Rogers v. Brockette

Decision Date02 February 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-2505,78-2505
Citation588 F.2d 1057
PartiesDr. Ronnie ROGERS et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Dr. M. L. BROCKETTE et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Earl Luna, Thomas V. Murto, III, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellants.

John L. Hill, Atty. Gen., Susan J. Dasher, Nathan Johnson, David M. Kendall, Jr., Robert Steve Bickerstaff, Jr., Asst. Attys. Gen., Austin, Tex., for defendants-appellees.

Paula Roberts, Roger Schwartz, Ronald Pollack, Food Research and Action Center, Washington, D.C., amicus curiae, for Food Research and Action Center.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before SKELTON, * Senior Judge and GOLDBERG and FAY, Circuit Judges.

GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:

Since 1966 the federal government has subsidized breakfasts for school children. Participation in this school breakfast program is voluntary, but Congress left it unclear whether the choice to participate is to be made by the individual school, the local school board, or the state. A Texas state statute requires certain school districts to participate. One of those districts, the Garland Independent School District (GISD), resisted and filed this suit in federal district court for declaratory and injunctive relief. GISD named state education authorities as defendants and claimed that the Texas statute is unconstitutional because it conflicts with the federal program.

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and GISD appeals. We are faced with a question of standing as well as the substantive issue of whether the Texas statute violates federal law.


The school breakfast program is one of several federal programs 1 designed to improve the nutrition of school children. It is administered by the Department of Agriculture. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1771, 1779. Participating schools must agree to abide by several regulations governing the quality and availability of the breakfasts. See generally 7 C.F.R. § 220.8. Children from poorer families are eligible to receive the breakfasts free or at a reduced price. See 7 C.F.R. §§ 220.19, 245.1-245.11. A participating school receives a subsidy for each breakfast it serves; free breakfasts, naturally, are subsidized at a higher rate than reduced price or full-price breakfasts. See 7 C.F.R. § 220.9.

Federal law does not require any school, school district, or state to participate in the breakfast program. But in 1977, Texas enacted a statute, § 21.914 of Title 2 of its Education Code, providing:

If at least 10 percent of the students enrolled in one or more schools in a school district are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts under the national school breakfast program . . . the governing board of the district shall participate in the program and make the benefits of the program available to all eligible students in said schools.

GISD does not currently serve breakfasts in its schools and does not wish to subscribe to the federal breakfast program. Section 21.914, however, would require GISD to serve federally subsidized breakfasts in at least twenty-two of its schools. GISD says that in order to do so it would have to spend approximately $26,000 to modify its buildings and purchase new equipment, and then spend an additional $114,000 annually for salaries and utilities. These expenses, it says, would not be covered by federal reimbursements. 2

GISD claimed that § 21.914 is void under the supremacy clause because it conflicts with the statutes establishing the federal school breakfast program and with regulations issued pursuant to those statutes. Specifically, GISD says that the state statute, mandating the participation of certain school districts, conflicts with the federal statute and regulations, which, according to GISD, give it the right to refuse to participate. The members of GISD Board of Trustees in their official capacities joined in the suit, as did several taxpayers in the Garland School District. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted summary judgment for the defendants. It held that none of the plaintiffs had standing to bring the suit; it also ruled that there was no conflict between § 21.914 and the federal program. For reasons we give in the next section we believe that plaintiff GISD has standing. Since the district court had jurisdiction over GISD's claim, 3 we can reach the merits without deciding whether the suit could have been brought by taxpayers of the GISD or by members of the GISD board of trustees suing in their official capacities. On the merits we affirm the district court's decision.


Texas asserts that GISD has no standing to bring this suit. Texas relies entirely on a line of cases which, it claims, hold that a municipality has no standing to sue the state of which it is a creature, See, e. g., Williams v. Mayor of Baltimore, 289 U.S. 36, 40, 53 S.Ct. 431, 77 L.Ed. 1015 (1933); City of Trenton v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 182, 187, 43 S.Ct. 534, 67 L.Ed. 937 (1923), and argues that these decisions require us to deny standing to a political subdivision attempting to sue the state that created it. But before we can discuss these decisions, we must decide whether GISD can bring this suit under the more general principles developed by the Supreme Court to govern standing in all federal cases.


