530 F.2d 567 (4th Cir. 1975), 75--1191, Satterfield v. Edenton-Chowan Bd. of Ed.

Docket Nº:75--1191.
Citation:530 F.2d 567
Party Name:Richard L. SATTERFIELD, Appellant, v. The EDENTON-CHOWAN BOARD OF EDUCATION, a public body corporate of Chowan County, North Carolina, et al., Appellees.
Case Date:December 05, 1975
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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530 F.2d 567 (4th Cir. 1975)

Richard L. SATTERFIELD, Appellant,

v.

The EDENTON-CHOWAN BOARD OF EDUCATION, a public body

corporate of Chowan County, North Carolina, et

al., Appellees.

No. 75--1191.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 5, 1975

Argued June 13, 1975.

Page 568

Louis L. Lesesne, Jr., Charlotte, N.C. (Adam Stein, Chambers, Stein & Ferguson, Charlotte, N.C., on brief), for appellant.

Norman W. Shearin, Jr., Elizabeth City, N.C., Wiley J. P. Earnhardt, Jr., Edenton, N.C. (L. P. Hornthal, Jr., LeRoy, Wells, Shaw, Hornthal, Riley & Sherin, Elizabeth City, N.C., Earnhardt & Busby, Edenton, N.C., on brief), for appellees.

Before RUSSELL, FIELD and WIDENER, Circuit Judges.

DONALD RUSSELL, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiff appeals from a judgment of the District Court dismissing his action for affirmative injunctive relief reinstating him in his position as teacher and bandmaster in the defendant Edenton-Chowan School system, and for back pay, attorneys' fees and costs. We affirm.

The plaintiff is black. For eighteen years he had been employed as a teacher and band director in the defendant school system. For some years prior to 1970, he had been employed as a band director at a junior high school which had been integrated under court order in 1968. In the spring of 1970 a vacancy developed at the senior high school in the system. The plaintiff applied for transfer to that position. The District Court found, and the plaintiff does not contest, that the school authorities at the time expressed some doubt of the plaintiff's competency to assume the greater responsibility connected with the position at the senior high school. After indicating that if given the position he would have to improve, the school authorities made him co-director of the band at that school. The next year, the co-director

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resigned on account of illness. The plaintiff, though he had been told by the school officials that his performance during the previous year at the senior high school ahd not been satisfactory, asked to be made the sole band director at the school. He excused his unsatisfactory performance the previous year on the ground that it arose out of the division of authority during the period of the co-directorship. The school authorities acceded to his request with some reluctance and made him the band director at the senior high school for the 1971--72 school year.

His services during the 1971--72 school year, the school officials testified and the District Court found, were again unsatisfactory. The then-school superintendent testified that at a conference with the plaintiff, prior to the end of that school year, he told the plaintiff that his performance as a teacher and band director had 'gone backward' during that school year and that 'he had not shown improvement in the areas that we had talked about in discipline and organization and purchase procedure.' Despite this warning, the school officials testified and the District Court found that the problems connected with the plaintiff's performance continued and as a result nonrenewal of his contract for the subsequent 1972--73 school year was seriously canvassed by the Board. After some discussion the Board decided to give the plaintiff 'another chance at giving a good performance in his position.' The school superintendent, in a follow-up conference with the plaintiff, reviewed anew 'the criticism that (he) had had about discipline, organization, the handling of the finances of the band.' He emphasized to the plaintiff that he would be on probation for the next school year and warned him 'that if he did not improve (he, the superintendent) felt sure that (he) would not be in a position to recommend him the next year.'

