Wolfe v. State of North Carolina

Decision Date27 June 1960
Docket NumberNo. 7,7
Citation80 S.Ct. 1482,4 L.Ed.2d 1650,364 U.S. 177
PartiesLeon WOLFE, George Simkins, Jr., et al., Appellants, v. STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. J. Alston Atkins, for petitioners.

Mr. Ralph Moody, Raleigh, N.C., for appellee.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellants were convicted of violating a North Carolina criminal trespass statute,1 and their convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, 248 N.C. 485, 103 S.E.2d 846. This appeal, grounded on 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257(2),2 attacks the constitutional validity of the statute as applied in this case. Because of doubt as to whether any substantial federal question was presented to or decided by the state courts, we postponed further consideration of the question of jurisdiction until the hearing of the case on the merits. 358 U.S. 925, 79 S.Ct. 312, 3 L.Ed.2d 299; 359 U.S. 951, 79 S.Ct. 737, 3 L.Ed.2d 759. For reasons to be stated, we have concluded that the appeal must be dismissed.3

There is no dispute as to the basic circumstances which led to the prosecution and ultimate conviction of the appellants. In December, 1955, Gillespie Park Golf Club, Inc., operated an 18-hole golf course on land which it leased from the City of Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Board of Trustees of the Greensboro City Administrative Unit. The bylaws of the lessee limited the use of the golf course to its 'members' and persons in certain other specifically restricted categories.4 On December 7, 1955 the appellants, who are Negroes, entered the club's golf shop and requested permission to play on the course. Their request was refused. Nevertheless, after placing some money on a table in the golf shop, the appellants proceeded to the course and teed off. After they had played several holes the manager of the golf course ordered them to leave. They refused. The manager then summoned a deputy sheriff, and, after the appellants were again ordered to leave the course and they had again refused, they were arrested upon warrants sworn to by the manager.

The appellants were tried and convicted of violating the state criminal trespass statute. Pending their appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina they and others commenced an action against the City of Greensboro, the Greensboro Board of Education, and the Gillespie Park Golf Club, Inc., in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, asking for a declaratory judgment and an injunction forbidding the defendants from operating the golf course on a racially discriminatory basis. The federal court granted the injunction. Simkins v. City of Greensboro, D.C., 149 F.Supp. 562. Its judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on June 28, 1957. City of Greensboro v. Simkins, 246 F.2d 425. On the same date the Supreme Court of North Carolina, acting on the appeal from the criminal convictions in the state court, held that there had been a fatal variance in amendments to the warrants under which the appellants had been tried, and arrested the judgments against them. State v. Cooke, 246 N.C. 518, 98 S.E.2d 885.

The appellants were again tried de novo in the Superior Court of Guilford County, North Carolina, for violating the state criminal trespass statute. At the outset they made a motion to quash, which was denied. The State presented evidence as to what had happened on the golf course on December 7, 1955. At the conclusion of the evidence the trial judge instructed the jury explicitly and at length that the defendants could not be convicted if they had been excluded from the golf course because of their race. Specifically, the trial judge charged the jury that '* * * the law would not permit the City and, therefore, would not permit its lessee, the Gillespie Park Golf Club, Inc., to discriminate against any citizen of Greensboro in the maintenance and operation and use of a golf course. It could not exclude either defendant because of his race or for any other reason applicable to them alone; that is to say, they were entitled to the same rights to use the golf course as any other citizen of Greensboro would be provided they complied with the reasonable rules and regulations for the operation and maintenance and use of the golf course. They would not be required to comply with any unreasonable rules and regulations for the operation and maintenance and use of the golf course.'5 The jury returned a verdict of guilty. A motion to set aside the verdict was denied.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the convictions. In doing so the court recognized that '(s)ince the operator of the golf club was charged with making a public or semipublic use of the property, it could not deny the use of the property to citizens simply because they were Negroes. * * * Since the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873, separation of the races in the use of public property cannot be required.' 248 N.C., at page 491, 103 S.E.2d 850—851. The court quoted with approval the trial judge's instructions to the jury on this aspect of the case. It is from this judgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina that the present appeal was taken.

