818 F.2d 755 (11th Cir. 1987), 86-7104, Williams v. City of Dothan, Ala.

Docket Nº:86-7104.
Citation:818 F.2d 755
Party Name:George WILLIAMS, Jr., et al., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; The First Born Church Of the Living God, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF DOTHAN, ALABAMA; Kenneth Everett, Mayor; Commissioners John H. Glanton, Jr., Raimon G. Thomas, Matt Bullard, S.A. Cherry, Sr., and their successors and agents in their official c
Case Date:June 05, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 755

818 F.2d 755 (11th Cir. 1987)

George WILLIAMS, Jr., et al., on behalf of themselves and

all others similarly situated; The First Born

Church Of the Living God, et al.,

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

CITY OF DOTHAN, ALABAMA; Kenneth Everett, Mayor;

Commissioners John H. Glanton, Jr., Raimon G. Thomas, Matt

Bullard, S.A. Cherry, Sr., and their successors and agents

in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 86-7104.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 5, 1987

Page 756

Lipman & Weisberg, David M. Lipman, Robert E. Weisberg, Miami, Fla., Abigail Turner, Legal Services Corp. of Alabama, Mobile, Ala., Steven D. Caley, Legal Services Corp. of Alabama, Dothan, Ala., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Buntin & Cobb, P.A., T.E. Buntin, Jr., D. Taylor Flowers, Dothan, Ala., James R. Seale, James Walter, Jr., Capell, Howard, Knabe & Cobbs, P.A., Montgomery, Ala., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Page 757

Before GODBOLD and Hill, Circuit Judges, and ESCHBACH [*], Senior Circuit Judge.

GODBOLD, Circuit Judge:

In this case black property owners of the City of Dothan, Alabama, attack as unconstitutionally discriminatory assessments made against them by the city for street paving and sewer improvements. The district court ruled in favor of the city. 1 We reverse and remand for granting of relief.

Plaintiffs represent the class of black citizens who have or will have to pay special assessments under the city's Special Improvement Project 31. 2

I. Procedural Background

This is a second appeal. Originally, on Dothan's motion for summary judgment, the district court found that plaintiffs' action was barred by statutory and common law estoppel and the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1341 (1982). We reversed this decision in Williams v. City of Dothan, 745 F.2d 1406 (11th Cir.1984) (Williams I ), holding that plaintiffs' action was not barred under Alabama law by statutory or equitable estoppel and that the Tax Injunction Act did not apply. Id. at 1410-13. We also ordered the district court to permit plaintiffs to amend their complaint to add an allegation that the city's actions constituted a violation of its continuing responsibilities under an earlier order of the district court in Yelverton v. Driggers, 370 F.Supp. 612 (M.D.Ala.1974). 3

After a non-jury trial on remand, the district court again ruled in favor of Dothan. The court reasoned that based on facts unavailable to the Eleventh Circuit in Williams I, plaintiffs' action was still barred by statutory and equitable estoppel. The court also held that we misconstrued Alabama law in Williams I when we concluded that the Tax Injunction Act did not apply. On the request of both parties the court decided all issues presented, even though it had found that the action was barred. The court held that plaintiffs had failed to prove discriminatory intent and discriminatory effect. It also held that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the case involved a violation of the Yelverton order because municipal services were not an issue in that case and because the order had violated the specificity requirement of Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(d). In an amendment to its opinion the court further held that, even if the Yelverton order applied, Dothan had complied with it.

II. Law of the Case

The district court held that plaintiffs' action was barred by "common law estoppel and a statutory estoppel pursuant to both the Federal Tax Injunction Act and the provisions of CODE OF ALABAMA [1975], Sec. 11-48-26." Williams v. City of Dothan, No. 82-226-S, Mss. at 20 (M.D.Ala. Sept. 30, 1985) (Williams II ). Although the court found that new evidence was presented at the bench trial that supported these findings, the Eleventh Circuit, as discussed more fully below, had relied on the same evidence in Williams I and clearly resolved these issues against Dothan. The district court therefore erred in reconsidering these issues on remand.

