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Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 24, 2017

M. C. MOORE, as father and next friend to minors Joyce Marie Moore, Jerry Moore, and Thelma Louise Moore; HENRY SMITH, as father and next friend to minors Bennie Smith, Charles Edward Smith, Shirley Ann Smith, and Earline Smith, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
TANGIPAHOA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, a corporation, Defendant-Appellant

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before JOLLY, BARKSDALE, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

          LESLIE H. SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judge

         In 1965, Plaintiffs sued Tangipahoa Parish School Board, seeking desegregation of the school district. Since then, numerous remedial injunctions have been issued in pursuit of the ultimate goal: full unitary status and dismissal of the case. In 2008, the district court granted the parties' joint motion to create the position of Chief Desegregation Implementation Officer. The terms of the injunction do not require the district court to approve the School Board's candidate for the job. Nevertheless, the School Board previously submitted some candidates for consideration. The district court rejected the School Board's latest proposed candidate, approving instead the candidate supported by Plaintiffs and the Court Compliance Officer. The School Board appealed the district court's original order and the denial of the Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. We AFFIRM.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs sued Tangipahoa Parish School Board in 1965, claiming equal-protection violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that stemmed from systematic segregation. The district court first issued an injunction in 1967 but has since issued several remedial injunctions with the goal of achieving the school district's full unitary status.

         In 2008, the parties jointly moved the district court to create the position of Chief Desegregation Implementation Officer ("CDIO"). According to the School Board, the purpose of the position is "to further the ability of the Board to efficiently and proactively meet its desegregation obligations." The CDIO is thus responsible for "coordinat[ing] and oversee[ing] all aspects of the implementation of the court's orders[.]" The CDIO reports directly to the school superintendent and the Court Compliance Officer ("CCO"), who works independently of the school district to ensure compliance with the court's orders and to coordinate and monitor the parties' actions. The CDIO position is not intended to detract from the CCO's responsibilities. Instead, the CDIO works beneath the CCO to "make ongoing reports and provide all information as requested[.]" According to the original injunction, a candidate must possess a master's or doctorate degree with emphasis on organizational leadership to be considered for the CDIO position. The CDIO serves a term of twelve consecutive months as a "full-time, year round" employee.

         The parties attached a list of the CDIO's duties and responsibilities to their joint motion. It provides the CDIO is intended to supervise "[p]ersonnel below the level of Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent involved in implementation of [the] Consent Judgment." The CDIO's listed responsibilities are numerous and include coordinating academic transfers, community-involvement programs, and drop-out-prevention programs.

         No court order defines the CDIO selection-and-approval process. Nor does any court order require the district court to approve the School Board's recommended candidate for CDIO. Nevertheless, the School Board has sought approval for some prior appointees.

         In July 2015, then-CDIO Lionel Jackson announced his intention to remain on sick leave until his retirement in December 2015. For two months, the School Board assigned the CDIO's duties to appropriate staff members while searching for a new CDIO. In his annual report filed with the district court, the CCO recommended Andrew Jackson for the CDIO position. Jackson is a local minister who holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and formerly served as principal of a local residential facility for juvenile delinquents. The School Board considered Jackson, but it ultimately named Lawrence Thompson as acting CDIO. Thompson holds a master's degree, has served as a principal in the district, and had served as the district's Chief Welfare and Attendance Officer until he retired in 2010.

         In August 2015, the School Board filed two motions in the district court, seeking (1) approval of Thompson as CDIO, and (2) elimination of the CDIO position, or, alternatively, revision of the CDIO job description. Plaintiffs opposed Thompson's appointment, asserting that Jackson would be a better choice because he is an unbiased outsider who "has the backing of the Black community" and the CCO. The district court denied the opposed motions and appointed Jackson. The School Board timely noticed its interlocutory appeal.

         After the original appeal was docketed, the School Board filed a motion for indicative ruling in the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 62.1, arguing the court should reconsider its decision because Jackson has various conflicts of interest that render him unsuitable to serve as CDIO. Among other things, the School Board discovered that Jackson was once married to the daughter of a named Plaintiff and had a child with her before their divorce in 1975. The Plaintiffs opposed the motion on procedural grounds. The district court granted the motion, holding that the new allegations regarding Jackson's familial ties to the Plaintiffs merited reconsideration of the order appointing Jackson as CDIO. Under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 12.1(a), this court was given notice of the district court's order.

         Responding to that notice, we remanded the case "for the limited purpose of allowing the district court to rule on the matter identified in its indicative order." We also instructed the district court to "make additional findings to explain its appointment of Mr. Jackson instead of Mr. Thompson." On remand, the district court styled its order as responding to a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. It held that none of the alleged conflicts of interest were sufficient to justify overturning its prior order appointing Jackson as CDIO. It further justified its selection of Jackson by noting his work experience, community involvement, and personal reputation. The ...


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