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Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


decided: April 18, 1974.

DOROTHY HOOTS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MOTHER OF HER CHILDREN JANELLE HOOTS AND JAMIE HOOTS; MRS. ADDRALLACE KNIGHT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF HER CHILDREN RONALD KNIGHT, LORETTA KNIGHT, TERRENCE KNIGHT, PAMELA KNIGHT, DARRYL KNIGHT, MARC KNIGHT AND BYRON KNIGHT; BARBARA SMITH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF HER CHILDREN TAWANDA SMITH, TEVELA SMITH, JOSEPH SMITH, WESLEY SMITH AND ERIC SMITH; ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLEES,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; EDWARD HALLENBERG, AS PRESIDENT OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS AND AS PRESIDENT OF THE ALLEGHENY INTERMEDIATE UNIT BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS; THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS; THE ALLEGHENY INTERMEDIATE UNIT BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS; W. DEMING LEWIS, CHAIRMAN OF THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION; AND THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, TURTLE CREEK AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT IN NOS. 73-1783 AND 74-1050 CHURCHILL AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT ALLEGHENY COUNTY APPELLANT IN NOS. 73-1784 AND 74-1051

(D.C. Civil Action No. 71-538) APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Hunter and Weis, Circuit Judges and Becker, District Judge.

Author: Per Curiam

Opinion OF THE COURT

The underlying action which gave rise to these appeals is a class action brought against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, the Allegheny County Board of School Directors, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Board of School Directors and various individuals as officials of these bodies. The complaint was filed on June 9, 1971 and alleged that the defendants intentionally and knowingly drew boundary lines for the new consolidated school districts in the central eastern area of Allegheny County, and specifically for the General Braddock Area School District, in a way that perpetuated and maximized racial segregation in violation of the equal protection clause. On May 15, 1973, the district court found in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the Commonwealth defendants to prepare and adopt a comprehensive plan of school desegregation for that area of Allegheny County.

No appeal from this decision was filed by any of the named defendants, but on June 12, 1973, the Turtle Creek Area School District ("Turtle Creek"), a local school district likely to be affected by the desegregation plan, filed a petition to intervene in the case as a party defendant in order to take an appeal. On June 13, 1973, Churchill Area School District ("Churchill"), a similarly situated local school district, took the same action. These petitions to intervene were denied by the district court on June 13, 1973 and these denials as well as various exceptions to the May 15, 1973 judgment of the district court itself form the basis for appeals No. 73-1783 and No. 73-1784.

Subsequent to the filing of these appeals, the Commonwealth defendants submitted a proposed desegregation plan to the district court. Turtle Creek and Churchill as well as the other school districts affected under the plan, thereupon filed new petitions to intervene. The district court permitted intervention at this point for the limited purpose of presenting argument on the issues of 1) whether the Commonwealth's plan complied with the district court's order of May 15, 1973 and 2) whether the Commonwealth abused its discretion in choosing the plan it submitted for approval. However, it refused to permit the school boards to intervene as defendants for all purposes.*fn1 This denial as it relates to Turtle Creek and Churchill, is the basis for appeals No. 74-1050 and No. 74-1051.*fn2 These appeals and the earlier ones have been consolidated since they involve the same issues.

While the parties that have brought this appeal have undertaken a broad attack upon the district court's judgment of May 15, 1973, the crucial threshold question is whether their petitions to intervene were properly denied. If they were, Churchill and Turtle Creek are not parties to the action and cannot appeal the judgment of the district court.*fn3 We have concluded that the denial of these petitions was proper, and as a result, the appeals will be dismissed.

As the Supreme Court has recently made clear, it is within the discretion of the district court to deny a petition to intervene if it is not timely. NAACP v. New York, 413 U.S. 345, 37 L. Ed. 2d 648, 93 S. Ct. 2591 (1973). In the instant case, the untimeliness of the various petitions is clear. The first petition was not filed until June 12, 1973, two years after the case was originally filed, six months after the trial, and almost a month after the district court's opinion and order were filed.

Moreover, the petitioners could not reasonably claim ignorance either of the proceedings or the necessity for intervention at a much earlier date. On May 19, 1972, (more than six months before trial) the Attorney-General of Pennsylvania sent identical letters to Turtle Creek and Churchill that informed them of the suit and noted that the relief requested would have an important effect on the future of their districts.*fn4 The letter then indicated that the Attorney-General's position in the litigation would have to reflect the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole and that as a result it probably would not reflect the interests of the local school districts. It closed with the following suggestion:

"I, therefore, urge you to intervene in this action immediately if you wish the viewpoint of your school district and your constituents to be represented and presented before the trier of fact and of law."

This letter, at the very least, put the school districts on notice to be alert to the likely necessity for intervention. Yet despite this clear warning, no petition to intervene was filed until June 12, 1973, six months after the December 1972 trial. Since the necessity for intervention was apparent at least by time of trial,*fn5 the failure of Turtle Creek and Churchill to act until months later makes the petitions ultimately filed untimely. See NAACP v. New York, supra. The petitions for intervention filed in June and October of 1973 were properly denied.

The appeal will be dismissed.


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