Keith v. Louisiana Dept. of Educ.

Decision Date20 December 1982
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 81-989-B.
Citation553 F. Supp. 295
PartiesSenator Bill KEITH, et al. v. LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Louisiana

William J. Guste, Jr., Atty. Gen. State of La., Patricia Bowers, Asst. Atty. Gen., A. Morgan Brian, Jr., Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Wendell Bird, Thomas T. Anderson, Pro Hoc Vice, Baton Rouge, La., for plaintiffs.

John DiGiulio, Baton Rouge, La., for Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Educ.

Samuel I. Rosenberg, New Orleans, La., for Orleans Parish School Bd.

David Hamilton, Baton Rouge, La., for Louisiana Dept. of Educ. and Dr. J. Kelly Nix, Superintendent of Educ.

POLOZOLA, District Judge:

The issue presented in this case is whether the Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or 28 U.S.C. § 1332 to entertain plaintiffs' suit which seeks a declaratory judgment declaring the Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act, LSA-R.S. 17:286.1 et seq., to be constitutional. The Court finds that the Court does not have jurisdiction under § 1331 or § 1332. Therefore, plaintiffs' suit must be dismissed.1

This suit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Attorney General for the State of Louisiana pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq. Plaintiffs contend that jurisdiction is conferred upon the Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act is constitutional. The plaintiffs are state legislators, an organization of "science professionals", a Texas corporation, university professors, public school teachers and students, parents of students, and Louisiana taxpayers. Named as defendants in the original complaint were the Louisiana Department of Education, J. Kelly Nix, Superintendent of Education, the State of Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and individual members of the BESE Board. Prior to any responsive pleadings being filed, the plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint which added additional parties as plaintiffs. Thereafter, a second amended complaint was filed which added the Orleans Parish School Board (Orleans) and the St. Tammany Parish School Board as defendants.2 This matter is now before the Court on the motion of the Orleans Parish School Board to dismiss this suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act requires, inter alia, that public schools "give balanced treatment to creation-science and to evolution-science"3 in classroom lectures, textbooks, library materials and educational programs when either theory is presented to students. The Act4 also requires local school boards, assisted by seven "creation scientists" appointed by the Governor, to develop and to provide to their teachers curriculum guides on the presentation of "creation-science".

Plaintiffs contend that the defendants have refused to implement the Balanced Treatment Act which plaintiffs allege is constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and enhances academic freedom. Plaintiffs further argue that the Act does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. In response to plaintiffs' complaint, the defendants contend that the Act is unconstitutional because it constitutes an Establishment of Religion in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendants also argue that the Act abridges the academic freedom of both teachers and students, is vague, and violates the Louisiana Constitution because the Legislature usurped the power of BESE to determine the curriculum to be taught in the public schools in Louisiana.

A careful analysis of the pleadings in this case reveals that the issue raised in this suit involves a dispute between state and parish officials and agencies over a state law passed by the Louisiana Legislature which requires a certain school subject to be taught to school children in the public schools in Louisiana. Such a dispute fails to raise a federal question which should be decided by a federal court. The issue raised herein must and should be resolved by the Louisiana state courts. To bring a case under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, "a right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the United States must be an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action." Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 112, 57 S.Ct. 96, 97, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936).

It is well settled that in order to determine whether an action "arises under" federal law, the Court must look exclusively to the allegations of the complaint. State of Tennessee v. Union & Planter's Bank, 152 U.S. 454, 14 S.Ct. 654, 38 L.Ed. 511 (1894); Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 29 S.Ct. 42, 53 L.Ed. 126 (1908); Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, supra. The existence of a federal question must be raised in a well pleaded complaint unaided by any anticipated defense. State of Tennessee v. Union & Planter's Bank, supra; Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley, supra; Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, supra.5

