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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1975, a class of African-American citizens of Mississippi initiated litigation challenging that state’s segregated higher education system. By the late 1980s, the federal district court finally ruled that the state had adopted race-neutral policies and procedures, including affirmative action, to reform its former de jure segregation. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court ruled the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI require Mississippi to abolish any policy or practice that 1. is traceable to de jure segregation, 2. continues to have segregative effects, 3. is without sound educational justification, and 4. can be practicably eliminated. The court added a caveat, though, that its ruling did not force the state to upgrade three historically black colleges (Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State) so that they’d be publicly financed. On remand in 1995, the district court issued a remedial decree. Among other things, the decree accepted the state board of higher education’s admissions standards, which applied uniform standards under the American College Test to both historically white and historically black colleges, and which provided additional criteria and alternative paths to admission. The decree also supported expanded academic offerings at Jackson State, and it placed all state universities’ facilities fund in state control, rather than in the individual university’s control. In 1997, the 5th Circuit remanded many of the above issues. The appeals court said the ACT policy as applied to scholarships had to be reviewed; that the possibility of consolidating Mississippi Valley State and Delta State be explored; and that the board should report on new programs that would have a reasonable chance of increasing the number non-African-Americans at Alcorn State. The court also advised the board to closely monitor the summer remedial program, which was one of the alternative paths to admission. On remand in 1998, the district court found that consolidating the two schools was impractical; that programs were in place to attract non-African-American students to Alcorn State; that a Ph.D. program was being implemented at Jackson State; and that the use of the ACT in scholarship determinations was being monitored. Dr. Jerry Boone was appointed to further monitor these findings. By October 1999, the district court ruled that the board had complied with the courts’ recommendations. In July 2000, the district court approved the state’s appropriation of funds to build an MBA program at Alcorn State. In January 2001, the court approved of the board’s decisions that a law school at Jackson State was unnecessary, and that the pharmacy program at the University of Mississippi was enough to meet statewide demand for pharmacy studies. In February 2001, the court found the facilities-maintenance funds administration met the terms of the decree. The following issues remained: 1. further review of the uniform admissions standards; 2. continued evaluation of the summer remedial program; 3. investigation of potential new academic programs that might help to desegregate Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State; 4. assessment of equipment funding; and 5. consideration of the use of ACT scores as a component of the criteria for awarding scholarships. The class of plaintiffs then negotiated a settlement to relieve the board of any further obligations. The board agreed to pay $500,000 per year for five years, and $750,000 annual for five more years to supplement the summer program, and it agreed to widely publicize the program. More than $245 million is to be spent over the next 17 years to enhance the academic programs for the three historically black colleges. Furthermore, the board is to establish a $70 million public endowment for those schools, and work to raise $35 million in private funds over the next 14 years; and it is to provide for up to $75 million in capital improvements. The settlement specifies that these appropriations are not to supplant normal state funding of the three schools and that Jackson State is to be touted as a comprehensive university. Finally, the agreement provides for all of the class attorneys to be paid $2.5 million for fees, costs and expenses, and for the board to report annually to the lead plaintiff’s attorney. Several members of the plaintiff class attempted to opt out of the settlement, but the district court denied their request. The district court eventually approved of the settlement, after publishing the terms in the newspaper and receiving assurances from the state legislature that it would agree to the funding mandates. The plaintiffs who attempted to opt out appeal. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court sets out the six criteria for reviewing a district court’s approval of a settlement agreement resolving a class action suit: (1) the existence of fraud or collusion behind the settlement; (2) the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed; (4) the probability of plaintiffs’ success on the merits; (5) the range of possible recovery; and (6) the opinions of the class counsel, class representatives, and absent class members. Finding no fraud or collusion, the court then takes note of the protracted nature of this litigation. The settlement would provide relief sooner for the class than continued litigation would. Further, the multiple court rulings to this point now control the legal issues, and the parties and the district court now have ample information with which to evaluate the merits of each side. The opt-out plaintiffs say that the class would not likely have success on the merits on the issues of funding for the historically black colleges, and in the requirement that those schools strive for minimum other-race enrollment. Further, the settlement doesn’t address faculty salaries, governance, accreditation, and allocation of land-grant functions among the three schools. First, as was said in the appeals court’s 1997 ruling, more funding is not likely to desegregate historically black universities. The settlement provides for academic program enhancement at those schools that will respond to local needs and help desegregate those schools, not to mention the professional programs added to Jackson State. All of the opt-out plaintiffs’ complaints have already been addressed by prior court rulings, including their call for lower admissions standards at the three school, which has already been rejected and affirmed on appeal. As to the 10 percent requirement for other-race students, the court finds that this provision will not encourage historically black universities to discriminate in admitting students since admission standards are uniform across the state. Instead, the requirement will give those school the legitimate incentive to recruit non-African-American students. There was no requirement that the board designate each school with a mission, and a prior rejection of the necessity of addressing faculty salaries, promotion of African-American professors and accreditation was affirmed on appeal. The sixth factor weighs in favor of affirming the district court’s settlement order even if several class members disagree with it. The opt-out plaintiffs complain of inadequate representation during the settlement negotiations. They say the class counsel, Isaac Byrd, is primarily a personal-injury lawyer, not an experienced civil-rights lawyer, but the court finds no evidence that Byrd’s representation was inadequate. The court also upholds the award of attorneys’ fees in a lump sum. Finally, the court rules that the district court correctly refused to let the small group of plaintiffs opt out. The class has always requested relief for the class as a whole, not individual relief, and the opt-out plaintiffs have not established why they are have individualized claims. Additionally, the class has been in existence for nearly 30 years, yet the opt-out plaintiffs have not complained until now that the class was improperly certified. OPINION:King, C.J.; King, C.J., Jolly and Dennis, JJ.

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