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Case Name Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education SD-TN-0003
Docket / Court 63-4916 ( W.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) School Desegregation
Attorney Organization NAACP Legal Defense Fund
U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
On June 12, 1963, the plaintiffs brought this desegregation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The plaintiffs, African-American minor school children, by and through their parents, sued the defendant Shelby County Board of Education to enjoin the operation of ... read more >
On June 12, 1963, the plaintiffs brought this desegregation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The plaintiffs, African-American minor school children, by and through their parents, sued the defendant Shelby County Board of Education to enjoin the operation of a segregated school system. The United States also intervened as a plaintiff in 1966.

On March 17, 1964, the district court (Judge Bailey Brown) adopted the Board's freedom of choice desegregation plan, which largely stayed in place until the Supreme Court decided Green v. County School Board -- at which point the plaintiffs pushed for the Board to take more aggressive steps to desegregate. From 1968 through 1972, the parties fought over various proposals, with the Sixth Circuit ultimately upholding the district court's approval of a plan (after at first rejecting it, citing the Board's failure to take affirmative steps to desegregate) on September 21, 1972. Nonetheless, the district court retained jurisdiction over the case.

The case was dormant from 1972 until 1986 when, on April 9, the district court (at that point Judge Odell Horton) roundly rejected the Board's request to approve the construction of ten permanent classrooms at a predominantly white elementary school in the district. Rather than opting for student reassignment to under-utilized schools, the Board, in the face of fierce community opposition, instead proposed the construction. But as Judge Horton concluded, such opposition "cannot justify the defendant's failure to consider the negative impact of its proposal for construction . . . on desegregation." Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 643 F.Supp. 111, 121 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 9, 1986).

In 2006, both parties moved jointly to declare the school district unitary and terminate the litigation, with no objection from the United States. On July 26, 2007, the district court granted the motion with respect to facilities, transportation and staffing -- but denied it with respect to student assignment, faculty integration and extracurricular activities. The court established new "racial ratios" for the composition of students and faculty yo be met no later than October of 2012, with the aim being to declare unitary status by October of 2015. Both parties appealed, and on May 21, 2009, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of full unitary status and ordered the lower court to grant the motion and dismiss the case. The decision came over a vigorous dissent by Judge Algenon Marbley, who decried the majority's deference to the parties' desires -- at the expense of the lack of on-the-ground evidence that the school system was in fact unitary. As he explained:
Nothing—not the agreement of the parties jointly to seek dissolution of the desegregation decree, not the number of years that this case has been pending and the general progress in race relations nationwide that has occurred in that time, and not the eagerness of the courts or school boards to restore local control over community schools—can substitute for evidence showing the Board's compliance with the desegregation decree. The evidence in fact reveals that among the forty-four schools for which the Board has data, two thirds of them are not in compliance with the flexible benchmark set forth by the district court for measuring racial balance. Furthermore, the district court has been managing this case since 1963. Based on the court's knowledge and experience with this case, it is in the best position to judge the evidence and determine whether dissolution of the desegregation decree is appropriate at this time. Because the parties have not carried their burden of showing that the racial disparities that continue to plague the County's schools are not the vestiges of past unlawful discrimination, I would affirm the district court's judgment.
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 566 F.3d 642, 657 (6th Cir. May 21, 2009) (Marbley, J., dissenting).

On July 16, 2009, the district court followed the Sixth Circuit's mandate and dismissed the case, thus ending its supervision over desegregation in the Shelby County schools.

Post-script: In 2013, the Memphis City school system merged with the surrounding Shelby County school district to form one consolidated school system.

Available Opinions
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 311 F.Supp. 97 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 6, 1970)
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 429 F.2d 11 (6th Cir. June 25, 1970)
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 442 F.2d 255 (6th Cir. May 10, 1971)
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 330 F.Supp. 837 (W.D. Tenn. June 23, 1971)
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 467 F.2d 1187 (6th Cir. Sept. 21, 1972)
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 643 F.Supp. 111 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 9, 1986)
Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education, 566 F.3d 642 (6th Cir. May 21, 2009)

Greg Margolis - 03/06/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Busing
Discrimination Prohibition
Preliminary relief granted
Recordkeeping
Reporting
Student assignment
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Disparate Treatment
Education
Racial segregation
School/University Facilities
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Race
Black
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title IV, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq.
Defendant(s) Shelby County
Plaintiff Description African-American minor children, by and through their parents, who attend school in Shelby County, Tennessee; the United States also intervened as a plaintiff.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NAACP Legal Defense Fund
U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1964 - 2009
Case Closing Year 2009
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  A Procedural History of Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education
Pacer
Date: Jul. 26, 2007
By: Chambers Staff (United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2:63-cv-04916-BBD-dkv (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/17/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Order Denying Petition By Shelby County Board of Education to Construct Ten Permanent Additional Classrooms at Lucy Elementary School (643 F.Supp. 111) (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/09/1966
Source: Westlaw
Order (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/19/1967
Source: Papers of Owen Fiss
[Order] (311 F.Supp. 97) (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/06/1970
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (429 F.2d 11)
SD-TN-0003-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/25/1970
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (442 F.2d 255)
SD-TN-0003-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/10/1971
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (330 F.Supp. 837) (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/23/1971
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (467 F.2d 1187)
SD-TN-0003-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/21/1972
Source: Westlaw
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Joint Motion to Dissolve Order of the Court and Declare Shelby County School System a Unitary System [ECF# 460] (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/26/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part the Joint Motion to Dissolve Order of the Court and Declare Shelby County School System a Unitary System [ECF# 460] (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/26/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Approval of Changes Middle School Boundaries [ECF# 499]
SD-TN-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/07/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Motion for Approval of Changes To Middle School Boundaries [ECF# 506] (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/01/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
[Order] (566 F.3d 642)
SD-TN-0003-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/21/2009
Source: Westlaw
Judges Brooks, Henry Luesing (W.D. Ky., Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0006
Brown, Bailey (W.D. Tenn., Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0003 | SD-TN-0003-0005 | SD-TN-0003-0008
Cook, Deborah L. (Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0011
Donald, Bernice Bouie (W.D. Tenn., Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0002 | SD-TN-0003-0004 | SD-TN-0003-0012 | SD-TN-0003-9000
Fields, Richard Court not on record
SD-TN-0003-9000
Griffin, Richard Allen (Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0011
Horton, Odell (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0003-0010
Marbley, Algenon L. (S.D. Ohio)
SD-TN-0003-0011
McCree, Wade Hampton Jr. (E.D. Mich., Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0007 | SD-TN-0003-0009
Miller, William Ernest (M.D. Tenn., Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0007 | SD-TN-0003-0009
Phillips, Harry (Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0006
Weick, Paul Charles (N.D. Ohio, Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0003-0006 | SD-TN-0003-0007 | SD-TN-0003-0009
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lee, Bill Lann (District of Columbia)
SD-TN-0003-9000
Moore, John R. (District of Columbia)
SD-TN-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Speakman, Valerie B. (Tennessee)
SD-TN-0003-0001 | SD-TN-0003-9000
Winchester, Richard L. Jr. (Tennessee)
SD-TN-0003-9000
Other Lawyers Bailey, Javier M. (Tennessee)
SD-TN-0003-9000

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