The difficulties experienced by the school authorities with the plaintiff over the prior two or three years continued during the 1972--73 school year. They finally reached the point where the superintendent of the school system notified the plaintiff on March 14, 1973, that he intended to recommend the plaintiff's dismissal 'on the grounds of incompetency of performance as a teacher and insubordination.' He, however, advised the plaintiff at the same time that he had a right to request a review of such recommendation by a panel designated by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. On April 19, 1973 the chairman of the School Board itself, however, wrote the plaintiff that, since it was only a few weeks before the school year would end, it would be a waste of time to proceed with the dismissal and the notice of recommendation for dismissal was accordingly revoked. At the same time, the chairman, acting for the Board, advised the plaintiff that his 'contract * * * terminates at the end of the current school year and the contract will not be renewed.' He added that if the plaintiff wished to have a statement of the reasons for the nonrenewal, he should communicate with the school superintendent who would provide the reasons. He and his attorney, at a conference with the superintendent, were given, at plaintiff's request, both orally and in writing, the reasons for the nonrenewal. He was, also, told that if he were 'dissatisfied with the reasons given as to why (his) contract (was) not being renewed,' he could request a hearing before the Board itself. Thereafter, on May 8, 1973, the plaintiff, through his counsel, requested a hearing before the Board 'so that (I) may contest the reasons given to (me) for the proposed nonrenewal of (my) contract.'

The requested hearing before the Board was set originally for May 18 but continued over until May 24 at the request of the plaintiff. When the hearing before the Board was held, the chief point of contention was the private character of the hearing. This is clear from the uncontradicted testimony at the trial in this case. The chairman of the Board testified without contradiction that plaintiff's counsel's 'main complaint, as I remember it, (was) that (the hearing) was not public' and 'therefore, * * * (he, as plaintiff's counsel was) not going

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to make any effort to defend (his) client or offer any evidence in his behalf at the hearing because it wasn't open to the public.' He stated this was so, 'although he had many witnesses he could have brought.' It was, also, testified--again without contradiction--that plaintiff's counsel said at the hearing 'that a fair hearing could only be had if Mr. Satterfield's neighbors and friends could hear all of the evidence in the case.'

Beyond protesting the absence of a public hearing, plaintiff and his counsel, though remaining throughout the hearing, took no active part in the hearing. Two witnesses were heard by the Board at the hearing. They were the superintendent and the principal of the school. In the hearing in this case, it was testified--again, without contradiction--that plaintiff was not denied during the Board hearing the right to cross-examine, through his counsel, the superintendent and principal, to testify himself, or to offer witnesses on his behalf. The choice not to offer any testimony or to cross-examine the superintendent and principal at the Board hearing was accordingly that of the plaintiff and his counsel. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board filed a written finding that the plaintiff's 'contract will terminate at the end of the current school year and will not be renewed.' The plaintiff thereupon filed this suit.

It should be noted, preliminary to a consideration of the several contentions of the plaintiff on appeal, that he initially brought the action both as an individual action and as a class action, claiming that he was 'dismissed' 'pursuant to defendants' longstanding practice of discriminating against black educators.' So far as his individual action is concerned, he charged that 'the defendants denied him the support previously afforded to the white band director, harrassed him with petty and unfounded charges and eventually dismissed him, using as a pretext insignificant and/or unfounded charges against him.' After a trial, at which it was established that only one black educator, other than the plaintiff, had had his contract denied renewal by the Board in recent years, the District Court dismissed the class action aspect of the action. It, also, made an express finding that the nonrenewal of plaintiff's contract 'was not racially motivated but was based solely on the plaintiff's performance as a teacher.' The plaintiff does not contest either the dismissal of the class action or the want of racial motivation in the nonrenewal of his contract. His sole contention on appeal is that he was entitled to a due process hearing on the nonrenewal of his contract before the Board and that he was denied that right. 1 Whether he was so entitled and, if so, whether such a hearing was accorded him are the only issues on appeal.

Relying on Williams v. Hyde County Board of Education (4th Cir. 1974)490 F.2d 1231, the District Court held that the plaintiff as a probationary teacher under North Carolina law was not entitled to an 'adversary hearing' before the Board under Roth 2 and Sindermann 3 because he 'did not have tenure,' nor 'the equivalent of tenure.' 4 The plaintiff counters, however, with the

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argument that, whether entitled to the right of such a hearing or not, the Board granted a hearing and, in granting a hearing, it assumed an obligation to give plaintiff a hearing affording him procedural due process. For this contention he relies on...

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