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Pennsylvania v. Board of City Trusts

    Brief Fact Summary. Girard College was created through a trust left by Stephen Girard and managed by the Board of Directors of City Trusts of the City of Philadelphia since 1869. When Stephen Girard founded the college he directed the college to admit all poor white orphans between the ages of six and ten years that the fund can maintain. In 1954 Foust and Felder (Petitioners) applied for admission, were rejected simply because of their race, and filed suit claiming a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because of their exclusion because of their racial status.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A trust, donated by private funds, but administered by a public body is considered to be a state actor for analysis under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

    Facts. Stephen Girard, through his will, left a trust fund for the creation and maintenance of a college. In his will he specified that the college was to admit “as many poor white male orphans, between the ages of six and ten years, as the said income shall be adequate to maintain.” The will further named the city of Philadelphia as trustee, and the State and City carried out the provisions of the will with the opening of the college in 1848. The trust has been administered and the college operated by the Board of Directors of City Trusts of the City of Philadelphia since 1869. In February 1954 Petitioners applied for admission, and met all qualifications except for the fact they were Negroes. They petitioned the Orphan’s Court of Philadelphia County to order the Board of Directors to admit them, alleging that their exclusion because of their race violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The State of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia later joined the suit, also
    contending that the Board’s action violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Nevertheless the Orphan’s Court rejected the constitutional contention and refused to admit the Petitioners, and was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

    Issue. Is the Board that operates Girard College an agency of the State of Pennsylvania, therefore requiring compliance with the Fourteenth Amendment?

    Held. Yes. The Board is an agency of the State of Pennsylvania even though the Board is operating as a trustee. Therefore, because the refusal to admit the Petitioners simply because of their racial status as a state actor is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, they must be reconsidered for readmission omitting this status. The case is therefore remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

    Discussion. This case is one of an expansive number of cases that enlarge the realm of what constitutes a state actor. Even though a trust may be comprised entirely of private funds, as long as a public entity has oversight over the trust, it crosses the threshold and becomes a state actor and must provide the rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.


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