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U.S. Supreme Court

Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534 (1986)

Bender v. Williamsport Area School District

No. 84-773

Argued October 15, 1985

Decided March 25, 1986

475 U.S. 534


When a group of high school students in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, formed a club for the purpose of promoting "spiritual growth and positive attitudes in the lives of its members," they asked the Principal for permission to hold club meetings on the school premises during student activity periods. The matter was referred to the School Superintendent, who denied permission on the basis of an opinion of the School District Solicitor, and the School Board upheld the denial. The students then filed suit in Federal District Court against the School District, members of the School Board, the Superintendent, and the Principal, alleging that the refusal to allow the club to meet on the same basis as other student groups because of its religious activities violated the First Amendment, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court, on motions for summary judgment, ruled in the students' favor, but entered no injunction and granted no relief against any defendant in his individual capacity. The School District took no appeal, but complied with the judgment and allowed the students' club to conduct the meetings as requested. However, respondent Youngman (hereafter respondent), who was then still a member of the School Board, did appeal. No one raised any question about his standing to appeal, and the Court of Appeals held in his favor.

Held: Respondent had no standing to appeal, and therefore the Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction to hear his appeal. Pp. 475 U. S. 541-549.

(a) Federal courts have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the federal statutes enacted pursuant thereto. Every federal appellate court must satisfy itself that the party seeking to invoke its jurisdiction has a sufficient stake in the outcome of the litigation to support that jurisdiction. Pp. 475 U. S. 541-543.

(b) Respondent had no standing to appeal in his individual capacity. Although the complaint alleged that the action was brought against the defendants "in their individual and official capacities," there is nothing else in the complaint or in the record to support the suggestion that relief was sought or awarded against any School Board member in his individual capacity. P. 475 U. S. 543.

(c) As a member of the School Board sued in his official capacity, respondent had no personal stake in the outcome of the litigation, and chanrobles.com-red

Page 475 U. S. 535

therefore had no standing to appeal in that capacity. His status as a Board member did not permit him to "step into the shoes of the Board" and invoke its right to appeal. Pp. 475 U. S. 543-545.

(d) Nor did respondent have standing to appeal in his capacity as a parent of a student attending the high school. There is nothing in the record to indicate anything about his status as a parent, or to indicate that he or his children have suffered any injury as a result of the District Court's judgment or of the activities of the club in question subsequent to the entry of that judgment. Respondent was not sued as a parent, and thus was plainly not a "party" in that capacity in the District Court. Pp. 475 U. S. 545-549.

741 F.2d 538, vacated and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 475 U. S. 549. BURGER, C.J.,filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 475 U. S. 551. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 475 U. S. 555. chanrobles.com-red

Page 475 U. S. 536