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Boudreaux v. School Board of St Mary Parish

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

September 18, 2019





         Before the Court in this longstanding school desegregation case is a Motion to Dismiss as Moot for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, filed by Defendant St. Mary Parish School Board (“Board”) [Doc. No. 17], and a Motion to Substitute Named Plaintiffs, filed by counsel for “Private Plaintiffs.” [Doc. No. 26]. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss is DENIED, and the Motion to Substitute Named Plaintiffs is GRANTED.[1]



         On August 31, 1965, five African-American students attending public schools in St. Mary Parish filed suit for injunctive relief against the School Board of St. Mary Parish (“the Board”) and B. Edward Boudreaux, Superintendent of the public schools of St. Mary Parish (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging Defendants were maintaining racially segregated schools in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Doc. No. 17-4 at 2, 4]. The suit was brought as a class action:

Plaintiffs bring this action as a class suit pursuant to Rule 23(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on behalf of themselves and on behalf of other Negro[2] children and their parents in St. Mary Parish, similarly situated, all of whom are affected by the policy, practice, custom and usage complained of herein as more fully appears. The members of the class on behalf of which plaintiffs sue are so numerous as to make it impracticable to bring them all individually before this Court, but there are common questions of law and fact involved, common grievances arising out of common wrongs and common relief is sought for each of the plaintiffs individually and for each member of the class. Plaintiffs fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class.

Id. at 3. At the time the suit was filed, a prior version of Rule 23 governing class actions (the 1938 rule) was in effect. Unlike the current version of Rule 23, the former rule did not require that courts issue an order certifying an action as a class action. Compare former Rule 23, 39 F.R.D. 69, 94-95, with Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c) (West 2019).

         On September 22, 1965, Defendants answered suit and admitted that “prior to the filing of this suit bi-racial schools did exist in St. Mary Parish and . . . have existed as such for many years.” Id. at 11. Defendants further stated they had passed a resolution on September 16, 1965, which they asserted “effectively removes defendant, School Board, from the category of operating a discriminatory bi-racial school system.”[3] Id. Defendants’ prayer for relief asked the Court to approve the resolution “as providing a proper mode of desegregation of the public schools of St. Mary Parish” and to summarily dismiss the Complaint. Id. at 11-12. Alternatively, Defendants asked “that this Court assume jurisdiction to supervise the development and implementation of an orderly plan of desegregation of the public schools of St. Mary Parish in such a manner as to cause an orderly transition from a bi-racial to a unitary, non-racial system.” Id. at 12. Defendants raised no objection to the propriety of the suit proceeding as a class action; rather, the foregoing demonstrates Defendants implicitly agreed a class action was the appropriate procedural vehicle.

         Two weeks after its Answer, the Board sent a letter to the Court stating they would “stipulate, or admit, that the plaintiffs are residents of St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, and are members of a class so numerous that it would be impractical to bring them all into court as plaintiffs, and that plaintiffs are, therefore, under the law entitled to bring this suit as a class action.” Id. at 19. On October 11, 1965, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and issued a Decree stating in pertinent part as follows:

For written reasons this day assigned, it being stipulated that plaintiffs are members of the Negro race and residents of the parish of St. Mary, Louisiana, and this being a class action affecting all members of the class to which plaintiffs belong who are similarly situated, and the right sought to be enforced is common to all members of such class, it is now:
I. ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the defendants, St. Mary Parish School Board and B. Edward Boudreaux, Superintendent, . . . be and they are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from:
(a) Continuing to operate a segregated or biracial public school system in said parish . . ., and
(b) from assigning . . . pupils to said public schools solely because of the race of any or all of such pupils, and
(c) from continuing to maintain dual attendance zones or districts in furtherance of a segregated or biracial public school system.
II. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the proposed plan of desegregation of the St. Mary Parish Public School System, adopted and filed in this cause by defendants on September 16, 1965, retroactive to the beginning of the fall term 1965-66, applying to grades one through twelve . . ., be and the same is hereby approved and made the order of this Court . . . .
. . . .
IV. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that plaintiffs’ request for desegregation of teaching personnel and other administrative staff in said school system, is deferred and action thereon at this time is denied, pending the progress of the pupil desegregation of said system; all subject to the future orders of the Court.
V. Jurisdiction is retained in this case for such further proceedings as may become necessary and proper.

Id. at 20-22, 24.

         The following year, the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion impliedly overruling the Decree issued by this Court. United States v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Educ., 372 F.2d 836 (5th Cir.1966), on reh’g, 380 F.2d 385 (5th Cir.1967); see also Doc. 17-4 at 29. On May 2, 1967, in conformity with the Fifth Circuit opinion in Jefferson County, the Court issued a superseding Decree. [Doc. 17-4 at 31-46]. The Decree was drafted by the Fifth Circuit and ordered to be entered by the district courts on remand in the consolidated cases in Jefferson Cty.[4] This second Decree imposed “additional detailed duties” on the Defendants, including the desegregation of teaching personnel and the submission of bi-annual reports. [Doc. 17-4 at 30, 31-46]. Two years later, the Fifth Circuit found the “freedom of choice” desegregation plans ordered in Jefferson and in effect in the Western District of Louisiana, including the plan in effect in St. Mary Parish, were ineffective and remanded “in order that a new plan may be put into effect in each school district.” Hall v. St. Helena Parish School Bd., 417 F.2d 801, 809 (5th Cir. 1969). On August 4, 1969, the Court issued its third and last Decree, further refining the desegregation duties of Defendants and maintaining the requirement of bi-annual reporting. [Doc. No. 1-13 at 1-4].

