Mentavlos v. Anderson

Decision Date25 January 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-1331,00-1331
Citation249 F.3d 301
Parties(4th Cir. 2001) JEANIE MENTAVLOS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. JOHN JUSTICE ANDERSON; JAMES SALEEBY, Defendants-Appellees, THE CITADEL, The Military College of South Carolina, Defendant-Amicus Curiae, and THE BOARD OF VISITORS OF THE CITADEL, The Military College of South Carolina; RICHARD ELLIS, Captain; NICHOLAS BELCHER; ERIC AMHAUS; EDWARD BOHM, Defendants, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor-Plaintiff. Argued:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Columbia. Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., Chief District Judge.


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] COUNSEL ARGUED: Leon Friedman, New York, New York, for Appellant. Sandra Jane Senn, SANDRA J. SENN, P.A., Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellees. Wendy Raina Johnson Keefer, BARNWELL, WHALEY, PATTERSON & HELMS, L.L.C., Charleston, South Carolina, for Amicus Curiae. ON BRIEF: Richard A. Harpootlian, Robert G. Rikard, RICHARD A. HARPOOTLIAN, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant. Stephanie P. McDonald, SANDRA J. SENN, P.A., Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellees. M. Dawes Cooke, Jr., BARNWELL, WHALEY, PATTERSON & HELMS, L.L.C., Charleston, South Carolina, for Amicus Curiae.

Before WILLIAMS and TRAXLER, Circuit Judges, and Raymond A. JACKSON, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Traxler wrote the opinion, in which Judge Williams and Judge Jackson joined.


TRAXLER, Circuit Judge:

Today we consider the novel question of whether two male cadets at The Citadel, a state-supported and formerly all-male military college located in Charleston, South Carolina, acted"under color of" state law, within the meaning of 42 U.S.C.A. S 1983 (West Supp. 2000), when they allegedly engaged in gender-based harassment and discrimination designed to force a female cadet to withdraw from the college. We hold that they did not, and accordingly affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to the male cadets.


The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, is a statesupported, four-year comprehensive college, established by the State of South Carolina in 1842. For over 150 years, The Citadel only admitted men to its full-time, residential student body known as the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. However, in the waning days of an extended legal battle over the constitutionality of the single-gender admissions policy of the Corps of Cadets, see Faulkner v. Jones, 10 F.3d 226 (4th Cir. 1993) (discussing Shannon Faulkner's challenge to The Citadel's revocation of her admission to the Corps of Cadets based on her gender), and in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996) (holding that a similar, unconstitutional male-only admissions policy at Virginia Military Institute could not be remedied with a parallel women's program at a women's college), The Citadel was forced to abandon its male-only policy and began voluntarily admitting women to its Corps of Cadets in the fall of 1996. See United States v. Jones, 136 F.3d 342, 345 (4th Cir. 1998).1

Appellant Jeannie Mentavlos was one of four women admitted to The Citadel that fall. Upon her arrival, she was assigned to Echo Company, an administrative unit of the Corps of Cadets. However, she withdrew from the college in December 1996. Mentavlos contends that during those four months the commanding administrative officer and several upperclass cadets assigned to Echo Company successfully conspired to perpetuate the former all-male Corps of Cadets by driving her from the school. Mentavlos further asserts that, to accomplish this result, the men subjected her to"sexual harassment, intimidation, and abuse" in the form of "insults, indignities, physical assaults and humiliating treatment, which went far beyond any need to toughen, strengthen or acclimate [her] to the rigors of military discipline." J.A. 25-26.

The following year, Mentavlos instituted this action against The Citadel and its governing Board of Visitors; Captain Richard Ellis, the army officer assigned to act as the commanding administrative officer of Echo Company; and five upperclass cadets assigned to Echo Company, including Appellees John Justice Anderson and James Saleeby. Among other claims, Mentavlos alleged that the actions of Ellis and the individual cadets deprived her of her constitutional right to equal protection in violation of 42 U.S.C.A. S 1983 and 42 U.S.C.A. S 1985 (West 1994), and that The Citadel and The Board of Visitors violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, see 20 U.S.C.A. S 1681 (West 2000), by failing to adequately respond to the known, gender-based harassment which ultimately forced her to withdraw from the school.

