Valley v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 96-30441

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation118 F.3d 1047
Docket NumberNo. 96-30441,96-30441
Parties, 13 IER Cases 97 Virgie Lee VALLEY; et al., Plaintiffs, v. RAPIDES PARISH SCHOOL BOARD; Sylvia Pearson; Walter Gatlin; Herbert Dixon; Kenneth Doyle; Stanley Miller; Rodessa Metoyer, in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellants, v. Betty J. COX, Intervenor-Appellee.
Decision Date24 July 1997

Robert L. Hammonds, Hammonds & Sills, Baton Rouge, LA, for Defendants-Appellants.

Henry B. Bruser, III, James Michael Chamblee, Gold, Weems, Bruser, Sues & Rundell, Alexandria, LA, for Intervenor-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before DUHE, BENAVIDES and STEWART, Circuit Judges.

STEWART, Circuit Judge:

Appellants appeal the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction reinstating appellee Dr. Betty Cox ("Cox") as Rapides Parish School Superintendent. Appellants voted to terminate Cox after conducting a fifty-five-hour hearing in which they determined that Cox was unfit to continue as superintendent. After a careful review of the record, we affirm the grant of the preliminary injunction.

BACKGROUND

Cox was permitted by the district court to intervene in this longstanding school desegregation case in order to contest the constitutionality of her employment termination. No school desegregation issues are implicated by this appeal, indeed our sole focus on review is the employment relationship between a parish school superintendent and the school board employer.

On March 7, 1994, Cox, Intervenor-Appellee, was appointed as the Superintendent of Schools for Rapides Parish by the Rapides Parish School Board (the "Board"). In her position, Cox was responsible for an entire school system with approximately 25,000 students, 3,000 employees, and an annual budget of about $90,000,000.00. In her new position, Cox immediately began to institute changes concerning patronage hiring by Board members, self-dealing, and abusive use of a wide area telephone service ("WATS") phone line.

A year after her appointment, on March 7, 1995, by a vote of six to three, the Board suspended Cox with pay pending an investigation of allegations concerning her performance. Cox did not receive prior notice of the charges or a separate hearing. On March 13, 1995, Cox filed a motion to intervene and an intervention complaint in the school desegregation case against the Board and the six members of the Board who had voted to suspend her. The complaint alleged violation of Cox's federally protected rights and sought redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The district court, Judge Nauman Scott, granted Cox's motion and issued a temporary restraining order reinstating Cox pending a hearing on her request for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. Subsequently, Judge Scott recused himself and the case was reassigned to Judge F.A. Little, Jr. Judge Little scheduled a hearing on Cox's motion for a preliminary injunction and restricted the issue to whether the Board had violated Cox's due process rights by not giving her prior notice of the allegations and a hearing. On April 21, 1995, Judge Little granted Cox's request for a preliminary injunction.

The Board and its six-member defendants appealed the ruling to this Court. The appellants argued that the district court erred in its ruling that Cox's due process rights were violated by her suspension with pay pending investigation of the allegations against her and the district court erred by not addressing the qualified immunity defense raised by the Board members in their individual capacities.

While the appeal was pending before this Court, the Board proceeded with its investigation of the charges against Cox. A discharge hearing was scheduled for November 29, 1995. The hearing lasted fifty-five hours, over five days, and culminated in the termination of Cox on December 4, 1995, by a vote of six to three. On December 7, 1995, Cox filed an amended complaint seeking reinstatement of the temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. The temporary restraining order was denied on December 14, 1995, and a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction was scheduled for January 2, 1996.

On February 29, 1996, the district court granted Cox's request for preliminary injunctive relief, holding that Cox's substantive due process rights to fair and impartial adjudicators at the discharge hearing were violated because four of the nine Board members (Kenneth Doyle, Walter Gatlin, Herbert Dixon, and Sylvia Pearson) were irreversibly biased against her. On April 10, 1996, the district court entered formal judgment granting Cox preliminary injunctive relief and reinstating her as superintendent. The injunction was issued only against the Board, not against the six members in their individual capacity. The Board and its six individually named members, however, filed a notice of appeal on April 19, 1996. Subsequently, this Court dismissed the previously pending appeal without "prejudice to the appellants' right to raise, in any subsequent proceeding, the issues of qualified immunity and due process."

