963 F.2d 248 (9th Cir. 1992), 90-16831, Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist.

Docket Nº:90-16831.
Citation:963 F.2d 248
Party Name:Jean BELANGER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MADERA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; Board of Trustees of Madera Unified School District; Thomas J. Riley, School Superintendent, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:April 29, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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963 F.2d 248 (9th Cir. 1992)

Jean BELANGER, Plaintiff-Appellant,



Unified School District; Thomas J. Riley, School

Superintendent, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 90-16831.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 29, 1992

Argued and Submitted Feb. 14, 1992.

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Mary Louise Frampton, Frampton, Soley, Hoppe, Williams & Boehm, Fresno, Cal., for plaintiff-appellant.

Michael E. Smith and Ellen M. Jahn, Lozano, Smith, Smith, Woliver & Behrens, Fresno, Cal., for defendants-appellees.

Larry J. Frierson and Melanie M. Poturica, Liebert, Cassidy & Frierson, Los Angeles, Cal., for amicus curiae.

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

Before: HALL and WIGGINS, Circuit Judges, and MUECKE [*], District Judge.

WIGGINS, Circuit Judge:


Jean Belanger, plaintiff/appellant, appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Madera Unified School District (school district), defendant/appellee. Belanger argues that the district court erred in finding that the school district is immune to suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Belanger filed a timely notice of appeal on November 30, 1990, and this court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988). We affirm.


At the start of the 1988-89 school year, Belanger was removed from her position as principal at the Ripperdan Elementary School and reassigned to a classroom teaching position. Belanger alleges she was reassigned because of her gender and in retaliation for testifying against the school district in a separate discrimination action. The school district disputes Belanger's allegations and claims that Belanger was reassigned because of her extremely poor performance as a principal. According to the school district, Belanger failed to work effectively with parents and teachers and illegally altered student records. This allegedly caused the district to receive continuous complaints from parents and teachers about Belanger and resulted in six of

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Ripperdan Elementary's nine teachers leaving the school.

On March 20, 1989, Belanger brought an action against the school district under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1988). Belanger engaged in extensive discovery to obtain evidence showing that a judgment against the school district would not be satisfied out of state funds. After this discovery, the district court granted the school district's motion for summary judgment. The district court determined that as a matter of law the school district is a state agency that is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.


The only issue on appeal is whether the school district is a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment. 1 This issue turns on the application of law to established facts. Thus, the grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo to determine whether, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Belanger, the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law. Tzung v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 873 F.2d 1338, 1339-40 (9th Cir.1989); see also United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1204 (9th Cir.) (en banc) (application of law to established facts is reviewed de novo), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 824, 105 S.Ct. 101, 83 L.Ed.2d 46 (1984).

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." Although the exact limits of the Eleventh Amendment are difficult to determine, 2 it is clear that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits actions for damages against state agencies when Congress has failed to express a contrary intent. See Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 242, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 3147, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985) (congressional intent to override the principles of sovereign immunity embodied in the Eleventh Amendment must be "unmistakably clear"). In this case, Belanger concedes that her claims for damages are barred if the school district is indeed a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979) (state governments and their agencies are not amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

Whether the school district is a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment turns on the application of the multi-factored balancing test summarized in Mitchell v. Los Angeles Community College Dist., 861 F.2d 198, 201 (9th Cir.1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1081, 109 S.Ct. 2102, 104 L.Ed.2d 663 (1989).

To determine whether a governmental agency is an arm of the state, the following factors must be examined: whether a money judgment would be satisfied out of state funds, whether the entity performs central governmental functions, whether the entity may sue or be sued, whether the entity has the

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power to take property in its own name or only the name of the state, and the corporate status of the entity.

Id. (citing Jackson v. Hayakawa, 682 F.2d 1344, 1350 (9th Cir.1982)). We must examine these factors in light of the way California law treats the governmental agency. Id. As indicated by the reasoning and holding in Mitchell, the first factor is predominant: "The most 'crucial question ... is whether the named defendant has such independent status that a judgment against the defendant would not impact the state treasury.' " Jackson, 682 F.2d at 1350 (quoting Ronwin v. Shapiro, 657 F.2d 1071, 1073 (9th Cir.1981)); see also Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 668, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1358, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974) (if a "retroactive award of monetary relief" will be paid from state treasury funds, it is barred...

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