         The following month, the United States filed a Motion for Appointment and Designation as Amicus Curiae. [Doc. No. 1-15]. The United States filed its motion due to the filing of a suit in state court (the “Swope” case), whereby certain white citizens of St. Mary Parish sought to enjoin Defendants from implementing the desegregation plan ordered by this Court.[5] [Doc. No. 29 at 6; Doc. No. 1-15 at 3-4]. The United States, relying upon 28 U.S.C. § 1651 (the All-Writs Statute) and supporting jurisprudence, moved “to appear and participate in this action to aid this Court to do all that reasonably and lawfully can be done to protect and effectuate its order of August 4, 1969.” [Doc No. 1-15 at 4]. The Court granted the motion the same day, thereby authorizing the United States “to appear and participate in this action . . . as amicus curiae, with the right as such to submit pleadings, evidence, arguments and briefs, to move for injunctive and other necessary and proper relief, and to initiate such further proceedings that may be necessary and appropriate.” [Doc. 1-15 at 6].[6] The Court simultaneously issued a separate Order granting the United States’ Petition for Removal and Consolidation of the Swope case with the instant case. [Doc. No. 1-16 at 12-13]. On February 27, 1970, the Court granted the United States’ motion to dismiss the Swope portion of the consolidated proceedings with full prejudice. [Doc. No. 1-30]. After dismissal of the Swope matter, the United States’ participation in this suit ceased until 2018. [Doc. No. 8].

         Over the next four and a half years, the Court issued a series of orders establishing various remedial measures Defendants were required to undertake to desegregate their schools. In April of 1975, the Court issued the following Order:

Considering the biannual report dated April 15, 1975 filed by the defendant, St. Mary Parish School Board, IT IS NOW ORDERED that counsel for plaintiffs forthwith examine said report and its contents and, on or before thirty (30) days from the date of this Order, file any and all objections they may have to the operation of the public school system in the parish of St. Mary, Louisiana and to the proposed construction, the abandonment of school facilities set out therein, and any other matters pertaining to the operation of said system to which they may object, otherwise this Court shall, in the absence of such objections, declare said system unitary and direct that the matter be placed on the inactive docket.

[Doc. No. 1-67]. No. objections were ever filed. Thereafter, the record reflects a series of reports submitted by Defendants from 1975 through 1983, as well as a Joint Motion by Defendants and Plaintiffs to reconfigure certain schools, which was granted by the Court in 1981. [Doc. Nos. 1-68 through 1-79]. However, no subsequent order is found in the record declaring the St. Mary Parish public school system unitary, placing the matter on the inactive docket, dissolving the desegregation Decree, or dismissing the case.

         For the next thirty years, no further activity is reflected in the record. Then, on May 15, 2012, the undersigned issued an Order stating as follows:

The Court has been in the process of reviewing all of the long-standing desegregation cases in this District. After reviewing the original record in the above-referenced matter, the Court finds that on April 9, 1975, United States District Judge Richard J. Putnam issued an Order, indicating that the public school system of St. Mary Parish appeared to be unitary. Absent any objection within thirty (30) days, Judge Putnam stated that he intended to issue a unitary status finding. No. objections are found in the record. In an August 25, 1980 unopposed motion for expansion of the Franklin Senior High School, the School Board of St. Mary Parish (“the School Board”) stated that “[a]ll schools in West St. Mary Parish are paired, and there is therefore no change in racial composition, percentage wise in each school.” After that date, the School Board continued to file bi-annual reports, but no documents have been filed since the last bi-annual report on December 8, 1983.
Given these facts, the Court finds that the School Board has eliminated all vestiges of the prior de jure discrimination, to the extent practicable, and there is no longer any reason to maintain this case on the inactive docket of the Court. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the St. Mary Parish school system is declared unitary in all respects.

[Doc. No. 2]. A judgment issued the same day dismissing this matter with prejudice. [Doc. No. 3]. Two days later however, the Court vacated its Judgment, stating “upon further review, the Court finds that additional facts are necessary to address the unitary status of the school system.” [Doc. No. 4]. On May 21, 2012, the undersigned reassigned this matter to a judge in the Lafayette Division. [Doc. No. 5]. Four years later, the case was again reassigned to a judge in the Alexandria Division. [Doc. No. 6]. Beginning in early 2018, new counsel moved to enroll on behalf of all parties.[7] [Doc. Nos. 7-10, 15; see also Doc. Nos. 19-20]. On March 25, 2019, the Board filed the present Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 17], and on May 29, 2019, counsel for Plaintiffs filed “The Plaintiff Class’ Motion to Substitute Named Plaintiffs.” [Doc. No. 26]. On June 11, 2019, this matter was again transferred to the undersigned. The Court now issues its Ruling on the pending motions.


         Motion to Dismiss for Lack of ...

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