U.S. v. Marion County Sch. Dist.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation625 F.2d 607
Docket NumberNo. 78-3510,78-3510
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARION COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date10 September 1980

Howard L. Feinstein, Joan F. Hartman, Jessica D. Silver, Attys., Civ. Rights Div., U. S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for plaintiff-appellant.

John P. McKeever, Ocala, Fla., E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., Washington, D. C., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before BROWN, AINSWORTH and FRANK M. JOHNSON, Jr., Circuit Judges.

FRANK M. JOHNSON, Jr., Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal by the United States from the dismissal of its complaint against the Marion County school district and school board, the members of the school board, and the school district superintendent.

When reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint against a motion to dismiss, the allegations of the complaint are to be taken as true. No citation of authority is necessary to sustain this basic proposition. Thus, from the allegations of the government's complaint, the defendants have followed and continue to follow a policy of racial discrimination against blacks in the assignment of students in the Marion County public schools. 1 As further appears, the

defendants, in exchange for the substantial amount of financial assistance the school district receives from the federal government each year, furnished assurances to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) that in operating the school district they would comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and thus not discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. 2 There is no question but that the discriminatory practices engaged in by the defendants, as the United States alleges in its complaint, constitute violations of these assurances

The United States sought redress in the form of a court order compelling specific performance of the assurances by the defendants. 3 The district court held that the United States had no authority to maintain such a suit and for this reason dismissed the complaint.

We reverse. It is settled law that the United States has authority to fix the terms and conditions upon which its money allotments to state and other governmental entities should be disbursed. Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563, 569, 94 S.Ct. 786, 789, 39 L.Ed.2d 1 (1974); King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 333, 88 S.Ct. 2128, 2141, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118 (1968); Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275, 295, 78 S.Ct. 1174, 1185, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313 (1958); Oklahoma v. Civil Service Commission, 330 U.S. 127, 143, 67 S.Ct. 544, 553, 91 L.Ed. 794 (1947). As the Supreme Court has long recognized, the United States may attach conditions to a grant of federal assistance, the recipient of the grant is obligated to perform the conditions, and the United States has an inherent right to sue for enforcement of the recipient's obligation in court. E. g., Rex Trailer Co. v. United States, 350 U.S. 148, 151, 76 S.Ct. 219, 221, 100 L.Ed. 149 (1956); United States v. San Francisco, 310 U.S. 16, 31, 60 S.Ct. 749, 757, 84 L.Ed. 1050 (1940); Cotton v. United States, 52 U.S. (11 How.) 229, 231, 13 L.Ed. 675 (1850); Dugan v. United States, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 172, 181, 4 L.Ed. 362 (1818). 4 Such suits are not new to the area of 'civil rights.' See, e. g., United

States v. Harrison County, Mississippi, 399 F.2d 485 (5th Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 918, 90 S.Ct. 925, 25 L.Ed.2d 99 (1970); United States v. Sumter County School District, 232 F.Supp. 945 (E.D.S.C.1964); United States v. County School Board, 221 F.Supp. 93 (E.D.Va.1963). See also Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, 612 F.2d 84 (3d Cir. 1979) (en banc), cert. granted limited to other issues, --- U.S. ----, 100 S.Ct. 2984, 65 L.Ed.2d --- (1980); United States v. Mattson, 600 F.2d 1295 (9th Cir. 1979); United States v. Solomon, 563 F.2d 1121 (4th Cir. 1977); Drennon v. Philadelphia General Hospital, 428 F.Supp. 809 (E.D.Pa.1977). 5

The basis of the district court's decision not to recognize the United States' right to sue on its contract in this case was the court's conclusion that Congress has deliberately nullified the right where, as here, the contractual obligations the United States seeks to enforce are assurances of nondiscrimination in the operation of public schools.

