UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
decided: May 20, 1974.
JOSEPH S. ROSENTHAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 3 OF THE TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD; BOARD OF EDUCATION OF UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 4, NORTH BELLMORE, TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD; BOARD OF EDUCATION OF UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 7, BELLMORE, TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD; BOARD OF EDUCATION OF UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 25, MERRICK, TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD; BOARD OF UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 29, NORTH MERRICK, TOWN OF HEMPSTEAD, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES. EWALD NYQUIST, COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, INTERVENOR-DEFENDANT-APPELLEE
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
Hays and Oakes, Circuit Judges and Christensen, Senior District Judge.*fn*
CHRISTENSEN, Senior District Judge:
Plaintiff, a resident and voter in Merrick, Long Island, New York, brought a civil rights action in the district court seeking the convention of a three-judge court for the purpose of granting declaratory and injunctive relief on his allegations that the method of selection provided by the New York Education Law for members of the defendant Central High School District Board was violative of the "one man, one vote" principle and thus unconstitutional. A single judge of the district court denied plaintiff's motions for a three-judge court and for summary judgment and granted the motion of the defendants and the intervenor to dismiss the complaint for failure to state an actionable claim. The determinative issue presented here is whether the complaint stated a substantial constitutional claim requiring the convening of a three-judge court.*fn1
Plaintiff-appellee, Joseph S. Rosenthal, is a resident of, and eligible to vote in, Merrick, Town of Hempstead, County of Nassau, State of New York. The defendant-appellee, Central High School District, has jurisdiction over the pupils residing within the district who have completed the work of the sixth grade, and possesses the same powers with respect to the high school therein as boards of education of union free school districts have with respect to the elementary schools in their districts.*fn2
Within the area of the Central High School District are four separate union free school districts -- North Bellmore, Bellmore, Merrick and North Merrick, which also are defendants-appellees herein. The members of the boards of each of these union free school districts are elected by the qualified voters in the respective districts.*fn3
The board of education of such component union free school district selects two of its members to serve as representatives on the board of education of the Central High School District. The persons so selected remain members of the central board during their respective terms of office as members of the union free school district boards. Whenever a vacancy occurs in the office of a member of the central board, the local board which had been represented in that office selects one of its members as a replacement to serve on the central board.*fn4
The respective populations of the union free school districts vary widely.*fn5 Aside from the importance or materiality of disparate weights, it is obvious that to the extent voters in the respective union free school districts determine the identity of members of the board of the Central High School District they exert varying degrees of influence by their votes. That their respective votes do tend to control the selection of central high school board members is evident from the fact that only members of the local board as determined by such votes are eligible for membership on the central board.
The central board with respect to the high school under its jurisdiction exercises all of the powers which are possessed by boards of the component free school districts with reference to the elementary schools supervised by them. The central board may issue bonds, adopt budgets, hire professional and non-professional employees, establish curricula and generally determine the educational policies and procedures to be implemented at the high school level. It may select sites and plans and propose taxes for school buildings, subject to the approval of the qualified electors of the district.*fn6 Its action has a practical effect also upon the levy of general school taxes since a proportionate share of its budget is transmitted to each component union free school district for incorporation in the local district's overall school tax.*fn7 There seems no doubt, as recognized by the district court, that the powers of a central high school district include substantial governmental functions.
Confronted with plaintiff's motion for the convening of a three-judge court, his alternative motion for summary judgment and the defendants' motion for dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, the judge below granted the latter motion in the view that the complaint did not state a substantial constitutional claim.*fn8
Hadley v. Junior College District of Metropolitan Kansas City, 397 U.S. 50, 25 L. Ed. 2d 45, 90 S. Ct. 791 (1970), the district court noted, was "clearly not intended to apply to an appointive board". It dismissed plaintiff's argument that the central board should be treated as an elected one because its members were chosen from members of the constituent board, who themselves were elected, with the statement that "restricting the class of people who may be appointed does not change appointment to election", and added:
"Moreover, the statute (Education Law § 1901), requires that a central high school board member be a member of a local board only in the case of common school districts and not in the case of union free school districts, which are the only constituents of Central High School District Number 3."
