470 U.S. 532 (1985), 83-1362, Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill

Docket Nº:No. 83-1362
Citation:470 U.S. 532, 105 S.Ct. 1487, 84 L.Ed.2d 494, 53 U.S.L.W. 4306
Party Name:Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill
Case Date:March 19, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 532

470 U.S. 532 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 1487, 84 L.Ed.2d 494, 53 U.S.L.W. 4306

Cleveland Board of Education

v.

Loudermill

No. 83-1362

United States Supreme Court

March 19, 1985

Argued December 3, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In No. 83-1362, petitioner Board of Education hired respondent Loudermill as a security guard. On his job application, Loudermill stated that he had never been convicted of a felony. Subsequently, upon discovering that he had in fact been convicted of grand larceny, the Board dismissed him for dishonesty in filling out the job application. He was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the dishonesty charge or to challenge the dismissal. Under Ohio law, Loudermill was a "classified civil servant," and by statute, as such an employee, could be terminated only for cause, and was entitled to administrative review of the dismissal. He filed an appeal with the Civil Service Commission, which, after hearings before a referee and the Commission, upheld the dismissal some nine months after the appeal had been filed. Although the Commission's decision was subject to review in the state courts, Loudermill instead filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that the Ohio statute providing for administrative review was unconstitutional on its face because it provided no opportunity for a discharged employee to respond to charges against him prior to removal, thus depriving him of liberty and property without due process. It was also alleged that the statute was unconstitutional as applied, because discharged employees were not given sufficiently prompt postremoval hearings. The District Court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, holding that, because the very statute that created the property right in continued employment also specified the procedures for discharge, and because those procedures were followed, Loudermill was, by definition, afforded all the process due; that the post-termination hearings also adequately protected Loudermill's property interest; and that, in light of the Commission's crowded docket, the delay in processing his appeal was constitutionally acceptable. In No. 83-1363, petitioner Board of Education fired respondent Donnelly from his job as a bus mechanic because he had

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failed an eye examination. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, which ordered him reinstated, but without backpay. He then filed a complaint in Federal District Court essentially identical to Loudermill's, and the court dismissed for failure to state a claim. On a consolidated appeal, the Court of Appeals [105 S.Ct. 1489] reversed in part and remanded, holding that both respondents had been deprived of due process and that the compelling private interest in retaining employment, combined with the value of presenting evidence prior to dismissal, outweighed the added administrative burden of a pretermination hearing. But with regard to the alleged deprivation of liberty and Loudermill's 9-month wait for an administrative decision, the court affirmed the District Court, finding no constitutional violation.

Held: All the process that is due is provided by a pretermination opportunity to respond, coupled with post-termination administrative procedures as provided by the Ohio statute; since respondents alleged that they had no chance to respond, the District Court erred in dismissing their complaints for failure to state a claim. Pp. 538-548.

(a) The Ohio statute plainly supports the conclusion that respondents possess property rights in continued employment. The Due Process Clause provides that the substantive rights of life, liberty, and property cannot be deprived except pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures. The categories of substance and procedure are distinct. "Property" cannot be defined by the procedures provided for its deprivation. Pp. 538-541.

(b) The principle that, under the Due Process Clause, an individual must be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest requires "some kind of hearing" prior to the discharge of an employee who has a constitutionally protected property interest in his employment. The need for some form of pretermination hearing is evident from a balancing of the competing interests at stake: the private interest in retaining employment, the governmental interests in expeditious removal of unsatisfactory employees and the avoidance of administrative burdens, and the risk of an erroneous termination. Pp. 542-545.

(c) The pretermination hearing need not definitively resolve the propriety of the discharge, but should be an initial check against mistaken decisions essentially a determination of whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the charges against the employee are true and support the proposed action. The essential requirements of due process are notice and an opportunity to respond. Pp. 545-546.

(d) The delay in Loudermill's administrative proceedings did not constitute a separate constitutional violation. The Due Process Clause

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requires provision of a hearing "at a meaningful time," and here the delay stemmed in part from the thoroughness of the procedures. Pp. 546-547.

721 F.2d 550, affirmed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, in Parts I, II, III, and IV of which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in Part II of which MARSHALL, J., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 548. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post p. 551. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 559.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In these cases, we consider what pretermination process must be accorded a public employee who can be discharged only for cause.

I

In 1979, the Cleveland Board of Education, petitioner in No. 83-1362, hired respondent James Loudermill as a security guard. On his job application, Loudermill stated that he had never been convicted of a felony. Eleven months later, as part of a routine examination of his employment records, the Board discovered that, in fact, Loudermill had been convicted of grand larceny in 1968. By letter dated November 3, 1980, the Board's Business Manager informed Loudermill that he had been dismissed because of his dishonesty in filling out the employment application. Loudermill was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the charge of dishonesty or to [105 S.Ct. 1490] challenge his dismissal. On November 13, the Board adopted a resolution officially approving the discharge.

Under Ohio law, Loudermill was a "classified civil servant." Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 124.11 (1984). Such employees can be terminated only for cause, and may obtain administrative review if discharged. § 124.34. Pursuant to this provision, Loudermill filed an appeal with the Cleveland Civil Service Commission on November 12. The Commission appointed a referee, who held a hearing on January 29, 1981. Loudermill argued that he had thought that his 1968 larceny conviction was for a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. The referee recommended reinstatement. On July 20, 1981, the

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full Commission heard argument and orally announced that it would uphold the dismissal. Proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law followed on August 10, and Loudermill's attorneys were advised of the result by mail on August 21.

Although the Commission's decision was subject to judicial review in the state courts, Loudermill instead brought the present suit in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The complaint alleged that § 124.34 was unconstitutional on its face because it did not provide the employee an opportunity to respond to the charges against him prior to removal. As a result, discharged employees were deprived of liberty and property without due process. The complaint also alleged that the provision was unconstitutional as applied because discharged employees were not given sufficiently prompt postremoval hearings.

Before a responsive pleading was filed, the District Court dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. See Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 12(b)(6). It held that, because the very statute that created the property right in continued employment also specified the procedures for discharge, and because those procedures were followed, Loudermill was, by definition, afforded all the process due. The post-termination hearing also adequately protected Loudermill's liberty interests. Finally, the District Court concluded that, in light of the Commission's crowded docket, the delay in processing Loudermill's administrative appeal was constitutionally acceptable. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 83-1362, pp. A36-A42.

The other case before us arises on similar facts, and followed a similar course. Respondent Richard Donnelly was a bus mechanic for the Parma Board of Education. In August, 1977, Donnelly was fired because he had failed an eye examination. He was offered a chance to retake the examination, but did not do so. Like Loudermill, Donnelly appealed to the Civil Service Commission. After a year of wrangling about the timeliness of his appeal, the Commission heard

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the case. It ordered Donnelly reinstated, though without backpay.1 In a complaint essentially identical to Loudermill's, Donnelly challenged the constitutionality of the dismissal procedures. The District Court dismissed for failure to state a claim, relying on its opinion in Loudermill.

The District Court denied a joint motion to alter or amend its judgment,2 and the cases were consolidated for appeal. A divided panel [105 S.Ct. 1491] of the Court of...

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