Mixon v. Ohio

Decision Date08 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-3368,98-3368
Parties(6th Cir. 1999) Tanya Mixon, Denise Thomas, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. The State of Ohio and Michael White, Mayor of the City of Cleveland, Defendants-Appellees. Argued:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. Nos. 97-02308; 97-02309--George W. White, District Judge. [Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] George L. Forbes, Scott H. Schooler, FORBES, FIELDS & ASSOCIATES CO., L.P.A., Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants.

Roger F. Carroll, James G. Tassie, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OHIO, EDUCATION SECTION, Columbus, Ohio, Stephen P. Carney, Judith L. French, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OHIO, Education Section, Columbus, Ohio, for State of Ohio.

Frederick R. Nance, Steven A. Friedman, SQUIRE, SANDERS & DEMPSEY, Cleveland, Ohio, Sylvester Summers, Jr., City of Cleveland Law Department, Cleveland, OH, for Michael R. White

Before: KEITH, KENNEDY, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.


KENNEDY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs in these two consolidated cases are voters and taxpayers of the Cleveland School District who seek to have Ohio Substitute House Bill 269 ("H.B. 269") declared unconstitutional1. H.B. 269 changed the composition and number of the Cleveland School Board by allowing the Mayor of Cleveland to appoint a new school board for the Cleveland School District, consisting of Cleveland and four adjacent areas. Prior to this legislation, school district residents voted in a public election for school board members. Plaintiffs brought claims under (i) the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution; (ii) 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, (iii) the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1971, (iv) the Ohio Constitution and (v) Ohio common law. All parties filed motions for judgment on the pleadings. On March 6, 1998, the district court granted defendants' motions for judgment on the pleadings as to all causes of action and Plaintiffs timely filed their appeal to this court. On September 8, 1998, this court denied Plaintiffs' request for an emergency order enjoining the operation of H.B. 269. After careful consideration of the merits of this case, we agree with the district court's well-reasoned determinations. We hold, however, that the Eleventh Amendment bars the state law and federal Equal Protection claims against the State of Ohio and we DISMISS those claims. We AFFIRM the district court in all other respects.


The history behind this case is detailed and complex, stretching back nearly twenty years to a time when a federal district court in Ohio issued a desegregation order for the Cleveland public schools. On August 31, 1976, Federal District Court Chief Judge Battisti, after a lengthy bench trial, determined that the Ohio and Cleveland Boards of Education, the Cleveland School District, the Ohio Department of Education, and the State Superintendent had condoned and contributed to a policy of segregation in the Cleveland public schools. That same day, he permanently enjoined the board of education "from discriminating on the basis of race in the operation of the public schools of the City of Cleveland, and from creating, promoting, or maintaining racial segregation in any school or other facility in the Cleveland School System." Reed v. Rhodes, 422 F. Supp. 708, 797 (N.D. Ohio 1976).

On February 6, 1978, Judge Battisti issued a remedial order that required the defendants to implement a "comprehensive, systemwide plan of actual desegregation" and the Cleveland schools remained under the supervision of the district court. Reed v. Rhodes, 455 F. Supp. 546, 568 (N.D. Ohio 1978). From 1978 through the early 1990s, the parties continued to litigate the specifics of the remedial order and eventually entered into a settlement agreement in March, 1994. After a detailed hearing, the district court converted the settlement agreement into an enforceable Consent Decree. Reed v. Rhodes, 869 F. Supp. 1274 (N.D. Ohio 1994).

Despite the school district's successful compliance with the desegregation orders, however, political turmoil threatened the internal affairs of the Cleveland School District in the early 1990s. During this time period, the school district adopted a new educational program for the Cleveland schools called Vision 21, which became a focal point of the Consent Decree. Although Vision 21 appeared promising for revitalizing the school district, as evidenced by its incorporation into the Consent Decree, the program created turmoil within the Cleveland Board of Education and spawned internal feuding among the Mayor, the Superintendent of the Cleveland School District, and the local Board of Education, all of which led to the "total fiscal and administrative collapse" of the Cleveland School District. See Reed v Rhodes, 934 F. Supp. 1533, 1538-39 (N.D. Ohio 1996).

