745 F.2d 324 (4th Cir. 1984), 83-1735, Goldsboro City Bd. of Educ. v. Wayne County Bd. of Educ.

Docket Nº:83-1735.
Citation:745 F.2d 324
Case Date:October 05, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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745 F.2d 324 (4th Cir. 1984)




No. 83-1735.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

October 5, 1984

Argued July 9, 1984.

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James C. Fuller, Jr., Charlotte, N.C. (Thorp, Fuller & Slifkin, P.A., Raleigh, N.C., J. LeVonne Chambers, Chambers, Ferguson, Watt, Wallas & Adkins, P.A., Charlotte, N.C., Lindsay C. Warren, Jr., Taylor, Warren, Kerr & Walker, Gordon C. Woodruff, Narron, O'Hale, Whittington, & Woodruff, P.A., Goldsboro, N.C., on brief), for appellant.

Alfred A. Lindseth, Atlanta, Ga. (Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, Atlanta, Ga., George K. Freeman, Jr., H. Jack Edwards, Freeman & Edwards, Goldsboro, N.C., on brief), for appellee.

Before PHILLIPS, MURNAGHAN and ERVIN, Circuit Judges.

MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:


The plaintiff appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina dismissing its cause of action which alleged constitutional violations by the defendant that had a segregative effect on the plaintiff's schools and its students.

On July 7, 1981, the Goldsboro City Board of Education (City Board) filed the present action against the Wayne County Board of Education (County Board). The City Board alleged that the County Board's refusal to merge the City and County school systems maintained a racially discriminatory structure of public education in both the City and County in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981-1983 and Sec. 2000d. The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including an interdistrict remedy which would, in part, require consolidation of the city and county schools.

In December, 1982, the district court granted the defendant's motion to bifurcate the liability and relief segments of the trial. However, the district court denied the plaintiff's motion to join additional party defendants, including the Goldsboro Housing Authority and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

The district court, sitting without a jury, heard evidence for two weeks beginning on January 17, 1983. At the conclusion of the plaintiff's evidence, the district court directed a verdict in favor of the defendant.

The district court filed a memorandum of decision with its separate judgment on June 10, 1983. The district court found that there was no intentional racial discriminatory act or failure to act on the part of the defendant which caused racial segregation in the plaintiff's school district.

On July 27, 1983, after obtaining an extension of time to file, the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal. The plaintiff raises two arguments on appeal: 1) that the district court's findings of fact that the County Board acted in a nondiscriminatory manner are clearly erroneous; and, 2) that the district court did not apply the correct legal standard to the case.


The City of Goldsboro, North Carolina, is completely surrounded by Wayne County, North Carolina. In 1881, the North Carolina General Assembly established a school district coterminous with Goldsboro Township. Although the boundaries of Goldsboro have grown since 1881, the City school district boundaries have remained essentially the same since it was created. The County school district encompasses the rest of the City and the County. 1

Prior to the 1960's, de jure segregation existed in both school districts. In 1973, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina dismissed, by consent, a desegregation action

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against the Goldsboro City Board upon a finding that the City Board was operating a unitary (i.e., desegregated) school system. The United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare approved a desegregation plan for the Wayne County schools in 1970. The district court found, in the present case, that Wayne County has maintained a unitary school system since the early 1970s. 2

For the school year 1965-1966, the Goldsboro City schools had an enrollment of just over 9,000 students of whom 46.3 percent were black. By 1981-1982 the enrollment had dropped to 5,000 students of whom 77.7 percent were black. For the 1965-1966 school year, the Wayne County schools had an enrollment of 13,832 students of whom 33.5 percent were black. By 1981-1982, the enrollment had dropped to 13,089 students of whom 31.3 percent were black.

Although the percentage of black students in the Goldsboro schools has increased since the mid-1960s, the district court found that the quality of education being offered in the school system has not suffered. Test scores have improved and Goldsboro offers a complete Latin curriculum which is offered at very few schools in North Carolina.

The City Board has been pursuing a merger of the Goldsboro school system with the Wayne County system since the late 1960s. Throughout the 1970s and in 1980, the County Board spurned the City Board's merger overtures. The plaintiff presented evidence to the district court that the County Board's spurning was motivated by the Goldsboro district's "problem," the large number of black students in its system.

Beginning in 1973, the City Board requested on several occasions that housing located on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base be released by the County board and be made part of the City school district. The housing not only contained many white children, but whoever was educating the military dependents would receive a special federal subsidy. The County Board refused to release the air force housing area.

The district court found that the County Board's refusals to merge or change the district's boundaries were not based on racially discriminatory purpose or intent. The district court said:

the evidence shows unmistakably that the primary reasons why defendant has not agreed to change the boundary lines between the two administrative units or to merge the two units have been that in view of the fact that defendant was operating a unitary school system and offering equal educational opportunities to all its students no changes were necessary; that the changes requested by plaintiff would result in hardships to the Wayne County school system and its students; that there is strong resistance on the part of the parents of children attending the Wayne County schools to any changes which would result in their children being reassigned to schools outside of their immediate communities; and that there is no legal duty on the part of the defendant to accede to plaintiff's requests in order to assist the plaintiff in what it perceives to be a problem of racial imbalance within its own school system. The court finds these reasons to be logical, legitimate and non-discriminatory.

The plaintiff also alleged that the County Board had caused white flight from the City school system by establishing "white haven" schools. The district court found that the County Board was not maintaining racially identifiable schools. The district court also noted that the County Board built but one school during the period in question and it was built to replace a sixty year old school.

The plaintiff also claims that black population of the City schools was increased by

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the fact that public housing was built in the Goldsboro City district and the County Board of Commissioners cooperated with the County Board of Education in opposing certain public housing in the county. The district court found that the plaintiff failed to show that the defendant or any other government official or agency had ever opposed the location or construction of public housing within the County district.

The district court noted that the County schools' enrollment has remained constant over the years. The court speculated that the white flight from the City schools was not to County schools but to private schools. The court said the decrease in black students in the County schools during the same period was not accounted for by the evidence, "but a likely cause for this decrease may very well lie in the fact that as the farms in Wayne County, as in all sections of North Carolina, have become more mechanized there has been an increased migration off the farms by black families for whom farm work in prior years was the principal employment."

  1. The District Court's Factual Finding of an Absence of Discriminatory Intent is Supported by Substantial Evidence

    The plaintiff argues that the district court's finding of an absence of discriminatory intent on the part of the County Board is clearly erroneous and, thus, the district court should be reversed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). 3

    There is evidence in the record that the County Board's refusal to merge was motivated by discriminatory intent. However, there is also evidence in the record that its members were motivated by other factors. The plaintiff argues that the district court's finding need be given less weight than usual in the present appeal because the great weight of the evidence is against the finding, the evidence on the County Board's lack of racial motivation comes from depositions, which can be evaluated independently by the court of appeals, and that the district court's factfinding was infected by an erroneous legal standard.

    The Supreme Court has said that appellate courts should give great deference to the district court's findings in school desegregation cases. See Columbus Board of Education v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449...

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