With the exception of one cadet who was in default, all defendants moved for summary judgment and all but Cadets Anderson and Saleeby settled the claims against them. Although Mentavlos had originally alleged only that the upperclass cadets acted in concert with Captain Ellis, a state actor for purposes of S 1983, to abuse and harass her because of her gender, she was subsequently allowed to amend her complaint to allege that the individual cadets were also state actors and elected to proceed solely on her S 1983 claim against them. Anderson and Saleeby then moved for summary judgment on the additional ground that they did not act "under color of" state law for purposes of S 1983.

After conducting a fact-finding hearing on the state-actor issue with the consent of the parties, the district court granted summary judgment to Anderson and Saleeby on the grounds that they did not act under color of state law and, therefore, could not be held liable under S 1983 for the alleged violations of Mentavlos' constitutional rights. With regard to Saleeby, the district court granted summary judgment on the alternative ground that Mentavlos failed to prove that his actions were discriminatory in nature. See Mentavlos v. Anderson, 85 F. Supp. 2d 609, 628 (D.S.C. 2000). The district court then certified the case as one appropriate for immediate appeal under 28 U.S.C.A. S 1292(b) (West 1993).2 We consented to hear the appeal.


We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment to Appellees Anderson and Saleeby. See Goldstein v. Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Co., 218 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 882, 121 S. Ct. 1096 (2001). Like the district court, we review the disputed evidence concerning Appellees' alleged genderbased harassment of Mentavlos in the light most favorable to her. See Mentavlos, 85 F. Supp. 2d at 612; Goldstein , 218 F.3d at 341. However, the district court's factual findings regarding the state-actor issue, made with consent of the parties, are reviewed for clear error. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a); Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, Va., 135 F.3d 275, 284 (4th Cir. 1998). "A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, on the entire evidence the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Faulconer v. Commissioner, 748 F.2d 890, 895 (4th Cir. 1984).


The facts of this case are exhaustively laid out in the district court's opinion. See Mentavlos, 85 F. Supp. 2d at 610-20. As a military college, The Citadel offers a unique educational experience to its students. Members of the Corps of Cadets are subjected to military style rules and living conditions, and Citadel freshmen in particular are subjected to a strict set of disciplinary and behavioral rules known as the "Fourth Class System." Under this system, described at length in the Cadet Regulations (the "Blue Book"), faculty and active duty military personnel assigned to the school mentor and supervise upperclass cadets, who in turn mentor and supervise those cadets below them. The Citadel expects from its cadets "strict and unquestioning obedience, mental and physical toughness, and mature tolerance of confrontation" and offers "an intense, high-stress experience designed to facilitate development of `The Whole Man.'" Supp. J.A. 413. For example:

Freshmen must come to attention whenever an upperclassman enters their barracks or speaks to them. Freshmen are allowed only very limited, formal responses to upperclassmen: "yes Sir;" "no Sir;" "no excuse, Sir;" and "request permission to make a statement, Sir." When outside their own room or classroom, they are generally required to move briskly (walk at 120 steps per minute) or to stand at attention. Freshmen are prohibited from using a number of common areas. The freshmen are required to spend time in drill and in performing company details such as cleaning the common areas of the barracks. They are required to follow detailed and restrictive procedures at meals and to memorize and recite certain factual information at meals and other times.

Mentavlos, 85 F. Supp. 2d at 617 (internal citations omitted). Day-today functioning of the fourth class system is dependent upon the cadet chain of command. Specifically,

[t]raining, counseling, and inspecting fourth classmen is restricted to the chain of command. Correcting and reporting fourth classmen is the responsibility of all cadets and officers associated with The Citadel who may observe an infraction on the part of a fourth classman.

Supp. J.A. 415.

Thus, under the fourth class system, upperclass cadets are given limited authority to correct and report violations or infractions of The Citadel's rules by fourth classmen (freshmen), with day-to-day functioning overseen by the Cadet Regimental Commander, a cadet senior. However, active duty military officers assigned to the school as faculty...

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