Chalfant v. Wilmington Institute

Decision Date27 February 1978
Docket NumberNo. 76-2132,76-2132
Citation574 F.2d 739
PartiesPatricia J. CHALFANT, Appellant, v. The WILMINGTON INSTITUTE, a corporation of the State of Delaware, Jack W. Bryant and Edward B. duPont.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Alfred J. Lindh, Bayard J. Snyder, Wilmington, Del., for appellant.

F. Alton Tybout, John A. Elzufon, Wilmington, Del., for appellee, The Wilmington Institute.

Henry N. Herndon, Jr., Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams, Wilmington, Del., for appellees, Wilmington Institute, Jack W. Bryant and Edward B. duPont.



GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

This appeal grows out of a dispute following the discharge of an employee by the public library system of the City of Wilmington and County of New Castle, Delaware. After a bench trial, the district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the termination did not involve state action within the reach of the fourteenth amendment. The court also declined to adjudicate pendent state law liberty and defamation claims. 1 We reverse the district court's state action holding. Since that reversal will require findings of fact on the merits of the wrongful discharge claim, which, according to the appellant, is closely related to the pendent state law claims, we vacate the dismissal of those claims so that the district court may reconsider whether those claims should be adjudicated with the discharge claim.


It is not surprising that in a constitutional democracy such as ours one of the functions which was first recognized as the responsibility of government was that of assuring an informed citizenry through the maintenance of public libraries. In some states this recognition antedated the emergence both of free public schools and of municipal police departments. 2 Governmental assumption of the responsibility for providing public library services occurred earlier in some states than in Delaware. Nevertheless, the public library system of New Castle County and of the City of Wilmington, which is located in that county, eventually emerged. That system is described in the Introduction to Exhibit PX 35, the Staff Handbook of the Wilmington Institute and New Castle County Libraries, as follows:

The Wilmington Institute Free Library and the New Castle County Free Library are two arms of a single public library system serving all of the people of New Castle County. The two libraries are governed by a single Board of Managers and administered by a single Director of Libraries. For Staff Members, as for the public who use the libraries, the only distinction between the two is the geographic location of the service agency in which a staff member performs his or her duties. All policies are the same for the entire system. Except as limited by the physical facilities and operating needs of each agency or department, practices and procedures are uniform.

The New Castle County Free Library is supported largely by appropriation by the New Castle County Council and provides all services outside the City of Wilmington. This library was established in 1927 by a gift from Miss Alice P. Smyth as a Memorial to Miss Mary H. Askew-Mather. From its early beginnings as a service to rural communities it has developed into a major series of library agencies, with two branches, two mobile branches and numerous special and institutional services.

The Wilmington Institute Free Library receives the bulk of its support from the City Council of Wilmington and, in addition to the services of the Central Library, operates two branches and special and institutional services. This library traces its beginnings to a private subscription library founded in 1788 which subsequently joined with other organizations and became The Wilmington Institute in 1859. It remained a privately supported library until 1893 when, through the generosity of William P. Bancroft, it became the Free Library for the city of Wilmington.

The Board of Managers of The Wilmington Institute functions as the governing body of the libraries. It consists of ten members who are self-perpetuating and eight members who serve ex officio because of other positions they hold. These are the Mayor of Wilmington, the President of the Wilmington City Council, three members of the Finance Committee, the President of the Wilmington Board of Education, the Wilmington Superintendent of Schools and the County Executive of New Castle County.

This Board establishes all libraries policies and appoints the Director of Libraries who is responsible for the execution of policies established by the Board and for the administration of the libraries. Staff members are appointed by the Director with the concurrence of the Board.

The members of the Board of Managers donate their time and energies to the library as a community service. The Director and all staff members are paid public servants.

(emphasis supplied).

One of those public servants, Chalfant, the appellant herein, was initially employed by the Wilmington Institute in September, 1968, as a library trainee. Two years later she had advanced through a number of intermediate grades to the position of Chief of the Book Processing Department of the Institute. On February 16, 1972, she was discharged. Subsequently, she brought this suit against the Wilmington Institute and two of its officers, Jack W. Bryant and Edward B. duPont.

In her amended and supplemental complaint Chalfant contended that her discharge violated her substantive and procedural rights guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment and thus violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, she alleged: (1) that she had been deprived of a property right (her employment) without due process of law; (2) that she had been discharged because of her sex in violation of the equal protection clause; and (3) that certain letters written by the defendants had damaged her reputation and thereby had deprived her of liberty and property in violation of due process. Chalfant also contended that the termination of her employment was maliciously motivated and that the letters previously mentioned, which were circulated to New Castle officials and to the American Library Association, defamed her as a matter of state tort law. On July 22, 1975, the district court entered a pre-trial order which established certain admitted facts. 3 On July 30, 1975, trial of this action commenced. At the end of the plaintiff's case, the defendants moved to dismiss the action pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Since it found no evidence of sex discrimination, the district court granted this motion with respect to that part of plaintiff's complaint alleging sex discrimination. 4 The court reserved decision on this motion with regard to the remaining allegations in Chalfant's complaint. At the close of the entire case, following post-trial briefing, the court concluded that Chalfant's termination did not involve the requisite state action for a § 1983 claim and thus it dismissed the complaint. Most of the historical or narrative facts upon which the court predicated its legal conclusion that state action was lacking are not disputed in any material respect. Consequently, without repeating them here, we incorporate by reference those findings as they appear in the district court's reported opinion. 5

There is additional, undisputed evidence in the record which is relevant to the governmental status of the Wilmington Institute, but which the district court, in its opinion below, did not specifically mention. For example, Docket Item 31 6 contains plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 4 and defendants' answer thereto:

4. State whether the "Wilmington Institute and New Castle County Free Libraries" referred to (in) paragraph 5 of the Answer in this action is a corporate entity and, if so, identify its date and place of incorporation, the date and place of filing of the Certificate of Incorporation or Charter and identify the public record of its filing by the appropriate index or docket references.

ANSWER: The "Wilmington Institute and New Castle County Free Library" is not a corporate entity. It is a management title under which City and County libraries are operated.

Also in evidence are Exhibits PX 36 and PX 37, which are agreements between New Castle County and Wilmington Institute providing for the administration by the Institute of federal funds received by the county pursuant to Title I of the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972, Pub.L. No. 92-512, codified in 31 U.S.C. §§ 1221 et seq. Two clauses of these agreements, which are quoted in the margin, 7 provide in detail for the fulfillment of the county's fourteenth amendment obligations. Under this federal revenue-sharing statute, the federal government provides to state and local governments specified portions of federal individual income tax collections to be used by such governments for governmental purposes. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 1974, the Wilmington Institute received $481,581.00 in such federal revenue-sharing funds. In the following year the federal government's support from income tax revenues rose to $514,000.00. The agreements require a monthly report to the county of expenditures, of persons served, and of the nature of the services rendered. The Institute's records are subject to audit by the county as well as by the auditors of the United States Treasury Department. Although, because federal funds only became available in 1973, Exhibits PX 36 and PX 37 were not in effect when Chalfant was discharged, they do show the nature of the relationship between the county government and the public library, a relationship which antedated federal funding. The county government's interest in the personnel policies of the Institute is demonstrated in...

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