Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist., No. 90-16831

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtWIGGINS
Citation963 F.2d 248
Decision Date29 April 1992
Docket NumberNo. 90-16831
Parties58 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,437, 75 Ed. Law Rep. 118 Jean BELANGER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MADERA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; Board of Trustees of Madera Unified School District; Thomas J. Riley, School Superintendent, Defendants-Appellees.

Page 248

963 F.2d 248
58 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,437, 75 Ed. Law Rep. 118
Jean BELANGER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MADERA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; Board of Trustees of Madera
Unified School District; Thomas J. Riley, School
Superintendent, Defendants-Appellees.
No. 90-16831.
United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted Feb. 14, 1992.
Decided April 29, 1992.

Page 249

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:

OVERVIEW

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.

BACKGROUND

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

Page 250

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.

DISCUSSION

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

Page 251

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 by the Eleventh Amendment); Rutledge v. Arizona Bd. of Regents, 660 F.2d 1345, 1349 (9th Cir.1981) ("Obviously the source from which the sums sought by the plaintiff must come is the most important single factor in determining whether the Eleventh Amendment bars federal jurisdiction."), aff'd on other grounds sub nom. Kush v. Rutledge, 460 U.S. 719, 103 S.Ct. 1483, 75 L.Ed.2d 413 (1983).

A. Application of the Mitchell Factors

An analysis of the five Mitchell factors demonstrates that the school district in this case is a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment. Although Belanger's view of certain factors are not without merit, Belanger cannot prevail on the first and most important factor because a judgment against the school district would be satisfied out of state funds. Moreover, under California law, the school district is a state agency that performs central governmental functions. Thus, the school district is protected by the Eleventh Amendment.

1. A Money Judgment Would Be Satisfied Out of State Funds

Unlike most states, California school districts have budgets that are controlled and funded by the state government rather than the local districts. As in Mitchell, the school district's budget in this case "is made up of funds received from the state's general fund pursuant to a state calculated formula." 861 F.2d at 201. California's centralized control of school funding can be attributed to two key factors--decisions by the California Supreme Court in 1971 and 1976, and the adoption of Proposition 13 in 1978.

In Serrano v. Priest, 5 Cal.3d 584, 96 Cal.Rptr. 601, 487 P.2d 1241 (1971) (Serrano I ), the California Supreme Court determined that the system of public school financing in California that failed to equalize school spending for each student was unconstitutional. The California legislature responded by enacting Senate Bill 90 in an attempt to equalize public school funding. The legislature significantly increased state funding for school districts and created "revenue limits"--limits on the expenditures per pupil in school districts with ample local funding. See Serrano v. Priest, 18 Cal.3d 728, 135 Cal.Rptr. 345, 347-52, 557 P.2d 929, 931-36 (1976) (Serrano II), cert. denied, 432 U.S. 907, 97 S.Ct. 2951, 53 L.Ed.2d 1079 (1977).

However, the California Supreme Court was still unsatisfied because the legislature had provided for voter overrides and permissive overrides--special exceptions to the revenue limits. In Serrano II, the California Supreme Court ruled that the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution require strict statewide equalization of school spending per pupil. Under Serrano II, the state has a duty to ensure that all school districts receive an equal amount of funding per student. Thus, the state must prevent wealthier districts from raising too much local revenue, enabling California to equalize school district budgets through state spending. See 135 Cal.Rptr. 345, 374, 557 P.2d at 937, 958.

Proposition 13's property tax limitations inadvertently helped California achieve the result...

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199 practice notes
  • Kirchmann v. Unified School Dist., No. E026060.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 27, 2000
    ...California school district is an arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes (Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist. (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 248, 254), we will conclude the District does enjoy the state's immunity from liability under section FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND The fac......
  • Wells v. ONE2ONE Learning Foundation, No. S123951.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 31, 2006
    ...finances are largely dependent on and intertwined with state financial aid (see Belanger v. Madera Unified School District (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 248, 251-252 (Belanger)), the assessment of double and treble damages, as well as other penalties, to school districts would not advance that p......
  • Clemes v. Del Norte County Unified School Dist., No. C-93-1912 MHP (ENE).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • January 25, 1994
    ...Mr. Clemes' claims against them are barred. The school district is clearly a state agency. In Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist., 963 F.2d 248 (9th Cir.1992), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 113 S.Ct. 1280, 122 L.Ed.2d 674 (1993), the Ninth Circuit squarely held that a school district in C......
  • Okorie v. L. A. Unified Sch. Dist., B268733
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 16, 2017
    ...Dist . (2013) 216 Cal,. App.4th 1198, 1207, 157 Cal.Rptr.3d 720 [same]; see also Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist . (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 248, 254 ; Aldana v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist . (C.D.Cal., Nov. 3, 2011, No. CV 10-6000-DOC SP), 2011 WL 6002385 at pp. *3-4, *5, 2011 U.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
199 cases
  • Kirchmann v. Unified School Dist., No. E026060.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 27, 2000
    ...California school district is an arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes (Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist. (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 248, 254), we will conclude the District does enjoy the state's immunity from liability under section FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND The fac......
  • Wells v. ONE2ONE Learning Foundation, No. S123951.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 31, 2006
    ...finances are largely dependent on and intertwined with state financial aid (see Belanger v. Madera Unified School District (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 248, 251-252 (Belanger)), the assessment of double and treble damages, as well as other penalties, to school districts would not advance that p......
  • Clemes v. Del Norte County Unified School Dist., No. C-93-1912 MHP (ENE).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • January 25, 1994
    ...Mr. Clemes' claims against them are barred. The school district is clearly a state agency. In Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist., 963 F.2d 248 (9th Cir.1992), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 113 S.Ct. 1280, 122 L.Ed.2d 674 (1993), the Ninth Circuit squarely held that a school district in C......
  • Okorie v. L. A. Unified Sch. Dist., B268733
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 16, 2017
    ...Dist . (2013) 216 Cal,. App.4th 1198, 1207, 157 Cal.Rptr.3d 720 [same]; see also Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist . (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 248, 254 ; Aldana v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist . (C.D.Cal., Nov. 3, 2011, No. CV 10-6000-DOC SP), 2011 WL 6002385 at pp. *3-4, *5, 2011 U.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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