The appellants contend that the Supremacy Clause, U.S.Const. art. 6 and the Fourteenth Amendment required the North Carolina Court to hold that the findings of fact and judgment of the federal court in the civil case of Simkins v. City of Greensboro, D.C., 149 F.Supp. 562, conclusively established, contrary to the verdict of the jury in this case, that the state statute was used here to enforce a practice of racial discrimination by a state agency. The Supreme Court of North Carolina took cognizance of the federal court's published opinion in the Simkins case and commented with respect to it:

'Examining the opinion, it appears that ten people, six of whom are defendants in this action, sought injunctive relief on the assertion that Negroes were discriminated against and were not permitted to play on what is probably the property involved in this case. We do not know what evidence plaintiffs produced in that action. It is, however, apparent from the opinion that much evidence was presented to Judge Hayes (in the Federal District Court) which was not before the Superior Court when defendants were tried. It would appear from the opinion that the entry involved in this case was one incident on which plaintiffs there relied to support their assertion of unlawful discrimination, but it is manifest from the opinion that that was not all of the evidence which Judge Hayes had. We are left in the dark as to other incidents happening prior or subsequent to the conduct here complained of, which might tend to support the assertion of unlawful discrimination. On the facts presented to him, Judge Hayes issued an order enjoining racial discrimination in the use of the golf course. Presumably that order has and is being complied with. No assertion is here made to the contrary.' 248 N.C., at page 493, 103 S.E.2d at page 852.

The North Carolina court did not decide, however, whether it was bound under the Constitution to give to the federal court's unpublished findings and judgment in the prior civil action the conclusive effect urged by the appellants in the present criminal case, because it held that as a matter of state law the findings and judgment were not before it.6 It is settled that a state court may not avoid deciding federal questions and thus defeat the jurisdiction of this Court by putting forward nonfederal grounds of decision which are without any fair or substantial support. N.A.A.C.P. v. State of Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 455, 78 S.Ct. 1163, 1168, 2 L.Ed.2d 1488; Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 318 320, 78 S.Ct. 277, 280, 281, 2 L.Ed.2d 302; Ward v. Board of County Com'rs of Love County, 253 U.S. 17, 22, 40 S.Ct. 419, 421, 64 L.Ed. 751. Invoking this principle, the appellants urge that the independent state grounds relied upon for decision by the Supreme Court of North Carolina were untenable and inadequate, and that the question whether the Federal Constitution compelled that the findings and judgment in the federal case operated as a collateral estoppel in this case was properly before the state court for decision. It thus becomes this Court's duty to ascertain whether the procedural grounds relied upon by the state court independently and adequately support its judgment.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina stated in its opinion of affirmance that the 'defendants for reasons best known to themselves elected not to offer in evidence the record in the Federal court case.' 248 N.C., at page 493, 103 S.E.2d, at page 852. This statement is borne out by the record before that court,7 the so-called 'case on appeal' prepared by the appellants themselves.8 The appellants now advise us that in fact the federal court's findings and judgment were offered in evidence at the trial and excluded by the trial judge. They ascribe to 'some quirk of inadvertence' their failure to include in their 'case on appeal' the part of the transcript which would so indicate.9 And they assert that, since the Supreme Court of North Carolina has 'wide discretion' to go outside the record in order to get at the true facts, the Court's refusal to do so here amounted to a refusal to exercise its discretion 'to entertain a constitutional claim while passing upon kindred issues raised in the same manner.' Williams v. State of Georgia, 349 U.S. 375, 383, 75 S.Ct. 814, 818, 99 L.Ed. 1161.

The difficulty with this argument, beyond the fact that the appellants apparently did not ask the North Carolina court to go outside the record for this purpose, is that that court has consistently and repeatedly held in criminal cases that it will not make independent inquiry to determine the accuracy of the record before it.10 Illustra- tive decisions are: State...

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