Crane v. Mitchell County U.S.D. No. 273

Decision Date22 October 1982
Docket NumberNo. 53298,53298
Citation652 P.2d 205,232 Kan. 51
Parties, 7 Ed. Law Rep. 210 Ross CRANE, Appellant, v. MITCHELL COUNTY U.S.D. NO. 273, Appellee.
CourtKansas Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. The essential elements of due process of law are notice and an opportunity to be heard and to defend in an orderly proceeding adapted to the nature of the case.

2. A nontenured teacher has a property interest in his continued employment sufficient to require a hearing prior to mid-year termination of his contract.

3. The factors to consider in determining whether the timing of a hearing comports with due process include the private interest that will be affected, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the state's interest in the procedures used as well as the administrative burdens that any additional procedural requirements would entail.

4. Extreme or unusual circumstances involving a serious disruption of school educational processes may exist requiring the immediate suspension of a teacher without a hearing.

5. Where circumstances exist to justify the immediate termination of a teacher, that teacher should ordinarily be afforded a hearing prior to making a decision to terminate without pay.

6. The mere fact an administrative board is involved in the investigation of alleged improper conduct does not, without more, create the risk of bias or prejudgment sufficient to render that body incapable of fairly adjudicating the merits of the case.

7. Absent a showing of actual bias, the mere fact a school board may make a prior decision to dismiss a teacher does not render it incapable of providing the teacher with a subsequent hearing fully complying with due process.

8. The length of notice required by due process is dependent upon the circumstances and the nature of the case.

9. The right to a due process hearing, like other constitutional rights, can be waived.

Richard E. Dietz, Osborne, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

Fred W. Rausch, Jr., Topeka, argued the cause, and Harry W. Gantenbein of Gantenbein & Frasier, Beloit, was with him on the brief for appellee.

SCHROEDER, Chief Justice:

This case is before the court on a Petition for Review of the decision of the Court of Appeals found at 7 Kan.App.2d 430, 643 P.2d 1125 (1982). Ross Crane (plaintiff-appellant) appealed the dismissal by the Mitchell County District Court of his petition for damages for wrongful termination of his teaching contract. The reason stated by the trial judge was that Ross Crane failed to exhaust administrative remedies available under K.S.A. 72-5436 et seq. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the appellant's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights had been violated and an action for back pay and damages could be filed in the district court prior to completion of the administrative procedures the parties had undertaken. We granted review.

The facts are undisputed, and are set out in detail in the Court of Appeals opinion, 7 Kan.App.2d at 431-33, 643 P.2d 1125. We will briefly summarize them here. The appellant, a nontenured teacher, was employed by Unified School District No. 273 (defendant-appellee) for the 1979-80 school year. Following several instances of serious misconduct on the part of the appellant, culminating in an incident on October 31, 1979, where the appellant discharged a 12-gauge shotgun at his home striking two students, the school board of Unified School District No. 273 (Board) held a special meeting on November 5, 1979, and terminated appellant's employment. As a result of the shotgun incident the appellant was charged in Mitchell County District Court with unlawfully, feloniously, and willfully applying force to a student at Beloit High School, with intent to injure said student with a deadly weapon. Additional incidents involving the appellant were specified by the Board as precipitating its action. (See 7 Kan.App.2d at 431, 643 P.2d 1125 enumerating six specific reasons.) These included an incident where the appellant injured a student while disciplining him by flipping the student over backwards in desk chair, another occasion where the appellant kicked a student who was on crutches in the foot with such force to cause him to lose his balance, and an incident where the appellant hit a student in the chest with his fist, causing pain and bruising, knowing the student had a heart condition.

A hearing was set by the Board for November 12, 1979, to determine whether the termination of the appellant's employment was to be with or without pay. The appellant received notice of the Board's decision and the reasons for his dismissal, along with notice of the hearing set for November 12, 1979, by certified mail on November 7, 1979. The appellant did not appear at the hearing held on November 12, 1979, nor did anyone appear for him or make a request for postponement in his behalf. The Board after hearing evidence unanimously voted to terminate the appellant's contract without pay as of November 12, 1979.

On November 17, 1979, the appellant requested a due process hearing pursuant to K.S.A. 72-5436 et seq., the Teacher Tenure Law. Both the appellant and the Board participated fully in the subsequent hearing procedure. Each specified their respective committee appointees, a prehearing conference was agreed to and held on January 30, 1980, and a full due process hearing was held on April 22, 1980, before a special three-person hearing committee.

The committee delayed making its findings of fact and recommendations to the Board until such time as both parties submitted briefs requested by the committee. Though the Board prepared and submitted its brief, the appellant never submitted a brief to the committee. The committee ultimately submitted its finding to the Board on May 8, 1981, without having received a brief from the appellant. The majority recommended the Board's decision to terminate the appellant without pay be affirmed.

