Hargrave v. McKinney

Citation413 F.2d 320
Decision Date09 June 1969
Docket NumberNo. 27140.,27140.
PartiesRobert H. HARGRAVE et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Shellie McKINNEY et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Glassie, Pewett, Beebe & Shanks, by Hershel Shanks, Allan I. Mendelsohn, Robert M. Perce, Jr., Washington, D. C., Frank & Grandoff, by Richard Frank, Tampa, Fla., for appellants.

William L. Durden, General Counsel, David U. Tumin, Asst. Counsel, City of Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Fla., for defendant.

Wayne M. Carlisle, Gainesville, Fla., for defendant, Shellie McKinney.

J. T. Chancey, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for defendant, W. H. Meeks, Sr.

James R. Adams, Naples, Fla., for defendant, A. P. Ayers.

W. J. Ferguson, Lake City, Fla., for defendant, Alvin C. Hosford.

Thomas J. Shave, Jr., Fernandina Beach, Fla., for defendant, Ira W. Hall.

Landis, Graham, French, Husfeld & Sherman, William E. Sherman, DeLand, Fla., for defendant, Dorothy Matt Mills.

Harold F. Johnson, Sanford, Fla., for defendant, G. Troy Ray, Jr.

Clyde B. Wells, Defuniak Springs, Fla., for defendant, Jack Little.

Thomas C. Britto and Stuart Simon, Miami, Fla., for defendant, R. K. Overstreet.

Jack A. Harnett, Quincy, Fla., for defendant, W. A. Summerford.

F. E. Steinmeyer, III, Tallahassee, Fla., for defendant, Roy Lett.

V. Carroll Webb, Tallahassee, Fla., for defendant, Fred O. Dickinson, Jr.

Robert L. Nabors, Titusville, Fla., for defendant, J. D. Nash.

William J. Rish, Port St. Joe, Fla., for defendant, Harland O. Pridgeon.

John W. McWhirter, Jr., Tampa, Fla., for defendant, K. C. Bullard.

John L. Graham, Jr., Orlando, Fla., for defendant, Earl K. Wood.

Before RIVES, BELL and DYER, Circuit Judges.

RIVES, Circuit Judge:

We review here the District Judge's refusal to notify or request the Chief Judge of the Circuit to convene a three-judge court1 and his dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint for lack of jurisdiction.2

The complaint attacks, under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a Florida statute which provides that any county that imposes on itself more than 10 mills ad valorem property taxes for educational purposes will not be eligible to receive State funds for the support of its public education system.3

The legal theory of the attack is succinctly stated in plaintiffs' brief as follows:

"At the time the Act was passed in February 1968, 24 Florida counties had imposed on themselves taxes in excess of this 10-mill limit for the 1968-69 school year. To avoid losing state funds, each of these counties is collecting only the 10-mill statutory maximum. The Complaint charges that the state statute which imposes this limit on the authority of the counties to tax themselves violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution because the state limitation is fixed by reference to a standard which relates solely to the amount of property in the county, not to the educational needs of the county. Counties with high property values in relation to their school population are authorized by the state to tax themselves far more in relation to their educational needs than counties with low property values in relation to their school population. Thus, Charlotte County may raise by its own taxes $725 per student, while Bradford County is permitted by the State to raise only $52 per student. To limit the extent to which a county may tax itself to provide for its educational needs by reference to the amount of property in the county, which amount is wholly unrelated to the educational needs of the county, is arbitrary and unreasonable and therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause because it thereby fails to provide Florida children with an economically equal educational opportunity."

A court of appeals has jurisdiction to review the action of a one-judge district court in dismissing a complaint instead of taking appropriate steps to convene a three-judge district court.4

The landmark case of Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 1962, 370 U.S. 713, 82 S.Ct. 1294, 8 L.Ed. 2d 794, defines the inquiry by the district judge.

"When an application for a statutory three-judge court is addressed to a district court, the court\'s inquiry is appropriately limited to determining whether the constitutional question raised is substantial, whether the complaint at least formally alleges a basis for equitable relief, and whether the case presented otherwise comes within the requirements of the three-judge statute."

370 U.S. at 715, 82 S.Ct. at 1296; O'Hair v. United States, 281 F.Supp. 815, 819 (D.D.C.1968); but cf. Jackson v. Choate, 5 Cir. 1968, 404 F.2d 910, 912. Our sole function is to review district court determinations with respect to the three prerequisites to the convocation of a three-judge court.5 Our opinion merely determines the sufficiency of plaintiffs' claim for three-judge relief, and to the extent that the constitutionality of the state tax scheme is discussed, we express no opinion as to the ultimate resolution of that issue.

