Lee v. Board of Ed. of City of Bristol

Citation181 Conn. 69,434 A.2d 333
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date03 June 1980

Joseph Rubin, Hartford, for appellant (plaintiff).

Thomas N. Sullivan, Hartford, with whom, on the brief, was William R. Connon, Hartford, for appellee (defendant).


ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

This case concerns the termination of a tenured teacher's contract of employment for cause under General Statutes § 10-151(b). The plaintiff, Elinor Lee, who had been employed by the defendant board of education of the city of Bristol (hereinafter board) for over four years and, hence, had acquired tenure under General Statutes § 10-151(b), was discharged by the board on August 30, 1974. The plaintiff appealed from that decision to the Court of Common Pleas, which dismissed the appeal. The appeal to this court followed.

The relevant facts are not in dispute: On April 1, 1974, the plaintiff was informed by the superintendent of schools that the termination of her teaching contract was being considered by the board for inefficiency and insubordination against reasonable rules of the board of education. On April 18, 1974, the plaintiff was notified of the specific charges made against her, 1 and, on August 21, 1974, pursuant to the plaintiff's request, a hearing was held at which the plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. At the hearing, the plaintiff was given full opportunity to cross-examine witnesses called by the board and to produce evidence. The hearing was held before three members of the board, which, at the time of the hearing, was then comprised of five members. 2 A transcript was made of the hearing, which was examined by the two members of the board who were not present at the hearing. The decision to terminate was made by four members of the board, two of whom had not been present at the hearing but had read the transcript.

On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in the following respects: (1) in concluding that the board's failure to state the reasons for its decision or the evidence upon which it relied did not deprive the plaintiff of due process of law; and (2) in concluding that the hearing was conducted during a valid meeting of the board. This last claim is two pronged: the plaintiff argues that there was no quorum present at the meeting at which the hearing took place, and that the meeting was unlawful because, although it was an emergency meeting, no adequate explanation of the emergency was given.


The fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution prohibits any state 3 from depriving any person of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Article one, section eight of our state constitution contains the same prohibition and is given the same effect as the fourteenth amendment to the federal constitution. Miller v. Heffernan, 173 Conn. 506, 516, 378 A.2d 572 (1977), appeal dismissed, 434 U.S. 1057, 98 S.Ct. 1226, 55 L.Ed.2d 758 (1978). Our analysis of the plaintiff's claim, therefore, encompasses both provisions.

The property interests protected by the due process clause are diverse and may take many forms. Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2708, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972). A teacher who is given by statute the right to continued employment except upon a showing of cause or the bona fide elimination of his position; see General Statutes § 10-151(b); acquires a property right that is entitled to protection under the due process clause. 4 See Slochower v. Board of Education 350 U.S. 551, 556, 76 S.Ct. 637, 640, 100 L.Ed. 692 (1956); cf. Connell v. Higginbotham, 403 U.S. 207, 208, 91 S.Ct. 1772, 1773, 29 L.Ed.2d 418 (1971). Thus, the plaintiff had a "legitimate claim of entitlement" to the continuance of her teaching contract that was protected by the state and federal constitutions. See Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, supra, 408 U.S. 577-78, 92 S.Ct. 2709; Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 261-62, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 1016-17, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970); cf. Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 347, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 2078, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976).

Once a property interest protected by the due process clause is found to exist, the inquiry is directed to the type of procedure mandated by the constitutional prohibitions. The procedure that is due in any given case depends upon the extent to which a person is "condemned to suffer grievous loss." Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 168, 71 S.Ct. 624, 647, 95 L.Ed.2d 817 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring); see Goldberg v. Kelly, supra, 397 U.S., 262-63, 90 S.Ct., 1017-18. " ' "Due process," unlike some legal rules, is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances.' " Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 81 S.Ct. 1743, 1748, 6 L.Ed.2d 1230 (1961). Instead, due process is a flexible principle that "calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 2600, 33 L.Ed.2d 484 (1972); see Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Co., 416 U.S. 600, 610, 94 S.Ct. 1895, 1901, 40 L.Ed.2d 406 (1974). The United States Supreme Court has stated with greater specificity the factors to be considered in deciding what process is due: "(O)ur prior decisions indicate that identification of the specific dictates of due process generally requires consideration of three distinct factors: First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail." Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334-35, 96 S.Ct. 893, 903, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976); see Tribe, American Constitutional Law § 10-13. The loss with which the plaintiff is threatened is substantial. See Delagorges v. Board of Education, 176 Conn. 630, 636, 410 A.2d 461 (1979). Not only is her teaching position her livelihood and a vital source of income, the charges against her, which reflect upon her professional competence and character, implicate her interest in liberty protected by the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, supra, 408 U.S., 572-73, 92 S.Ct., 2706-07. In view of the substantial interest at stake, we examine the procedures employed to determine whether they comport with the basic principles of due process embodied in our state and federal constitutions.

At the outset, we must determine what statutes were applicable to the plaintiff's termination in 1974. The Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA); General Statutes §§ 4-166 through 4-189; which was enacted in 1971 and became effective in January, 1972; Public Acts 1971, No. 854; contained a broad definition of "agency." 5 In Murphy v. Berlin Board of Education, 167 Conn. 368, 355 A.2d 265 (1974), this court considered the scope of the UAPA and concluded that local boards of education were included within the term "state board" used in General Statutes § 4-166(1) as originally enacted. Id., 373, 355 A.2d 265, 268. That determination was based upon "the absence of any indication to the contrary in the statute itself, its legislative history, or our cases." Ibid. That the legislature intended the UAPA to establish a single uniform procedure for administrative agencies covered by the act is evidenced by the broad language of § 4-189 repealing "(a)ny provisions in the general statutes which are inconsistent with (the act)." In McDermott v. Commissioner of Children & Youth Services, 168 Conn. 435, 445, 363 A.2d 103 (1975), we held that § 4-189 repealed an inconsistent judicial review provision of the State Personnel Act. General Statutes §§ 5-193 through 5-269.

In 1975, after the decision in Murphy, however, the legislature amended General Statutes § 4-166(1) by adding to those persons and bodies expressly excluded from the definition of "agency" any "town or regional board of education." See Public Acts 1975, No. 75-529 § 2. That this amendment reflects the legislature's intended scope of the original definition is apparent from the remarks of Representative James T. Healey, the bill's sponsor. Representative Healey remarked that the amendment was necessary because town and regional boards of education, although local bodies, "are regarded, for certain purposes, as being arms of the State government insofar as they are charged with duty concerning education." See 18 H.R.Proc., Pt. 13, 1975 Sess., p. 6322. "An amendment which in effect construes and clarifies a prior statute must be accepted as the legislative declaration of the meaning of the original act." Tax Commissioner v. Estate of Bissell, 173 Conn. 232, 246, 377 A.2d 305, 312 (1977); see Sutherland, Statutory Construction (4th Ed.) §§ 22.31, 22.35. We consider the 1975 amendment as construing and clarifying the original scope of § 4-166(1) and, therefore, a legislative declaration of the meaning of the original act. We reach this conclusion for several reasons: it was not readily apparent that local or regional boards of education would constitute state boards or agencies under the UAPA as originally enacted; subsections (b) and (f) of § 10-151, the Teacher Tenure Act, regulating procedures that are inconsistent with the UAPA were never repealed; and our decision in Murphy was based on the absence of any legislative history or expression to the contrary which, because of the 1975 amendment, is not now the case. Thus, we conclude that the Teacher Tenure Act, and not the UAPA, applies to this...

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