right or privilege protected by the Fourteenth Amendment in the exercise of the State's duty to provide for the education of its citizens and inhabitants would justify the Federal Court to intervene. State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337, 59 S.Ct. 232, 83 L.Ed. 208. The complaint before us in this action, having alleged an invasion by the common school authorities of the defendant districts of the equal opportunity of pupils to acquire knowledge, confers jurisdiction on this court if the actions complained of are deemed those of the State. Hamilton v. Regents of University of California, 293 U.S. 245, 55 S.Ct. 197, 79 L.Ed. 343; cf. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 43 S.Ct. 625, 67 L.Ed. 1042, 29 A.L.R. 1446.

Page 547

Are the actions of public school authorities of a rural or city school in the State of California, as alleged and established in this case, to be considered actions of the State within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment so as to confer jurisdiction on this court to hear and decide this case under the authority of Section 24, Subdivision 14 of the Judicial Code, supra? We think they are.

In the public school system of the State of California the various local school districts enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy. Fundamentally, however, the people of the State have made the public school system a matter of State supervision. Such system is not committed to the exclusive control of local governments. Article IX, Constitution of California, Butterworth v. Boyd, 12 Cal.2d 140, 82 P.2d 434, 126 A.L.R. 838. It is a matter of general concern, and not a municipal affair. Esberg v. Badaracco, 202 Cal. 110, 259 P. 730; Becker v. Council of City of Albany, 47 Cal.App.2d 702, 118 P.2d 924.

The Education Code of California provides for the requirements of teachers' qualifications, the admission and exclusion of pupils, the courses of study and the enforcement of them, the duties of superintendents of schools and of the school trustees of elementary schools in the State of California. The appropriate agencies of the State of California allocate to counties all the State school money exclusively for the payment of teachers' salaries in the public schools and such funds are apportioned to the respective school districts within the counties. While, as previously observed, local school boards and trustees are vested by State legislation with considerable latitude in the administration of their districts,...

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9 cases
  • 35 Cal.3d 785, 23237, People v. Aguilar
    • United States
    • California United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 5, 1984
    ...the grounds of language deficiencies was not declared unconstitutional until 1946. (Mendez v. Westminster School District (S.D.Cal.1946) 64 F.Supp. 544; affd., 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir.1947).) In declaring the practice unconstitutional, the federal district court in Westminster noted that &quo......
  • 756 F.Supp. 1298 (C.D.Cal. 1990), CV 88-5143, Garza v. County of Los Angeles, California.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • June 4, 1990
    ...until 1947 when the California Supreme Court struck down such segregation. Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County, 64 F.Supp. 544 (S.D.Cal.1946), aff'd, 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir.1947). However, as the United States points out, school desegregation litigation involving districts......
  • 398 U.S. 922 (1970), 1776, Tijerina v. Henry
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • May 25, 1970
    ...Maintenance of class actions on behalf of persons of Mexican or Latin descent was allowed in Mendez v. Westminister School Dist., D. C., 64 F.Supp. 544, and Gonzales v. Sheely, D. C., 96 F.Supp. [4] The fifth cause of action in appellants' complaint, alleging basically the same discriminati......
  • 467 F.2d 848 (5th Cir. 1972), 71-2508, United States v. Texas Ed. Agency
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • August 2, 1972
    ...N.D.Tex.1971, C.A. No. 3-4211-C, 342 F.Supp. 945, appeal docketed, No. 71-2581; Mendez v. Westminister School District, S.D.Cal.1946, 64 F.Supp. 544, aff'd 161 F.2d 774 (9 Cir. 1947); Delgado v. Bastrop Ind. School District, W.D.Tex.1948, C.A. No. 388 (unreported); Gonzales v. Sheely, D.Ari......
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