Three of those principles are particularly important here. First, in order to sue in federal court, a plaintiff must allege "a distinct and palpable injury" to itself. E. g., Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). Second, ordinarily a plaintiff "must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties." Id. at 499, 95 S.Ct. at 2205. Third, a claim must present a genuine, live case or controversy 4 under Article III. 5 In this case GISD has alleged $26,000, plus $114,000 annually, worth of "threatened or actual injury," Linda R.S. v. Richard D.,410 U.S. 614, 617, 93 S.Ct. 1146, 35 L.Ed.2d 536 (1973). This satisfies the first requirement, but the other two criteria pose more difficult problems.

It might be argued, for example, that GISD is asserting not its own rights but the rights of its trustees, who are legally third parties. GISD seems to assert, and can plausibly assert, 6 only one right allegedly arising under the federal breakfast statutes the right to decide, on the local level, whether to accept the breakfast program. This right, instead of belonging to the GISD itself, may belong to the members of the GISD board of trustees; there is some authority that members of a governmental body have an "interest in maintaining the effectiveness of their votes," Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 438, 59 S.Ct. 972, 975, 83 L.Ed. 1385 (1939), which entitles them to sue if the body is deprived of some lawful prerogative. See id. (state legislators); Kennedy v. Sampson, 167 U.S.App.D.C. 192, 511 F.2d 430 (1974) (United States Senators). See also Board of Educ. v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236, 241 n.5, 88 S.Ct. 1923, 20 L.Ed.2d 1060 (1968) (school board members' oath to support Constitution gives them standing to challenge constitutionality of statute they must administer). If this right does belong solely to the members of the GISD board of trustees, the GISD itself ordinarily 7 would be barred from asserting it by the principle that a party can assert only its own claims and not those of a third party. 8

We believe, however, that the policies underlying this principle dictate that the GISD itself be allowed to assert the supposed right to decide whether to accept the breakfast program. For example, one reason for prohibiting a litigant from asserting another person's rights is to ensure that the inappropriate party cannot force an issue to be decided in court, or, as the Supreme Court has said, to "avoid . . . the adjudication of rights which those not before the Court may not wish to assert." Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Environmental Study Group, 438 U.S. 59, 98 S.Ct. 2620, 2634, 57 L.Ed.2d 595 (1978). For better or worse, it is a premise of the federal judicial system that not all disputes are to be resolved in court. And this premise suggests that if a dispute can be resolved in some other way to the satisfaction of those most concerned, that resolution should not be upset by a court. The limits on asserting third parties' rights ensure that such a resolution will not be upset by those whom the legislature was not interested in protecting. Cf. Stewart, The Reformation of American Administrative Law, 88 Harv.L.Rev. 1667, 1735-36 (1975) (requirement of an actual injury protects such resolutions from being upset by those who are not affected at all). Of course, these principles do not excuse or justify a narrow and cramped approach to standing that excludes persons who are entitled to relief and can gain it only in a court. And in many cases it will be appropriate, for a variety of reasons, to permit a litigant to assert another party's rights. See generally Note, Standing to Assert Constitutional Jus Tertii, 88 Harv.L.Rev. 423 (1974). In theory, however, a principal purpose of standing doctrine is to prevent the inappropriate party from forcing a judicial resolution of an issue.

When we apply this theory to GISD's claim we are compelled to conclude that the GISD is an appropriate party to force a judicial resolution of the issue it raises. GISD alleges that Congress has made it the proper body to decide at least some significant questions under the breakfast program. This is not a frivolous allegation, so for the purposes of deciding this preliminary question of standing we must assume that it is correct. 9 If Congress did repose such powers in the GISD, it plainly wanted GISD to affect decisions about whether and when the program was adopted. This suggests that Congress would not have objected to GISD's forcing a...

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