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Andrews v. Monroe City School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 22, 2017

JIMMY ANDREWS, ET AL.
v.
MONROE CITY SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.

          RULING

          ROBERT G. JAMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff United States of America's (“the United States”) Motion for Order to Show Cause [Doc. No. 144]. The United States contends that Defendant Monroe City School Board (“the School Board”) and Superintendent Brent Vidrine (“Dr. Vidrine”) failed to meet deadlines and other requirements of the Consent Decree in effect and failed to take the required steps to desegregate the District's faculty. The United States moves the Court to order the School Board and Dr. Vidrine to show cause why they should not be held in contempt. If the School Board and Dr. Vidrine are found in contempt, the United States moves the Court to order them to pay a civil fine of $100 per day for each day of noncompliance, to pay a civil fine of double that amount for each calendar week of continued noncompliance, and to extend the deadline for the Carroll High School Medical Magnet Program (“Medical Magnet Program”) applications for the 2016-17 school year to at least one month after the District has cured its related noncompliance.

         In response, the School Board filed a memorandum in opposition [Doc. No. 152] and a “Motion for Relief under FRCvP 12(c) and (d).” [Doc. No. 181]. Dr. Vidrine filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. No. 170].

         For the following reasons, the United States' Motion for Order to Show Cause is DENIED, and Dr. Vidrine's and the School Board's motions are DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. Procedural History Leading up to the Filing of the Motion for Order to Show Cause[1]

         For more than 50 years, the School Board has operated the District under a desegregation decree. On August 5, 1965, a Complaint was filed in the name of then-minor students, Jimmy Andrews and Tommy Ray Robertson, by their mothers, against the City of Monroe (“the City”), the Mayor, the members of the School Board, and the Superintendent. On September 17, 1965, the Court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants from operating a bi-racial school system.

         On August 1, 1969, the Court issued a desegregation decree. Over the years, the original desegregation decree has been modified numerous times.

         On July 6, 1992, United States District Judge Tom Stagg granted the School Board's motion for unitary status in part and declared the District unitary in the areas of facilities, extracurricular activities, and hiring and retention of teachers and administrators. Judge Stagg denied the School Board's motion in part, finding that the District was not unitary in the areas of teacher and principal assignments, student assignments, and transportation.

         On July 9, 1998, Benya Marshall (“Marshall”) and Annie Faye Harris (“Harris”) were permitted to join the case as individual Plaintiffs.

         Between 1998 and 2008, there were limited proceedings in this case, mainly addressing certain zoning issues and the continued filing of status reports.

         In 2008, the Court, on its own motion, began examining all remaining desegregation cases on its docket. In this case, the United States and the School Board began working together to reach a consent decree for the Court's approval.

         As a result, the parties submitted a proposed consent decree, which the Court approved on March 30, 2010. [Doc. No. 16]. The March 30, 2010 Consent Decree was to be in effect for five school years, or until June 30, 2014, when the parties were to “conduct a full evaluation of the District's compliance with the terms of [the Consent Decree] and with the Fourteenth Amendment . . . . and applicable federal law to determine the District's eligibility to request a declaration of unitary status from this Court” in the remaining areas. Id. at p.7.

         On June 18, 2012, the Court conducted a telephone status conference, at which time

[t]he Court raised the issue of the pending March 30, 2010 Consent Decree. Under that Decree, a unitary status review is set to take place after June 30, 2014. However, it is the intent of the Court that the parties take affirmative steps to address any issues that would prevent a unitary status finding in 2014. As issues arise, the Court expects the parties to attempt to reach an amicable resolution or to contact the Court for a hearing to resolve the issues, rather than waiting to conduct a review in 2014. In the upcoming June 30, 2012 status report, the Court expects the School Board to identify and address any unresolved issues.

         [Doc. No. 55].

         On May 13, 2014, the Court issued a minute entry which stated as follows:

. . . The parties have not contacted the Court about unresolved issues, nor have they requested a status conference on this topic. Accordingly, the Court anticipates that the parties will file a joint motion for unitary status on or after June 30, 2014. If the Department of Justice, the Monroe City School Board, or the individual Plaintiffs have any remaining concerns about issues related to the Green factors, they must file a motion for a status conference immediately.

         [Doc. No. 75]. No motion was filed.

