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Hollenbaugh v. Carnegie Free Library

submitted: October 21, 1976.

REBECCA S. HOLLENBAUGH AND FRED K. PHILBURN, APPELLANTS,
v.
CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY, OF CONNELLSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA; BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY, OF CONNELLSVILLE, PA.; WALTER D. LINDSAY; DR. THOMAS G. MCLELLAN; DR. RALPH STONE; VAN DYKE W. HUMBERT; WILLIAM H. SOISSON, JR.; HARRY S. DOLDE; JEROLD MERVIS; F. TODD BURHANS; ROBERT W. LAUGHERTY; CHARLES F. HARTZ; KENNETH I. JAYNES; MELVIN KELLER; THOMAS R. REAGAN; EUGENE LAYTON; ARTHUR CUMBERLAND; RICHARD SHERAW; HOMER KERN; RUSSELL MEYERS; EUGENE J. GALIARDI; ELINOR ADDIS; DEAN WHITE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MEMBERS AND OFFICERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY; JOHN SHAW; CHARLES MATCHEY; JOHN GRAZIANO; JAMES G. DRISCOLL; AND DAVIS SHEPLER, JR., AS MEMBERS AND OFFICERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 74-827)

Aldisert and Gibbons, Circuit Judges, and McGlynn,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Aldisert

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

We are to decide whether the district court erred in summarily denying relief to appellants, two former community library employees who asserted constitutional deprivation when the library trustees terminated their employment. Alleging that the trustees infringed rights secured by the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, appellants brought a civil rights action with jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4),*fn1 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages. The district court found that appellants failed to establish the requisite state involvement to sustain jurisdiction. Accordingly, it entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants without reaching the merits of the complaint. We reverse on the issue of state action.

I.

In Magill v. Avonworth Baseball Conference, 516 F.2d 1328 (3d Cir. 1975), this court analyzed in detail the considerations necessary to determine whether the conduct of a private entity falls within the rubric of state action. We said:

Any discussion of the "protean concept" of state action must begin with the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 3 S. Ct. 18, 27 L. Ed. 835 (1883). It was there the Supreme Court first enunciated the principle that "[individual] invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the [Fourteenth] amendment"; only "state action of a particular character . . . is prohibited." Ibid. at 11, 3 S. Ct. at 21.

Notwithstanding the Civil Rights Cases, subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court have pierced the seemingly impenetrable veil of private, individual conduct to find state action. These cases have the capability of being grouped into three general categories: (1) where state courts enforced an agreement affecting private parties; (2) where the state "significantly" involved itself with the private party; and (3) where there was private performance of a government function.

516 F.2d at 1331 (footnotes omitted).

As in Magill, we are not concerned here with the first and third categories. These are not circumstances in which state courts have enforced an agreement affecting private parties; nor can it be said that the operation of a library constitutes private performance of a function traditionally associated with sovereignty. Rather, the polestar of our analysis must be whether the state involvement in the challenged action of the library is "significant", see Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369, 378, 380, 18 L. Ed. 2d 830, 87 S. Ct. 1627 (1967), that is, "the inquiry must be whether there is a sufficiently close nexus between the State and the challenged action . . . so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the State itself," Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351, 42 L. Ed. 2d 477, 95 S. Ct. 449 (1974), citing Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, 176, 32 L. Ed. 2d 627, 92 S. Ct. 1965 (1972), or whether the "State has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with [the library] that it must be recognized as a joint participant in the challenged activity." Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, 725, 6 L. Ed. 2d 45, 81 S. Ct. 856 (1961).

A nexus test is necessarily one of degree. As we observed in Magill, the Supreme Court has not fashioned "any definitive state action formula"; rather, the Court "admits to extreme difficulty in articulating an all-inclusive test and seems to emphasize that, within the confines of certain guidelines, the presence or absence of state action must be determined on a case-by-case basis." 516 F.2d at 1332 (footnotes omitted). Accordingly, it is "by sifting facts and weighing circumstances", Burton, supra, 365 U.S. at 722, that we have concluded that the district court erred in finding no state action.

II.

Appellants' employment was terminated by the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Free Library of Connellsville on August 9, 1973. The narrative facts concerning government involvement with the library during the relevant time period were fully developed below and appellants make "no contention that summary judgment was precluded by the necessity of further evidentiary development." Appellants' Brief at 1.

For the years 1973 and 1974, the library received approximately 90 per cent of its financial support from local municipalities, school districts, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1973, the library's total income for operating expenditures was $64,402.00; this sum included $41,855.00 from local government sources and $16,793.00 in state aid. Of its total 1974 income of $53,173.16 for operating expenditures, $33,080.00 was received from local government sources, and $15,832.00 in state aid. These ...


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