As a result of this infighting, the district court, on March 3, 1995, directed the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent to "assume immediate supervision and operational, fiscal and personnel management of the District." See Reed v. Rhodes, 934 F. Supp. 1533, 1560 (App. A) (N.D. Ohio, 1996). On May 8, 1996, the district court modified the school desegregation Consent Decree and terminated judicial supervision of student-school assignments. See id. at 15582. This court recently affirmed that decision. Reed v. Rhodes, 179 F.3d 453, 473 (6th Cir. 1999). Finally, on July 17, 1998, the district court ordered the State Superintendent to return control of the Cleveland schools to the City of Cleveland as of September 9, 1998.

In the meantime, however, the Ohio Legislature drafted legislation that altered the composition and selection of the Cleveland School Board. On July 22, 1997, the Ohio Legislature passed H.B. 269, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. ("O.R.C.") §§ 3311.71-.77 (Anderson 1998), which created "municipal school districts."3 The legislation defines a municipal school district as "a school district that is or has ever been under a federal court order requiring supervision and operational, fiscal, and personnel management of the district by the state superintendent of public instruction." O.R.C. § 3311.71(A)(1). Upon the statute's enactment, the Cleveland School District fell within the statute's definition and became a municipal school district. Plaintiffs in this action challenge the constitutionality and legitimacy of H.B. 269.

To fully understand Plaintiffs' arguments, a brief overview of the statute itself is necessary. Once a federal court releases a targeted school district from its supervision order, a new nine-member school board assumes control of the district schools. O.R.C. § 3311.71(B). The mayor of the municipal corporation having the greatest portion of territory in the municipal school district appoints these nine members. O.R.C. § 3311.71(A)(2), (B). In this case, five areas compose the Cleveland City School District: The Villages of Bratenahl, Linndale, and Newburgh Heights, a portion of Garfield Heights, and the City of Cleveland. The Mayor of the City of Cleveland appoints the school board because the City of Cleveland has the greatest portion of territory within the municipal school district.

The mayor selects the new nine members from a slate of at least eighteen nominees selected by a nominating panel. At least three of the members of the nominating panel must reside in the municipal school district but not in the municipal corporation containing the greatest portion of the district's territory, i.e., from the four areas besides Cleveland, namely Bratenahl, Linndale, Newburgh Heights or Garfield Heights. The statute also requires that the nominating panel consist of the following persons: (i) Three parents or guardians of children attending the schools in the municipal school district who are appointed by the district's parent-teacher organization or a similar organization that the State Superintendent selects; (ii) Three persons appointed by the mayor (i.e., the Mayor of Cleveland); (iii) One person appointed by the president of the legislative body of the municipal corporation containing the greatest portion of the municipal school district's territory (i.e., Cleveland); (iv) One teacher appointed by the collective bargaining representative of the school district's teachers; (v) One principal appointed through a vote, conducted by the State Superintendent, of the school district's principals; and (vi) One representative of the business community appointed by an organized collective business entity selected by the mayor; (vii) One president of a public or private institution of higher education located within the municipal school district appointed by the State Superintendent. O.R.C. § 3311.71(C).

In addition, H.B. 269 provides specific limitations on the nominees. No nominee may hold elected office and all nominees must reside within the municipal school district. O.R.C. § 3311.71(D). At least one member of the selected school board must reside in the municipal school district but not in the municipal corporation containing the greatest portion of the district's territory, i.e., one member must reside in one of the other four areas besides Cleveland. O.R.C. §3311.71(D). Four of the nine members also must have displayed, prior to their appointment, significant expertise in either the education field, finance, or business management. O.R.C. § 3311.71(D). Additionally, any president of a state university or community college located within the municipal school district acts as a nonvoting ex officio member of the school board. O.R.C. § 3311.71(G). During the first thirty months of the new school board's...

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