This conclusion was mistaken. As noted, it is well established that the government's right to sue to enforce its contracts exists as a matter of federal common law, without necessity of a statute. E. g., United States v. Tingey, 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 115, 127-28, 8 L.Ed. 66 (1831) (Story, J.) (calling the right "an incident to the general right of sovereignty"). See United States v. Kearns, 595 F.2d 729, 732 (D.C.Cir. 1978); Hart & Wechsler's The Federal Courts and The Federal System 1301-02 (2d ed. 1973) (citing cases). Congress may nullify the right, but, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized, courts are entitled to conclude that Congress has done so only if the evidence of Congress' intent is extremely, even unmistakably, clear. See, e. g., United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258, 272, 67 S.Ct. 677, 686, 91 L.Ed. 884 (1947) ("old and well-known rule that statutes which in general terms divest pre-existing rights or privileges will not be applied to the sovereign without express words to that effect"). 6

Contrary to the determination of the district court, and to the arguments of the defendants on appeal, there is no persuasive, much less unmistakable, evidence that Congress intended to eradicate or even restrict the United States' right to sue to enforce contractual assurances of nondiscrimination in the operation of public schools.

It is true, as the district court found, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the legislative expression on which the defendants and the district court place principal reliance expressly establishes a number of alternative means by which the government may act to eliminate discrimination in the operation of federally-funded public schools. These include, as the district court noted, (1) informal administrative efforts to achieve voluntary compliance with Title VI's prohibition of discrimination in the operation of programs receiving federal assistance, 7

(2) formal administrative fund termination proceedings under Title VI, 8 (3) suits by the Attorney General under Title IV in response to private complaints, 9 and (4) intervention by the Attorney General under Title IX in pending private suits. 10 However, as noted above, it would be error for a court to presume, as apparently did the district court, that these other means were intended to be exclusive. 11 It would also be error for a court to conclude from a study of the Act and its legislative history that such an intent should be inferred. The Civil Rights Act nowhere states that the above-enumerated remedies are to be the exclusive means for eliminating discrimination in the operation of public schools. To the contrary, the statute clearly provides that other means of action, even if not mentioned in the Act, are to be preserved. Title VI of the Act, the particular title with which the defendants assured HEW they would comply and which assurances the United States seeks to enforce here, see notes 2 & 3, supra, states that compliance with the Title may be effected "(1) by the termination of or refusal to grant or continue assistance . . ., or (2) by any other means authorized by law . . . ." § 602, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1. Title XI, containing the Act's "miscellaneous provisions," states even more clearly that: "Nothing in this act shall be construed to deny, impair, or otherwise affect any right or authority of the Attorney General or of the United States or any agency or officer thereof under existing laws to institute or intervene in any action or proceeding." § 1103, 42 U.S.C. § 2000h-3. This stated intent to preserve other means of action which were not expressly set out in the Act is not contradicted by the Act's legislative history; it is corroborated. Indeed, the record of the floor debates prior to the Act's passage indicates that it was Congress' specific understanding that the "any other means authorized by law" language in Title VI quoted above included government suits to enforce contractual assurances of the kind filed by the United States here. 12 HEW issued regulations so interpreting the Act shortly after its passage. 29 Fed.Reg 16, 301 (1964), codified at 45 C.F.R. § 80.8(a). 13 For these reasons, we conclude that, contrary to the defendants' contentions, the remedies for school discrimination expressly authorized by Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not intended to be exclusive or to restrict the United States' right to sue to enforce contractual assurances of compliance with Title VI. 14

The defendants rely in the alternative on the Eagleton-Biden Amendment to HEW's 1978 appropriations act. The amendment essentially prevents HEW from requiring "the transportation of any student to a

school other than the school nearest the student's home." 15 According to the defendants, the amendment also nullifies the Attorney General's right to sue to enforce contractual assurances of nondiscrimination in the operation of public schools where, as here, the relief sought involves the transportation of students to schools other than those nearest their homes. 16

A review of the amendment and its legislative history suggests no such interpretation. Nothing in the language of the amendment precludes the United States from seeking transportation relief in a federal court suit to enforce contractual assurances of nondiscriminatory school operation. Nor is any such limitation indicated by the amendment's legislative history. What the legislative history establishes is simply that Congress...

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