408 U.S. 593 (1972), 70-36, Perry v. Sindermann

Docket Nº:No. 70-36
Citation:408 U.S. 593, 92 S.Ct. 2694, 33 L.Ed.2d 570
Party Name:Perry v. Sindermann
Case Date:June 29, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 593

408 U.S. 593 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 2694, 33 L.Ed.2d 570

Perry

v.

Sindermann

No. 70-36

United States Supreme Court

June 29, 1972

Argued January 18, 1972

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent was employed in a state college system for 10 years, the last four as a junior college professor under a series of one-year written contracts. The Regents declined to renew his employment for the next year without giving him an explanation or prior hearing. Respondent then brought this action in the District Court, alleging that the decision not to rehire him was based on respondent's public criticism of the college administration, and thus infringed his free speech right, and that the Regents' failure to afford him a hearing violated his procedural due process right. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners, concluding that respondent's contract had terminated and the junior college had not adopted the tenure system. The Court of Appeals reversed on the grounds that, despite lack of tenure, nonrenewal of respondent's contract would violate the Fourteenth Amendment if it was in fact, based on his protected free speech, and that, if respondent could show that he had an "expectancy" of reemployment, the failure to allow him an opportunity for a hearing would violate the procedural due process guarantee.

Held:

1. Lack of a contractual or tenure right to reemployment, taken alone, did not defeat respondent's claim that the nonrenewal of his contract violated his free speech right under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court therefore erred in foreclosing determination of the contested issue whether the decision not to renew was based on respondent's exercise of his right of free speech. Pp. 596-598.

2. Though a subjective "expectancy" of tenure is not protected by procedural due process, respondent's allegation that the college had a de facto tenure policy, arising from rules and understandings officially promulgated and fostered, entitled him to an opportunity of proving the legitimacy of his claim to job tenure. Such proof would obligate the college to afford him a requested hearing where he could be informed of the grounds for his nonretention and challenge their sufficiency. Pp. 599-603.

430 F.2d 939, affirmed.

Page 594

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 603. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in which DOUGLAS, J., joined, post, p. 604. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 605. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

From 1959 to 1969, the respondent, Robert Sindermann, was a teacher in the state college system of the State of Texas. After teaching for two years at the University of Texas and for four years at San Antonio Junior College, he became a professor of Government and Social Science at Odessa Junior College in 1965. He was employed at the college for four successive years, under a series of one-year contracts. He was successful enough to be appointed, for a time, the co-chairman of his department.

During the 1968-1969 academic year, however, controversy arose between the respondent and the college administration. The respondent was elected president of the Texas Junior College Teachers Association. In this capacity, he left his teaching duties on several occasions to testify before committees of the Texas Legislature,

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and he became involved in public disagreements with the policies of the college's Board of Regents. In particular, he aligned himself with a group advocating the elevation of the college to four-year status -- a change opposed by the Regents. And, on one occasion, a newspaper advertisement appeared over his name that was highly critical of the Regents.

Finally, in May, 1969, the respondent's one-year employment contract terminated and the Board of Regents voted not to offer him a new contract for the next academic year. The Regents issued a press release setting forth allegations of the respondent's insubordination.1 But they provided him no official statement of the reasons for the nonrenewal of his contract. And they allowed him no opportunity for a hearing to challenge the basis of the nonrenewal.

The respondent then brought this action in Federal District Court. He alleged primarily that the Regents' decision not to rehire him was based on his public criticism of the policies of the college administration, and thus infringed his right to freedom of speech. He also alleged that their failure to provide him an opportunity for a hearing violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of procedural due process. The petitioners -- members of the Board of Regents and the president of the college -- denied that their decision was made in retaliation for the respondent's public criticism, and argued that they had no obligation to provide a hearing.2 On the basis of these bare pleadings and three

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brief affidavits filed by the respondent,3 the District Court granted summary judgment for the petitioners. It concluded that the respondent had

no cause of action against the [petitioners], since his contract of employment terminated May 31, 1969, and Odessa Junior College has not adopted the tenure system.4

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court. 430 F.2d 939. First, it held that, despite the respondent's lack of tenure, the nonrenewal of his contract would violate the Fourteenth Amendment if it in fact, was based on his protected free speech. Since the actual reason for the Regents' decision was "in total dispute" in the pleadings, the court remanded the case for a full hearing on this contested issue of fact. Id. at 942-943. Second, the Court of Appeals held that, despite the respondent's lack of tenure, the failure to allow him an opportunity for a hearing would violate the constitutional guarantee of procedural due process if the respondent could show that he had an "expectancy" of reemployment. It therefore ordered that this issue of fact also be aired upon remand. Id. at 943-944. We granted a writ of certiorari, 403 U.S. 917, and we have considered this case along with Board of Regents v. Roth, ante p. 564.

I

The first question presented is whether the respondent's lack of a contractual or tenure right to reemployment, taken alone, defeats his claim that the nonrenewal of his contract violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. We hold that it does not.

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For at least a quarter-century, this Court has made clear that, even though a person has no "right" to a valuable governmental benefit, and even though the government may deny him the benefit for any number of reasons, there are some reasons upon which the government may not rely. It may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interest, especially his interest in freedom of speech. For if the government could deny a benefit to a person because of his constitutionally protected speech or associations, his exercise of those freedoms would in effect be penalized and inhibited. This would allow the government to "produce a result which [it] could not command directly." Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 526. Such interference with constitutional rights is impermissible.

We have applied this general principle to denials of tax exemptions, Speiser v. Randall, supra, unemployment benefits, Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 404-405, and welfare payments, Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 627 n. 6; Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 374. But, most often, we have applied the principle to denials of public employment. United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 100; Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 192; Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 485-486; Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495-496; Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 894; Cramp v. Board of Public Instruction, 368 U.S. 278, 288; Bagett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360; Elfbrandt v. Russell, 384 U.S. 11, 17; Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 605-606; Whitehill v. Elkins, 389 U.S. 54; United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258; Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568. We have applied the principle regardless of the public employee's contractual or other claim to a job. Compare Pickering v. Board of Education, supra, with Shelton v. Tucker, supra.

Thus, the respondent's lack of a contractual or tenure

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"right" to reemployment for the 1969-1970 academic year is immaterial to his free speech claim. Indeed, twice before, this Court has specifically held that the nonrenewal of a nontenured public school teacher's one-year contract may not be predicated on his exercise of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Shelton v. Tucker, supra; Keyishian v. Board of Regents, supra. We reaffirm those holdings here.

In this case, of course, the respondent has yet to show that the decision not to renew his contract was, in fact, made in retaliation for his exercise of the constitutional right of free speech. The District Court foreclosed any opportunity to make this showing when it granted summary judgment. Hence, we cannot now hold that the Board of Regents' action was invalid.

But we agree with the Court of Appeals that there is a genuine dispute as to "whether the college refused to renew the teaching contract on an impermissible basis -- as a reprisal for the exercise of constitutionally protected rights." 430 F.2d at 943. The respondent has alleged that his nonretention was based on his testimony before legislative committees and his other public statements critical of the Regents' policies. And he has...

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