Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Ass'n, Civ. A. No. 74-3242

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
Writing for the CourtWISDOM, Circuit , and CHRISTENBERRY and BOYLE
Citation413 F. Supp. 1092
PartiesWillie J. SINGLETON and Johnny L. Matthews v. LOUISIANA STATE BAR ASSOCIATION et al. Ernest Lee CAULFIELD v. LOUISIANA STATE BAR ASSOCIATION et al.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 74-3242,74-3395.
Decision Date05 April 1976

413 F. Supp. 1092

Willie J. SINGLETON and Johnny L. Matthews
v.
LOUISIANA STATE BAR ASSOCIATION et al.
Ernest Lee CAULFIELD
v.
LOUISIANA STATE BAR ASSOCIATION et al.

Civ. A. Nos. 74-3242, 74-3395.

United States District Court, E. D. Louisiana.

April 5, 1976.


413 F. Supp. 1093

Willie J. Singleton, pro se.

Ernest Lee Caulfield, pro se.

Carl J. Barbier, Alvin R. Christovich, Sr., M. Truman Woodward, Jr., New Orleans, La., for defendant.

Before WISDOM, Circuit Judge, and CHRISTENBERRY* and BOYLE, District Judges.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs are graduates of Southern University Law School who took and failed the July 1974 Louisiana Bar Examination.1

413 F. Supp. 1094
After they were notified of their failure by the Committee on Bar Admissions of the Louisiana State Bar Association,2 the plaintiffs requested a hearing to review their examination papers. They were informed by Edward F. Wegmann, Chairman of the Committee on Bar Admissions,3 that the rules of the Committee contained no provisions for review of any of the examinations. The plaintiffs then filed separate suits in district court4 under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), alleging that the arbitrary criteria used to grade the papers and the failure to provide for post-examination review of failing grades violated their rights to due process and equal protection under the fourteenth amendment. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, they alleged that the Articles of Incorporation of the Louisiana State Bar Association, by failing to provide written objective criteria for grading the examinations or for otherwise determining an applicant's ability to practice law, constituted an arbitrary and irrational means of determining who should be certified to practice law.5 Additionally, they contended that the Committee's practice of destroying all papers shortly after grading,6 thus preventing an applicant from challenging his allegedly failing grade, denied them the opportunity for post-examination review guaranteed by due process

A three-judge court convened to hear the plaintiffs' claims for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages. In their complaint, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment adjudicating the Articles of Incorporation of the Louisiana State Bar Association unconstitutional, an injunction restraining the Bar Association from holding the February 1975 examination and all other examinations until procedures for administering the tests were modified,7 an injunction

413 F. Supp. 1095
compelling the Committee to certify them to the Louisiana Supreme Court as qualified to practice, and an award of $800,000 allegedly for economic loss, demoralization, and mental anguish.8 The defendants moved to dismiss and for summary judgment, arguing that prior case law of Louisiana, this Circuit, and other federal courts, controls the result. We agree with the defendants' contentions and grant their motion for summary judgment

I.

PROCEDURES FOR ADMINISTERING AND GRADING EXAMS

As noted above, the plaintiffs raised two challenges to the constitutionality of the Louisiana Bar Examinations. They first attacked the alleged lack of written criteria for grading the essay questions. A closer look at the procedures for administering and grading the examinations is helpful to understanding the plaintiffs' complaint.

A.

PRESENT PROCEDURES

Each applicant assumes a fictitious name, a letter, and a number. Not until the papers have been graded and finally passed on are the real names matched up with the fictitious name, the letter, and the number used for the examinations. In Harris v. Louisiana State Supreme Court, E.D.La. 1971, 334 F.Supp. 1289, a three-judge court held that the Louisiana Bar examinations were conducted so as to preserve the anonymity of the applicants during the writing and grading process.