I. Does the complaint at least formally allege a basis for equitable relief?

Our inquiry focuses first on the allegations of the complaint since the single district judge performs similar operations in determining sufficiency in all civil cases — including those which require a district court of three judges. Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp., supra, at 715, 82 S.Ct. 1294 (complaints need only formally allege a basis for equitable relief). Cf. Mosher v. City of Phoenix, 1932, 287 U.S. 29, 30, 53 S. Ct. 67, 77 L.Ed. 148; Buchanan v. Rhodes, 249 F.Supp. 860, 862-863 (N.D. Ohio 1966) (Application of Rule 12(b) (6), Fed.R.Civ.P., 28 U.S.C.). Moreover, the complaint should be liberally construed and well-pleaded material allegations taken as admitted. Ward v. Hudnell, 5 Cir. 1966, 366 F.2d 247, 249. See generally 2A J. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 12.08. Should plaintiffs prove their alleged set of facts, the dispute will to a large extent be limited to a consideration of some recently developed ideas of equal protection. The novelty of the constitutional argument should not, however, blind us to our narrow duty of determining the sufficiency of alleged facts. Taking plaintiffs' allegations (that the State, which supplies approximately 60% of operating funds to the Board of Public Instruction, will cut off its contributions should the counties levy more than 10 mills of local funds) as true, we note that plaintiffs' claims may find some support in recently acceptable legal theories. Cf. Conley v. Gibson, 1957, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80. The equal protection argument advanced by plaintiffs is the crux of the case. Noting that lines drawn on wealth are suspect6 and that we are here dealing with interests which may well be deemed fundamental,7 we cannot say that there is no reasonably arguable theory of equal protection which would support a decision in favor of the plaintiffs. See McDonald v. Board of Election, 1969, 394 U.S. 802, 89 S.Ct. 1404, 22 L.Ed.2d 739. See also Developments in the Law — Equal Protection, 83 Harv.L.Rev. 1065, 1120, et seq. (1969); Kurland, Equal Educational Opportunity: The Limits of Constitutional Jurisprudence Undefined, 35 U. Chic.L.Rev. 582 (1968).

II. Other Jurisdictional Considerations.

A. Having concluded that plaintiffs' complaint at least formally alleges a basis for equitable relief, we review next the district judge's dismissal of the complaint on the basis of his finding that 28 U.S.C. § 13418 operates as a jurisdictional bar to the maintenance of this action. We hold that the jurisdictional bar of Section 1341 is inapplicable to the instant situation and that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint on the basis of that statute. Our holding, which is exceedingly narrow and does not preclude considerations of federalism by the three-judge court, infra, p. 327, can be best understood by examining the history of Section 1341.

The expansion of the federal judicial power countenanced by the Supreme Court in Ex parte Young, 1908, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714, "brought about a major shift in the actual distribution of power between states and nation" which was not "overlooked by Congress, or by the spokesmen of the interests adversely affected." H. Hart and H. Wechsler, The Federal Courts and the Federal System, pp. 846-847 (1953). Congress responded to the federal courts' newly-declared power to enjoin actions by state officials in their enforcement of state legislative acts by enacting four major pieces of legislation.9 For our purposes the relevant congressional limitation of federal jurisdiction sanctioned by Ex parte Young is now codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1341, supra, n. 8. This section, popularly known as the Tax Injunction Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 738, was enacted as an addendum to the predecessor of 28 U.S.C. § 1342, the Johnson Act. See 28 U.S.C. § 41(1) (1940, 1946 ed.). We should not confuse the two acts but rather focus upon the legislative history of the 1937 Act so as to ascertain the congressional policy underlying the legislation. Mr. Justice Fortas, writing for the Supreme Court in Department of Employment v. United States, 1966, 385 U.S. 355, 87 S.Ct. 464, 17 L.Ed.2d 414, found "convincing evidence of legislative purpose" in the congressional materials quoted below. 385 U.S. at 358, n. 7, 87 S.Ct. 464 and accompanying text.

There is a twofold purpose underlying Section 1341. First, it is directed at the elimination of unjust discrimination between citizens of the State and foreign corporations. As the Senate Judiciary Committee said in its report recommending adoption:

"If those to whom the federal courts are open may secure injunctive relief against the collection of taxes, the highly unfair picture is presented of the citizen of the State being required to pay first and then litigate, while those privileged to sue in the federal courts need only pay what t
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