If the latter premise were correct, the controlling effect of Sailors v. Board of Education of the County of Kent, supra, against appellant's position would be indicated. But as has already been noted, election to a local board is a prerequisite to "appointment" by that local board as a member of a central high school board.*fn9
We are mindful of Sailors' teaching that the "one man, one vote" principle does not apply to an appointive board. But the question remains whether within its rationale the members of the central high school board are "appointed" or "elected" officers, and if strictly neither whether the manner of their selection falls more nearly within the ambit of Hadley than of Sailors.
Were the members of the central high school board to be appointed from among residents of the respective districts without reference to whether or not they had been otherwise elected, we would have essentially a Sailors' situation with no substantial federal constitutional question remaining. Had election as a member of a local board served automatically to designate that elected member also as a member of a central high school board, the "one man, one vote" concept would have been offended since the vote of residents of the larger local districts would have been impermissibly diluted with respect to their representation on the central high school board.*fn10
Yet we have neither of these situations precisely, but one lying somewhere between them, and thus between Sailors and Hadley. We are concerned with an election in a local district which will determine not only membership in the local board but eligibility for membership on a central high school board. The number serving on the local boards involved here vary between five and seven. Out of the membership of each local board two are designated as members of the central high school board, which has a total membership of eight.
We conclude that such a situation, being directly controlled neither by Sailors nor Hadley, presented a substantial constitutional question. As such, its answer was not within the competence of a single judge*fn11 and required the convening of a three-judge court.
The constitutional claims in this case are not "so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit", Newburyport Water Co. v. Newburyport, 193 U.S. 561, 579, 48 L. Ed. 795, 24 S. Ct. 553 (1904), or "no longer open to discussion", McGilvra v. Ross, 215 U.S. 70, 80, 54 L. Ed. 95, 30 S. Ct. 27 (1909). The prior decisions of the Supreme Court did not "inescapably render the [plaintiff's] claims frivolous", Goosby v. Osser, 409 U.S. 512, 518, 35 L. Ed. 2d 36, 93 S. Ct. 854 (1970). Their unsoundness did not "so clearly [result] from the previous decisions of this [Supreme] court as to foreclose the subject and leave no room for the inference that the questions sought to be raised can be the subject of controversy." Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, 216 U.S. 285, 288, 54 L. Ed. 482, 30 S. Ct. 326 (1910); Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 78 L. Ed. 152, 54 S. Ct. 3 (1933). These authorities were reviewed most recently in Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 94 S. Ct. 1372, 39 L. Ed. 2d 577, 42 U.S.L.W. 4381 (Mar. 25, 1974), in the context of the Civil Rights Act. Mr. Justice White wrote for the majority:
"The substantiality doctrine as a statement of jurisdictional principles affecting the power of a federal court to adjudicate constitutional claims has been questioned, Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 683, 90 L. Ed. 939, 66 S. Ct. 773 (1946), and characterized as 'more ancient than analytically sound.' Rosado v. Wyman, supra, 397 U.S. at 404. But it remains the federal rule and needs no reexamination here, for we are convinced that within accepted doctrine petitioners' complaint alleged a constitutional claim sufficient to confer jurisdiction on the District Court to pass on the controversy." 42 U.S.L.W. at 4385.*fn12
The standards for determining the substantiality of a constitutional claim requiring a three-judge court are essentially the same as those applied to the corresponding problem of substantiality under the Civil Rights Act.*fn13
Beyond holding that plaintiff's complaint presented a substantial constitutional claim not subject to adjudication by a single judge, we express no opinion concerning the merits.
Reversed and remanded for the constitution of a three-judge court and further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.