There are nine essay-type examinations, each prepared by an individual member of the Committee on Bar Admissions. Each of the nine Committeemen examiners has twenty-five assistant examiners appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to help him grade the essays written on the question which he prepared. The papers9 (nine for each applicant) are distributed at random to assistant examiners who grade them according to written criteria set forth by the Committee members. There are general criteria used by assistant examiners on all papers as well as specific outlines of issues or model answers to individual questions supplied by the Committeeman examiner who prepared a particular question. The general criteria are made known to the applicants before they take the examination:

The examiners and assistant examiners grading papers look principally to the applicant's ability to grasp and understand the problem or problems posed by each of the questions submitted to the applicants. Evidence of such an understanding and an intelligent discussion of the problems, based upon the applicant's analysis, will result in a satisfactory grade even though the conclusion reached is erroneous, where it is apparent that the applicant, if posed with the problem as an attorney, could by research of the understood problem, furnish his client with a correct solution.10

The specific instructions prepared by the Committeeman examiner, for obvious reasons, are disclosed only to the assistant examiners grading the particular question for which they were prepared. All assistant examiners for any particular examination use the same suggested issues or answers.

413 F. Supp. 1096

The assistant examiners read each paper and assign a grade of "passing" (70 percent and above), "borderline" (60 to 69 percent), or "failing" (below 60 percent). The papers are then submitted to the Committeeman examiner. Papers initially graded "passing" are not reviewed. By order of the Louisiana Supreme Court, any paper receiving a grade of "borderline" or "failing" must be reread by the Committeeman examiner who prepared the question. If he disagrees with the assistant examiner's opinion that the writer failed to achieve a passing grade, he re-marks the paper as a "pass"; it is not thereafter reviewed. If the Committeeman examiner agrees with the assistant that the paper is either "borderline" or "failing", it is forwarded to the entire Committee, where one or more members again reads and grades the paper. The Committee's determination is final. The papers are then destroyed.

From the foregoing procedures, it is clear that any essay which ultimately receives a failing grade will have been read at least three times by a minimum of three different individuals. Moreover, since an applicant must fail three separate essay questions before he is deemed to have failed the entire examination,11 any unsuccessful applicant is guaranteed at least nine rereads of his failing papers by nine different individuals before the Committee determines that he failed the bar examination.

B.

PLAINTIFFS' CHALLENGES TO PRESENT GRADING PROCEDURES

Despite the existence of both general and specific written criteria to aid assistant examiners in grading the papers, the plaintiffs charge that the system is unnecessarily "subjective", and the criteria so arbitrary as to be irrational and therefore violative of due process. On the one hand, they argue that the opinion of a single Committeeman examiner, who submits written guidelines to his assistant examiners, is not a valid basis for judging an applicant's performance. On the other hand, they contend that the failure to provide more objective criteria for assistant examiners affords them too much discretion in exercising their own opinions. Since the applicant's paper may be graded by any one of a number of different assistant examiners, the plaintiffs argue that there is no uniformity in the grading of examinations, and thus no guarantee that the applicants will be subject to the same standards for each essay. Thus, the crux of the plaintiffs' argument seems to be not only that the opinion of a single individual (either Committeeman examiner or assistant examiner) may determine an applicant's grade on a particular question, but also that the basis for this single conclusive judgment may vary from grader to grader.

1.

SUBJECTIVE JUDGMENT OF A SINGLE COMMITTEEMAN EXAMINER

First, we find no merit in the plaintiffs' argument that the opinion of a single Committeeman examiner may determine an applicant's success or failure on a particular question, thus making the present procedures arbitrary, irrational, and violative of due process. As noted above, the assistant examiners grade each paper according to general, as well as specific criteria, thus providing some flexibility in the application of the Committeemen examiners' guidelines. Additionally, all papers graded "failing" or "borderline" by assistant and Committeemen examiners are guaranteed further review by one or more members of the entire Committee. Thus, even accepting the plaintiffs' argument that a single Committeeman examiner could, through the use of guidelines and model answers, impose his own "judgment" on the assistant examiner's first reading the papers, this judgment

413 F. Supp. 1097
as to any paper deemed "failing" or "borderline" will be reviewed by the Committee as a whole. There is, therefore, no possibility, such as the plaintiffs suggest, that the opinion of a single Committeeman examiner could determine an applicant's failing grade on any particular question

2.

