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Case Name Williams v. Bryant ED-MS-0006
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-404 ( S.D. Miss. )
State/Territory Mississippi
Case Type(s) Education
Attorney Organization Southern Poverty Law Center
Case Summary
In 1870, Congress passed Mississippi’s Readmission Act returning Mississippi to full statehood following the Civil War on certain conditions including that “the constitution of Mississippi shall never be so amended or changed as to deprive any citizen or class of citizens of the United States ... read more >
In 1870, Congress passed Mississippi’s Readmission Act returning Mississippi to full statehood following the Civil War on certain conditions including that “the constitution of Mississippi shall never be so amended or changed as to deprive any citizen or class of citizens of the United States of the school rights and privileges secured by the constitution of said State.” 16 Stat. 67 (1870).

On May 23, 2017, four low-income African American women filed this lawsuit on behalf of their children, students of Mississippi schools, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi against various officials in Mississippi's government, including the Governor, Speaker of the House, Lieutenant Governor and presider over the Senate, Secretary of State, and the entire Board of Education. Represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and co-counsel, the plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Ex parte Young claiming that Mississippi failed to meet its obligations related to "school rights and privileges" under the Mississippi Readmission Act. The plaintiffs sought declaratory judgment that the educational requirements under the 1869 Mississippi Constitution and the Readmission Act remain in effect and that the current Mississippi Constitution conflicts with the Readmission Act. In addition, they sought attorneys' fees and costs. The case was assigned to Judge William H. Barbour.

Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Mississippi was not upholding the Readmission Act because there was a significant disparity in the conditions and education at plaintiffs' schools where students were primarily African American and schools where students were predominantly white and wealthy. The state’s top five highest-performing school districts were predominantly white whereas thirteen of the state’s nineteen school districts with an “F” rating were more than 95 percent African American. The plaintiffs’ children attended elementary schools in the Jackson Public School District and the Yazoo City Municipal School District, both with an “F” letter grade from the Mississippi Department of Education. The plaintiffs claimed the schools lacked textbooks, supplies, and experienced teachers and were in poor condition. For example, the complaint noted that at some schools paint was peeling off the walls and the ceilings had visible water spots.

On March 28, 2018, Judge Barbour dismissed the case with prejudice, finding that it was barred under Eleventh Amendment Immunity. The Court found that while the plaintiffs were only suing state officials, not the state, they were suing state officials in their official capacities, and therefore, the state was the real substantial party in interest and enjoyed sovereign immunity. Further, the Court held that the Ex parte Young doctrine that creates an exception to state sovereign immunity, was not applicable in this case because the plaintiffs were not seeking injunctive relief.

The plaintiffs then moved to have the judgment altered and for leave to file an amended complaint. On January 4, 2019, Judge Barbour found the Court did not err in finding the claims barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, but altered the judgment so that the case was dismissed without prejudice. 2019 WL 3757948. He denied the plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint and entered a final judgment dismissing the case without prejudice. The plaintiffs promptly appealed the judgment to the Fifth Circuit on January 25, 2019. The appeal was docketed as 19-60069.

The Fifth Circuit (Circuit Judges Stephen A. Higginson, E. Grady Jolly, and James E. Graves Jr.) affirmed in part and vacated in part. 954 F.3d 729. It found the plaintiffs' claim seeking a declaration that the current version of Mississippi's Constitution violated the Readmissions Act could be pursued under the Ex parte Young exception to state sovereign immunity because the defendants were state officers sued in their official capacities and the plaintiffs alleged a continuing violation of federal law--the Readmission Act. However, the Fifth Circuit affirmed that the claim seeking a declaration that the 1868 Mississippi Constitution remained in effect was barred by state sovereign immunity and Ex parte Young did not apply because this would require a federal court to tell state officials how to conform to state law. The Fifth Circuit denied the defendants' request for rehearing en banc (9-8). 981 F.3d 437 Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones, joined by the seven other Circuit Judges voting for rehearing, dissented, arguing that the request for a declaration the current Mississippi Constitution violated the federal Readmission Act would necessarily require the impermissible adjudication of a question of state law.

On January 13, 2021, the defendants filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court (Case No. 20A126). They also filled an application with the Supreme Court to stay the mandate of the Fifth Circuit pending the Supreme Court's decision on whether to grant review. Back in the district court, the case was reassigned to District Judge Kristi H. Jonhson and then District Judge Henry T. Wingate in January 2021. As of February 5, 2021, the petition for review remained pending, and the case is ongoing.

Kennon Wales - 02/05/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Race
Black
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) Mississpi
Plaintiff Description 4 low-income African American women on behalf of their children, kindergarten and first-grade students of Jackson Public School District and the Yazoo City Municipal School District, both of which received "F" ratings from the Mississippi Department of Education.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Southern Poverty Law Center
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 05/23/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Indigo Williams, et. al. v. Phil Bryant et. al.
Southern Poverty Law Center
Date: 2020
By: Southern Poverty Law Center
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
S.D. Miss.
01/12/2021
3:17-cv-00404-HTW-LGI
ED-MS-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
S.D. Miss.
05/23/2017
Complaint [ECF# 1]
ED-MS-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Miss.
03/28/2018
Opinion and Order [ECF# 31] (2018 WL 8996382)
ED-MS-0006-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Miss.
01/04/2019
Opinion and Order [ECF# 39] (2019 WL 3757948)
ED-MS-0006-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/02/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 00515370195] (954 F.3d 729)
ED-MS-0006-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/02/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 00515370195] (981 F.3d 437)
ED-MS-0006-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: State Court Website
show all people docs
Judges Barbour, William Henry Jr. (S.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0002 | ED-MS-0006-0003
Graves, James Earl Jr. (State Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0004 | ED-MS-0006-0005
Greer Isaac, LaKeysha Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-9000
Higginson, Stephen Andrew (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0004 | ED-MS-0006-0005
Jolly, E. Grady (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0004 | ED-MS-0006-0005
Wingate, Henry Travillion (S.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bardwell, William B. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Bender, Rita L (Washington) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Bender, William J (Washington) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Bischoff, Christine Camille (Mississippi) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-9000
Elias, Brad M (New York) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Metlitsky, Anton (New York) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Owens, Jody E. II (Mississippi) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Wright, Lydia (Louisiana) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-0001 | ED-MS-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Nobile, Krissy Casey (Mississippi) show/hide docs
ED-MS-0006-9000

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