         On July 22, 2014, the Court held a status conference with the parties and ordered the School Board to file a motion for unitary status or the parties to file a status report by August 18, 2014. However, in subsequent filings and status conferences, the School Board's counsel reported that the School Board had not authorized him to file a motion for unitary status. During this time, the United States raised no concerns about the District's desegregation efforts on the remaining Green factor or the District's compliance with the March 30, 2010 Consent Decree.

         On June 15, 2015, another status conference was held, and the Court informed the parties that it intended to conduct a sua sponte unitary status review. [Doc. No. 86]. The United States stated that it did not intend to take any further action. The following day, the Court set a unitary status hearing for September 21, 2015. [Doc. No. 87].

         On September 8, 2015, at a pre-hearing conference, the United States raised concerns about the District's compliance with the March 30, 2010 Consent Decree for the first time since 2010. [Doc. No. 97].

         On September 21, 2015, the unitary status hearing was held as scheduled, and the Court took evidence and heard the parties' arguments. At the conclusion, the Court declared the District unitary in the areas of transportation and student assignments. The Court found that the District had not achieved unitary status in the area of “principal and teacher assignments and has not fully complied with the March 30, 2010 Consent Order.” [Doc. No. 107].

         Following the hearing, the parties were able to reach an agreement to amend the March 30, 2010 Consent Decree. The new Consent Decree was approved by the Court on December 11, 2015. [Doc. No. 113].[2] Sections V, VI, and VII of the 44-page document provide the substantive actions the School Board agreed to take with regard to monitoring and oversight through the use of an independent court monitor (“ICM”), teacher and principal assignments, equitable access to course offerings, equitable access to specialized academic programs, and the Medical Magnet Program. “At a minimum, th[e] Consent Decree [was to] remain in force until the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year, ” but the parties “anticipate[d] that the District will be in a position to be declared unitary by September 30, 2017.”[3] Id. at pp. 33-34.

         On January 12, 2016, by minute entry and at the request of the parties, the Consent Decree was amended to extend the deadline for notifying the Court of the selection of the ICM to January 22, 2016.

         Two months later, the parties sought another amendment to the December 11, 2015 Consent Decree, which was approved by the Court on March 24, 2016. [Doc. No. 133]. The amendment extended and re-set a number of the deadlines in the December 11, 2015 Consent Decree, but the substantive provisions remained the same.

         On April 14, 2016, the Court granted the parties' joint motion for an extension of a deadline, and again amended the December 11, 2015 Consent Decree. [Doc. Nos. 140 & 141]. The substantive provisions again remained unchanged.

         On June 27, 2016, the United States filed the instant Motion for Order to Show Cause [Doc. No. 144], contending that the School Board and Dr. Vidrine had violated the terms of the December 11, 2015 Consent Decree, as amended on January 12, 2016; March 24, 2016; and April 14, 2016.[4] The United States moves the Court to order the School Board members and Dr. Vidrine to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for failing to meet the deadlines and cure their noncompliance with Sections VI.A.2.i, VI.A.2.ii(2)(b), VI.A.2.iii, VI.D.1.i, VI.D.1.ii, VI.D.1.iv, VI.C.1.v, and V.B.2 of the Consent Decree. The United States moves the Court to order the School Board members and Dr. Vidrine to pay a civil fine of $100 per day for each day that they continue to fail to comply with the Consent Decree and double that as a fine for each calendar week of continued noncompliance.[5] Finally, the United States moves the Court to order the School Board and Dr. Vidrine to extend the deadline for the submission of applications for the Medical Magnet Program for the 2016-17 school year to at least one month after the District has cured its related noncompliance.

         The School Board filed a response. [Doc. No. 152]. The School Board contends that it acted through Dr. Vidrine and his staff, that any failures were not the result of conscious refusal or indifference, and that partial, if not total, compliance with the Consent Decree has been achieved. The School Board argues further that civil contempt is not appropriate because neither it nor the staff refused to comply, the Consent Decree is a lengthy document, the School Board was inexperienced, Dr. Vidrine was inexperienced as a Superintendent, there has since been substantial compliance, and everyone acted in good faith.

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on July 6, 2016. Testimony was taken regarding what the Consent Decree provided for teacher and administrator assignment and related issues and where the parties stand with reference to compliance on those issues. The School Board and Dr. Vidrine were ordered to provide a report to the Court and the United States on August 19, 2016, on the assignment of teachers and administration (including Deans of Students) as of August 15, 2016. The hearing was set to resume on September 19, 2016. However, on that date, Dr. ...


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