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Carter v. Sunflower County School District

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

September 3, 2014

LARRY CARTER, by his mother and best Friend Mrs. Mae Bertha Carter, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.

This cause comes before the court on the renewed motion of defendant Sunflower County School District, successor in interest to the Drew Municipal Separate School District, for declaration of unitary status and dismissal of this desegregation case. Plaintiff Larry Carter has responded in opposition, and the court, having considered the memoranda and submissions of the parties, concludes that the motion is well taken and should be granted.

The instant motion represents a renewed effort by defendant to obtain a dismissal of a case which this court has already dismissed once, only to later reconsider. In initially dismissing this case on July 2, 2012, this court wrote that:

The court has recently been advised that Drew Municipal School District is being merged with the Sunflower County School District and on July 1, 2012, will no longer exist as an educational agency. Drew Municipal Separate School District is the only defendant in this case. Since the defendant no longer exists, the court cannot maintain jurisdiction over this cause of action. In light of the foregoing, the case is dismissed with prejudice. The defendant's motion for unitary status is dismissed as moot.

This court found it difficult to discern then, and still does now, how this case could coherently proceed in light of the fact that its sole defendant no longer existed.

Nevertheless, on December 20, 2012, this court reconsidered its July 2012 order dismissing this case on the basis of the school district merger. On reconsideration, the court agreed with plaintiff that "the most prudent step at this point is to keep this case on its docket pending clarification of the impact of the merger of the Drew and Sunflower school districts on the desegregation issues herein." In granting reconsideration, the court found particularly persuasive plaintiff's (belated) citation to the Fifth Circuit's decision in Valley v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 173 F.3d 944 (5th Cir. 1999). In Valley, a parish school board moved for a declaratory judgment to invalidate a Louisiana constitutional amendment and statute designed to divide the Rapides Parish School District into two districts. A Louisiana district court struck down the statute and amendment as unconstitutional, and the state Attorney General appealed. On rehearing en banc, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's orders and remanded for further proceedings. Valley, 173 F.3d at 945. The Fifth Circuit in Valley directed that, on remand, the state should, after a board of trustees had been selected, be required to defend its creation of new school district by showing that the newly created district would not adversely impact a desegregation plan currently in place. Id.

While this court granted reconsideration on the basis of Valley, it hastened to add its skepticism regarding plaintiff's prospects going forward. Specifically, this court wrote that:

In light of the foregoing, the court will show some leniency to plaintiff for failing to cite Valley originally and rescind its earlier dismissal of this case. Still, the court submits that the fact that the Drew School District no longer exists may well prove to be more in the nature of a brick wall than a speed bump to this litigation. While the court agrees that the impact of the merger on desegregation issues is worthy of additional study, care must be taken to ensure that something other than the simple inertia of a litigation spanning decades is driving this case forward. It should be emphasized that, at the time of this merger, the court was already considering issuing an order declaring the Drew School District to be unitary and dismissing this lawsuit altogether.

In a September 26, 2013 order, this court expounded upon its skepticism regarding the substantive merits of plaintiff's claims, writing that:

[P]laintiff made a very weak showing at the June 2012 hearing to determine unitary status. Indeed, the court notes that no parents of actual schoolchildren showed up at that hearing to express their concerns, and defendant made a very strong showing that unitary status had been achieved.

The court further noted in its September 2013 order that:

[T]he proof at the June 2012 hearing strongly suggested that, in whatever form the former Drew School District now exists, unitary status has been achieved with regard to it. It should be noted that there are two distinct issues before the court: 1) whether the remnants of the Drew School District have achieved unitary status and 2) the impact of the school district merger upon the issues in this case. With regard to the first issue, the court finds that defendant presented a strong case regarding unitary status at the June 2012 hearing. This court will not require defendant to present additional testimony in this regard at a hearing, although it may, after the seating of the new school board, submit any written proof or exhibits which it might have in this regard. Plaintiff represented to this court at the hearing that he was not prepared, at the time, to present his full case regarding unitary status, and he will likewise be given an opportunity, after January, to submit any written proof which he might have on the issue of unitary status to the court. Both sides should submit any proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law which they might have in this regard to the court.

The parties have complied with the court's instructions in this regard, including by submitting proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. These submissions were made subsequent to the seating of the new five-member board of the Sunflower County Consolidated School District in January 2014, as the court understands to be the proper procedure under Valley.

Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the court remains of the view that, even assuming that the merger of the Drew School District into the Sunflower County Consolidated School District does not prevent this case from going forward, the fact remains that the proof at the June 2012 unitary status hearing strongly supported a conclusion that the remnants of the former Drew School District had achieved unitary status. The court held the hearing in Greenville largely to make it more accessible to Drew residents, but it reiterates that not a single such resident showed up to oppose the declaration of unitary status, or even to express their concerns. ...

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