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Davidson v. Community Consolidated School District 181

November 12, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 96 C 3394--George W. Lindberg, Judge.

Before RIPPLE, MANION and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.



Bruce C. Davidson and Marie C. Bill, candidates for election to the school board of the defendant Community Consolidated School District 181 ("the District"), appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment. In their complaint, Mr. Davidson and Ms. Bill ("the candidates") alleged that the District violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when it permitted the Union representing the District's teachers to use the District's internal mail system to communicate with the teachers about the school board election. The candidates were not permitted such access. *fn1 For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.



The candidates were among six candidates competing for four vacancies on the District 181 school board. Arlene Berger is president of the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Classroom Teacher Association ("Union"), the exclusive bargaining representative of the teachers in the District. On October 30, 1995, Ms. Berger, acting in her capacity as union president, prepared two memoranda endorsing three candidates for the upcoming school board election. One memorandum was addressed to union members and the other to nonunion staff. Using school paper and copying equipment, Ms. Berger made 215 copies of the union fliers and 85 copies of the staff fliers. Ms. Berger personally handed out the fliers at the school where she taught and mailed the rest to union representatives at other district schools. She used the District's internal mail system. Once the union representatives received the fliers, they personally distributed them at their own schools.

The candidates in this lawsuit were not among those endorsed by the Union. When Mr. Davidson learned of the union endorsement mailing, he complained to District Superintendent David Hendrix that use of the internal mail system involved an illegal use of district resources for political purposes. Hendrix brushed off Davidson's complaint and suggested, in jest, that Mr. Davidson could use the mail system to distribute his campaign literature. *fn2 Mr. Davidson won a seat on the school board, but Ms. Bill did not. After the election, Ms. Berger asked the District to prepare an invoice in connection with the distribution of the endorsement fliers. The District then mailed an invoice for $21.06 to the Union on November 10. The Union paid it on November 21. *fn3

The focus of this lawsuit is the District's internal mail system. The District employs a courier who transports mail among the various schools in the District by means of a van owned by the District and used strictly for district business. The District's internal mail system is not available for unrestricted use by the public at large. The District also has an unwritten policy of allowing unrestricted use of the system to district employees, parent-teacher organizations and the Union. The District does not review the content of the mailings by these groups. In addition, the District has a formal policy which permits the superintendent, at his discretion, to allow any person to use the mail system to circulate brochures "publicizing events of interest to children." This latter policy is not at issue in this case.


The district court held that this case is controlled by the Supreme Court's decision in Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association, 460 U.S. 37 (1983). See Davidson v. Community Consol. Sch. Dist. 181, No. 96 C 3394, 1997 WL 135888, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 11, 1997). Relying on Perry, the court held that the school district's internal mail system was not a public forum and, consequently, the District may restrict access to its internal mail system as long as the restrictions are viewpoint neutral and "'reasonable in light of the purpose which the forum at issue serves.'" Id. (quoting Perry, 460 U.S. at 49).

The district court determined that District 181's regulation of its internal mail system was viewpoint neutral because the District's regulations, like those in Perry, distinguish classes of speakers based on their identity rather than on their point of view. Id. Next, the district court held that the District's internal mail policy was reasonable in light of the purposes it serves. Id. at *4. In reaching this determination, the district court noted that the Supreme Court held in Perry that it was reasonable for an elected teachers' union to use the internal mail system to "'express its independent view on matters within the scope of its representational duties.'" Id. at *3 (quoting Perry, 460 U.S. at 51 n.10). Thus, the district court concluded that the use in this ...

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