The complaint filed by the plaintiffs in this case fails to raise a federal question. The fact that plaintiffs seek a Declaratory Judgment does not provide the jurisdictional basis for the Court to have jurisdiction in this case.6 The "operation of the Declaratory Judgment Act is procedural only." Aetna Life Ins. Co. of Hartford, Conn. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240, 57 S.Ct. 461, 463, 81 L.Ed. 617 (1937). The Declaratory Judgment Act "enlarged the remedies available in federal courts but did not extend their jurisdiction." Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., supra, 70 S.Ct. at 879. Thus, when a declaratory judgment is filed in federal court, an independent basis of federal jurisdiction is required. No such independent basis of federal jurisdiction exists in this case. However, the plaintiffs seek to rely on a rule which was set forth in a Harvard Law Review Article which provides that "a declaratory action seeking to test a defense is triable in the federal courts provided this defense would normally arise in answer to a complaint which itself would properly raise a federal question."7 The so-called "reversed role" rule has been applied in patent cases and in other cases.8 The Supreme Court also relied upon the Harvard Law Review Note in Public Service Commission v. Wycoff Co., 344 U.S. 237, 248 n. 6, 73 S.Ct. 236, 242, n. 6, 97 L.Ed. 291 (1952). Although the facts of that case revealed that jurisdiction was lacking, the Court adopted the Note's test, stating:

In this case, as in many actions for declaratory judgment, the realistic position of the parties is reversed. The plaintiff is seeking to establish a defense against a cause of action which the declaratory defendant may assert in the Utah courts. Respondent here has sought to ward off possible action of the petitioners by seeking a declaratory judgment to the effect that he will have a good defense when and if that cause of action is asserted. Where the complaint in an action for declaratory judgment seeks in essence to assert a defense to an impending or threatened state court action, it is the character of the threatened action, and not of the defense, which will determine whether there is federal-question jurisdiction in the District Court. If the cause of action, which the declaratory defendant threatens to assert, does not itself involve a claim under federal law, it is doubtful if a federal court may entertain an action for a declaratory judgment establishing a defense to that claim. 344 U.S. at 248, 73 S.Ct. at 242

The rationale behind the above rule is to allow a party "who would otherwise be a defendant to obtain a declaration of his rights prior to the commencement of coercive proceedings against him ..." but the rule "was not intended to expand the jurisdiction of the federal courts." Atcheson, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Gold Bondholders, 506 F.Supp. 449, 452 (D.Del.1981).9 Thus the court "must employ conventional coercive actions as a reference point from which to determine whether federal jurisdiction in a declaratory suit is proper ... and declaratory plaintiffs possess no greater leverage in invoking federal jurisdiction than they possessed prior to the" passage of the Declaratory Judgment Act. Id., 506 F.Supp. at 452. The so-called "reverse role" doctrine set forth above does not apply herein under the facts of this case. The defendants herein could not have asserted a coercive action contesting the constitutionality of the Balanced Treatment Act and sought injunctive relief against these plaintiffs who are parents, taxpayers, legislators10 and private corporations. Neither the Governor nor the Attorney General are named as plaintiffs in this action.11 Since the plaintiffs have chosen not to add the Governor or the Attorney General as plaintiffs, the Court finds that the federal question asserted by the defendants arises only as a defense to plaintiffs' attempt to enforce a state law. Therefore, the Court lacks federal jurisdiction.12Tennessee v. Union & Planters Bank, supra; Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley, supra; Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, supra. Because of the manner in which the complaint was drawn in this case, there is simply no need for this federal court to inject itself into a dispute between the Louisiana Legislature, the Attorney General, the Superintendent of Education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Orleans Parish School Board over the curriculum to be taught in the public school system of Louisiana. Federal courts should be courts of limited jurisdiction. For this Court to waive the jurisdictional limitation imposed on it by the Constitution and Statutes of the United States because of artful pleading on the part of the plaintiffs would only serve as an invitation to flood the federal courts with suits involving state laws...

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5 cases
  • Edwards v. Aguillard
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1987
    ...for declaratory and injunctive relief. After the separate suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, Keith v. Louisiana Department of Education, 553 F.Supp. 295 (MD La. 1982), the District Court lifted its stay in this case and held that the Creationism Act violated the Louisiana Constit......
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  • Reid v. Walsh
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Louisiana
    • September 20, 1985
    ...Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 112, 57 S.Ct. 96, 97, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936). See also Keith v. La. Dept. of Education, 553 F.Supp. 295 (M.D.La.1982). Secondly, the federal question which is the basis for removal "must be disclosed upon the face of the complaint, unaided......
  • Aguillard v. Edwards
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • July 8, 1985
    ...and an injunction to enforce the Act. That lawsuit, however, was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. Keith v. Louisiana Department of Education, 553 F.Supp. 295 (M.D.La.1982). Following the Keith decision, the district court lifted its stay and held that the Act violated the Louisiana cons......
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