Meanwhile, on December 17, 1980, the appellant filed his petition in the district court charging that he had been deprived of a property right without due process of law, seeking reinstatement, back salary and damages. Apparently the appellant had abandoned the previously requested hearing committee procedure under the Teacher Tenure Law and ceased to cooperate with the committee at that time.

The Board filed a motion to strike the appellant's petition, citing the appellant's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies set out in K.S.A. 72-5436 et seq. Treating the Board's motion as a motion to dismiss, the district judge held the appellant's claim for wrongful termination was based upon his exercise of a constitutionally protected right and therefore should have been pursued under K.S.A. 72-5446. Because the appellant had not pursued his action under 72-5446, the court held the action must be dismissed for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. This dismissal was appealed to the Court of Appeals.

As we will discuss in more detail below, the Court of Appeals held, in essence, that (1) appellant's due process rights were violated by the Board's failure to provide him with a hearing before an impartial panel prior to terminating his pay; (2) appellant's failure to attend the hearing set for November 12, 1979, did not constitute a waiver of his constitutional rights, as the hearing which would have been provided would not have complied with due process; and (3) the appellant did not waive his due process rights by requesting and participating in the subsequent hearing procedure because the hearing committee's only function was to determine whether the Board had adequate grounds to terminate the appellant, and was not empowered to address the issue of whether appellant's due process rights had been violated. A dissent was filed by Judge Abbott, who was of the opinion the school board was an impartial panel within the requirements of due process, the appellant had been offered a due process hearing complying with due process but chose not to attend, and the appellant had failed to complete the procedures he had chosen to follow and therefore his case had properly been dismissed by the district court.

At the threshold we must focus on the appellant's contention that he was deprived of due process of law when his teaching contract was terminated mid-year without being afforded a prior hearing. Whether the appellant's rights were violated depends on the procedural safeguards which must be afforded the appellant under both the Fourteenth Amendment and the statutes of this state.

The due process procedure provided under our statutes for terminating teacher contracts is found in the Teacher Tenure Law, K.S.A. 72-5436 et seq. K.S.A. 72-5438 provides that whenever a teacher is given written notice of the Board's intention not to renew the teacher's contract, or whenever a teacher is terminated before the end of his or her contract term, the teacher shall be provided a statement of reasons for the Board's action and may request a full due process hearing to be held before a special three-member hearing committee. The committee's findings of fact and recommendations are then submitted to the Board which makes a final decision to terminate or renew the contract. K.S.A. 72-5443. If supported by substantial evidence, this decision is final, subject to appeal to the district court pursuant to K.S.A.1981 Supp. 60-2101. K.S.A. 72-5443; Kelly v. Kansas City, Kansas Community College, 231 Kan. 751, 760, 648 P.2d 225 (1982).

The application of the hearing committee procedure is expressly limited in 72-5445 to those teachers who have taught in the school district for at least two consecutive years, except where the teacher alleges he was dismissed as a result of exercising a constitutional right. The statute does not provide for a hearing in the situation where a teacher has been with the school district for...

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19 cases
  • Care and Treatment of Hendricks, Matter of
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • March 1, 1996
    ...are notice and an opportunity to be heard and to defend in an orderly proceeding adapted to the nature of the case." Crane v. Mitchell County U.S.D. No. 273, 232 Kan. 51, Syl. p 1, 652 P.2d 205 The Act clearly provides all the necessary basic protections, including appointed counsel, a prob......
  • Brown v. Board of Educ., Unified School Dist. No. 333, Cloud County
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • December 6, 1996
    ...the risk of erroneous deprivation, and the governmental interest in a more abbreviated proceeding. See Crane v. Mitchell County U.S.D. No. 273, 232 Kan. 51, 57, 652 P.2d 205 (1982). The Act clearly gives Brown some rights prior to the nonrenewal of her contract which may create some minimal......
  • Murphy v. Nelson, 73848
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • July 26, 1996
    ...erroneous deprivation, and the State's interest in the procedures used. See Crane v. Mitchell County U.S.D. No. 273, 232Kan. 51, 57, 652 P.2d 205 (1982) (citing Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 47 L.Ed.2d 18, 96 S.Ct. 893 [1976] The trial court found both that Murphy had a liberty interes......
  • Hay, Matter of
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • January 30, 1998
    ...is a fair trial in a fair tribunal. State v. Green, 245 Kan. 398, 404, 781 P.2d 678 (1989). To the same result, in Crane v. Mitchell County U.S.D. 273, 232 Kan. 51, Syl. p 1, 652 P.2d 205 (1982), we said: "The essential elements of due process of law are notice and an opportunity to be hear......
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