UNBRIDLED DISCRETION OF THE ASSISTANT EXAMINERS

a.

Lack of Objective Criteria

The plaintiffs also argue, somewhat inconsistently, that the criteria submitted by the Committeemen examiners are so vague and "subjective" as to give assistant examiners too much discretion in the grading of individual essays. Two responses to this argument are appropriate. First, insofar as the plaintiffs attack the lack of "objective" criteria for grading essay examinations, we note that this challenge has been rejected by virtually every court which has...

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16 practice notes
  • Practice and procedure: Patent and trademark cases rules of practice; representation of others before Patent and Trademark Office,
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...applicants); Bailey v. Board of Law Examiners, 508 F.Supp. 106, 110 (W.D. Tex. 1980); and Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Ass'n., 413 F.Supp. 1092, 1099-1100 (E.D. La. Limiting access to the questions would not deny the unsuccessful applicant equal protection of the laws. Inasmuch as some ......
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...applicants); Bailey v. Board of Law Examiners, 508 F.Supp. 106, 110 (W.D. Tex. 1980); and Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Ass'n., 413 F.Supp. 1092, 1099-1100 (E.D. La. Limiting access to the questions would not deny the unsuccessful applicant equal protection of the laws. Inasmuch as some ......
  • Delgado v. McTighe, Civ. A. No. 76-1206.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...Cir. 1976); Woodard v. Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, 420 F.Supp. 211 (E.D.Va.1976); Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Association, 413 F.Supp. 1092 (E.D.La.1976); Lewis v. Hartsock, No. 73-16 (E.D.Ohio The Supreme Court Of Pennsylvania Not An Indispensable Party To This Action. The defend......
  • Nat'Lass'N v. Berch, No. CV–12–1724–PHX–BSB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • September 19, 2013
    ...scheduled administration satisfies both the purpose of a hearing and affords it protection”); Singleton v. La. State Bar Ass'n, 413 F.Supp. 1092, 1098–1100 (E.D.La.1976) (finding that destruction of examination papers and the lack of a procedure for review of a failing paper did not offend ......
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14 cases
  • Delgado v. McTighe, Civ. A. No. 76-1206.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...Cir. 1976); Woodard v. Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, 420 F.Supp. 211 (E.D.Va.1976); Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Association, 413 F.Supp. 1092 (E.D.La.1976); Lewis v. Hartsock, No. 73-16 (E.D.Ohio The Supreme Court Of Pennsylvania Not An Indispensable Party To This Action. The defend......
  • Nat'Lass'N v. Berch, No. CV–12–1724–PHX–BSB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • September 19, 2013
    ...scheduled administration satisfies both the purpose of a hearing and affords it protection”); Singleton v. La. State Bar Ass'n, 413 F.Supp. 1092, 1098–1100 (E.D.La.1976) (finding that destruction of examination papers and the lack of a procedure for review of a failing paper did not offend ......
  • Pettit v. Gingerich, Civ. No. B-72-964.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • February 22, 1977
    ...DeFunis v. Odergaard, 416 U.S. 312, 94 S.Ct. 1704, 40 L.Ed.2d 164 (1974) (per curiam); Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Ass'n, 413 F.Supp. 1092, 1094 n.1 (E.D.La.1976). Moreover, this case does not present a question that is "capable of repetition, yet evading review." Southern Pac. Termina......
  • Scinto v. Stamm, No. 14538
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 9, 1993
    ...offer multiple protections from arbitrary grading. See, e.g., Tyler v. Vickery, supra, at 1105; Singleton v. Louisiana State Bar Assn., 413 F.Supp. 1092, 1099-1100 (E.D.La.1976); In re Application of Bettine, 840 P.2d 994 (Alaska 1992); Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions v. Applicant F., 5......
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