On June 10, 1996, the Board sought and was granted a motion for leave of court to raise unresolved issues from the previous appeal with this Court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction under an abuse of discretion standard. Hull v. Quitman County Bd. of Educ., 1 F.3d 1450, 1453 (5th Cir.1993); Allied Mktg. Group, Inc. v. C.D.L. Mktg., Inc., 878 F.2d 806, 809 (5th Cir.1989), app'l dec'd, 915 F.2d 1567 (1990). The grant of injunctive relief is an extraordinary remedy which requires the movant to unequivocally show the need for its issuance. Allied, 878 F.2d at 809.

DISCUSSION

On appeal, the Board asserts several arguments related to the two injunctions granted by the district court. First, the Board argues that the district court abused its discretion when it granted Cox preliminary injunctive relief on February 29, 1996. Specifically, the Board argues that the district court erred in its conclusion that Cox carried her burden of proving that she had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits because (1) Cox waived her right to challenge the partiality of various Board members, (2) it was erroneous to conclude that Board members Doyle, Gatlin, Dixon and Pearson were irreversibly biased against Cox and should be recused, (3) the rule of necessity applies to the instant case, and (4) the district court failed to make sufficient findings of fact pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 52(a). The Board also argues that the district court erred in concluding that Cox had proven (1) a substantial threat of irreparable injury if the preliminary injunction was not issued, (2) the harm to her, if the injunction was denied, exceeded the hardship to the appellants, and (3) the public interest would not be undermined by issuance of the injunction.

Second, the Board argues that the district court abused its discretion when it granted Cox preliminary injunctive relief on April 21, 1995. Specifically, the district court erred as a matter of law in concluding that temporary suspension with pay constituted deprivation of property interests. Also, the district court erred by disregarding the doctrine of qualified immunity.

Cox, on the other hand, argues that the district court properly applied the standards for issuance of a preliminary injunction. Moreover, Cox argues that she did not waive her right to challenge the bias of her adjudicators, the rule of necessity is inapplicable to the instant case, the district court's findings of fact are in compliance with FED. R. CIV. P. 52(a), and the issues of the April 21, 1995, appeal are moot.

After considering the full extent of the Board's arguments, we are left with the firm conclusion that only the Board's arguments concerning the February 29, 1996 preliminary injunction warrant full discussion. We agree with Cox that the Board's arguments regarding the 1995 preliminary injunction are either moot or without merit. 1

Did the District Court Abuse its Discretion When it Granted
Preliminary Injunctive Relief to Superintendent

Cox Against the Rapides Parish School

Board on February 29, 1996?

Under well settled Fifth Circuit precedent, a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy that should not be granted unless the movant demonstrates by a clear showing: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a substantial threat of irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted; (3) that the threatened injury outweighs any harm that may result from the injunction to the non-movant; and (4) that the injunction will not undermine the public interest. On appeal, a preliminary injunction order must not be disturbed unless grounded upon a clearly erroneous factual determination, an error of law, or an abuse of discretion. Roho Inc. v. Marquis, 902 F.2d 356, 358 (5th Cir.1990).

A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits.

To determine the likelihood of success on the merits, we look to the standards provided by the substantive law. See Mississippi Power & Light Co. v. United Gas Pipe Line Co., 760 F.2d 618, 622 (5th Cir.1985). Before the district court, Cox argued that her termination was a violation of her procedural due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution because four members of the Board who voted against her were irreversibly biased. As we stated, the Board asserts that Cox waived this argument by waiting until after she was terminated to seek recusals and that the rule of necessity precluded the Board members' recusal. The Board also argues that the district court's factual findings were both erroneous and did not comport with the mandates of Rule 52(a). We will address each of these contentions in turn.

1. Waiver.

We find the Board's argument that Cox waived her right to seek...

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