Page 758

Under the law of the case doctrine, findings of fact and conclusions of law by a court of appeals are binding on all subsequent proceedings in the same case. Piambino v. Bailey, 757 F.2d 1112, 1120 (11th Cir.1985), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 2889, 90 L.Ed.2d 976 (1986); Dorsey v. Continental Cas. Co., 730 F.2d 675, 678 (11th Cir.1984), Baumer v. U.S., 685 F.2d 1318, 1320 (11th Cir.1982). There are three exceptions which, if present, justify a district court's reconsideration of issues previously decided by a court of appeals: "(1) substantially different evidence is produced at a subsequent trial; (2) controlling authority compels a contrary decision of law applicable to the issue; or (3) the prior decision was clearly erroneous and would work manifest injustice." Dorsey, 730 F.2d at 678 n. 2; see also Baumer, 685 F.2d at 1320; EEOC v. International Longshoremen's Ass'n, 623 F.2d 1054, 1058 (5th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 917, 101 S.Ct. 1997, 68 L.Ed.2d 310 (1981). No exception is applicable here. The district court violated the law of the case established in Williams I by reconsidering the estoppel and Tax Injunction Act issues.

On remand the district court found that plaintiffs' action was barred by statutory estoppel because under Ala.Code Sec. 11-48-26 citizens waived their right to protest special assessment projects if they failed to file objections or protests in writing. The court relied on the fact that plaintiffs' first written objection came at the second public hearing in 1982, 4 which took place after the construction in Project 31 had been completed. This same evidence, however, was before us in Williams I; we held that plaintiffs' action was not barred by Sec. 11-48-26 because plaintiffs had "objected orally at least twice, and had presented written objections at least once, during City Commission meetings held before the assessments were finalized." Williams I, 745 F.2d at 1410.

The district court also held that plaintiffs' action was barred by equitable estoppel because plaintiffs failed to appeal the city commission's determination of the maximum possible assessment in Project 31 before the city began construction on the project. The court reasoned that had plaintiffs appealed the decision the city would not have proceeded with construction until the objections had been resolved. Under Alabama law three conditions must be met to find equitable estoppel:

The actor, who usually must have knowledge of the true facts, communicates something in a misleading way, either by words, conduct or silence. The other relies upon that communication. And the other would be harmed materially if the actor is later permitted to assert any claim inconsistent with his earlier conduct.

Id. at 1411 (quoting Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency, 340 So.2d 770, 773 (Ala.1976)). Again, with the same facts before us, we concluded in Williams I that equitable estoppel was inapplicable because Dothan knew of plaintiffs' objections to the high assessments prior to beginning construction in Project 31. Id.

Finally, the district court held that plaintiffs' action was barred by the Tax Injunction Act. Williams I held that the Tax Injunction Act was inapplicable because plaintiffs did not have a "plain, speedy and efficient remedy" under state law. Id. at 1412. In reaching this conclusion the decision rejected the district court's earlier ruling that plaintiffs could assert their due process and equal protection claims under the procedures set out in Ala.Code Sec. 11-48-36. We held that Alabama law limits review of an assessment by a trial court to whether the assessment

Page 759

exceeds the increase in value to the property as a result of the improvement. Id. at 1412-13. On remand the district court held that "after having thoroughly studied the cases cited by the Court of Appeals in Williams [I]," it was "of the firm opinion" that appeals in Alabama "are not limited to the cost-value-assessment issue." Williams II, Mss. at 13-14. Although the district court's interpretation of cases cited in Williams I is reasonable, its interpretation is not so compelling that the Eleventh Circuit's holding is "clearly erroneous." The district court erred in reconsidering the Tax Injunction Act issue.

III. Plaintiffs' Burden of Proof

The district court held that to succeed on the merits of their discrimination claim plaintiffs had to prove discriminatory intent by Dothan. Plaintiffs argue on appeal, as they did before the district court, that they need only show that Project 31 had a discriminatory effect on Dothan's black citizens because Dothan's conduct constituted a perpetuation of past discrimination and a violation of the city's continuing responsibilities under Yelverton. 5 Although the district court properly concluded that plaintiffs must prove discriminatory intent even if they alleged perpetuation of past discrimination, the court erred in holding that plaintiffs' action did not constitute an enforcement action of the Yelverton order. Plaintiffs, therefore, need only prove discriminatory effect. 6

  1. Perpetuation of Past Discrimination

    Proof of discriminatory intent is required to show a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265, 97 S.Ct. 555, 563, 50 L.Ed.2d 450 (1977); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 2049, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976). A plaintiff must prove discriminatory intent even if a history of past discrimination exists. City of Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55, 74, 100 S.Ct. 1490, 1503, 64 L.Ed.2d 47 (1980) (plurality decision). 7 The cases cited by plaintiffs are inapposite because they either involve statutory actions in which proof of...

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