Law School Case Brief
Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle - 429 U.S. 274, 97 S. Ct. 568 (1977)
The bar of the U.S. Const. amend XI to suit in federal courts extends to states and state officials in appropriate circumstances, but does not extend to counties and similar municipal corporations. Whether an entity is to be treated as an arm of the State partaking of the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity, or is instead to be treated as a municipal corporation or other political subdivision to which the Eleventh Amendment does not extend, depends, at least in part, upon the nature of the entity created by state law.
Respondent, an untenured teacher (who had previously been involved in an altercation with another teacher, an argument with school cafeteria employees, an incident in which he swore at students, and an incident in which he made obscene gestures to girl students), conveyed through a telephone call to a radio station the substance of a memorandum relating to teacher dress and appearance that the school principal had circulated to various teachers. The radio station announced the adoption of the dress code as a news item. Thereafter, petitioner School Board, adopting a recommendation of the superintendent, advised respondent that he would not be rehired and cited his lack of tact in handling professional matters, with specific mention of the radio station and obscene-gesture incidents. Respondent then brought this action against petitioner for reinstatement and damages, claiming that petitioner's refusal to rehire him violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Although respondent asserted jurisdiction under both 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and § 1331, the District Court rested jurisdiction only on § 1331. The District Court, which found that the incidents involving respondent had occurred, concluded that the telephone call was "clearly protected by the First Amendment" and that because it had played a "substantial part" in petitioner's decision not to rehire respondent he was entitled to reinstatement with backpay. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Petitioner, in addition to attacking the District Court's jurisdiction under § 1331 on the ground that the $10,000 jurisdictional requirement of that provision was not satisfied in this case, raised an additional jurisdictional issue after this Court had granted certiorari and after petitioner had filed its reply brief, claiming that respondent's only substantive constitutional claim arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that because petitioner School Board is not a "person" for purposes of § 1983, liability may no more be imposed on it where federal jurisdiction rests on § 1331 than where jurisdiction is grounded on § 1343.
Is the Board immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment?
The bar of the Eleventh Amendment to suit in federal courts extends to States and state officials in appropriate circumstances, Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974); Ford Motor Co. v. Dept. of Treasury, supra,but does not extend to counties and similar municipal corporations. The issue here thus turns on whether the Mt. Healthy Board of Education is to be treated as an arm of the State partaking of the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity, or is instead to be treated as a municipal corporation or other political subdivision to which the Eleventh Amendment does not extend. The answer depends, at least in part, upon the nature of the entity created by state law. Under Ohio law the "State" does not include "political subdivisions," and "political subdivisions" do include local school districts. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2743.01 (Page Supp. 1975). Petitioner is but one of many local school boards within the State of Ohio. It is subject to some guidance from the State Board of Education, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3301.07 (Page 1972 and Supp. 1975), and receives a significant amount of money from the State. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3317 (Page 1972 and Supp. 1975). But local school boards have extensive powers to issue bonds, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 133.27 (Page 1969), and to levy taxes within certain restrictions of state law. On balance, the record before us indicates that a local school board such as petitioner is more like a county or city than it is like an arm of the State. We [*281] therefore hold that it was not entitled to assert any Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in the federal courts.
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