Meyer v. Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School Dist. Bd. of Educ.

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtMARKUS; COOK
Citation9 Ohio App.3d 320,460 N.E.2d 269,9 OBR 587
Parties, 16 Ed. Law Rep. 242, 9 O.B.R. 587 MEYER, Appellee, v. CHAGRIN FALLS EXEMPTED VILLAGE SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION et al., Appellants. *
Decision Date17 March 1983

Syllabus by the Court

1. R.C. 3307.37 authorizes school boards to "terminate the contract or the employment" of any tenured certificated teaching employee, if that person has attained age seventy or will attain that age by August 31 of that year.

2. For superannuation purposes, a school board can properly terminate the teacher's employment duties by June 30 and terminate the teacher's contract at the end of the contract year on a different date, so that the teacher's contract will not require or automatically renew itself to require employment duties after June 30. The board can thereby avoid responsibility for contract obligations to that teacher beyond June 30 or the end of its current contract year, whichever is later.

3. When a school board involuntarily retires a teacher pursuant to R.C. 3307.37, the board has no obligation to follow statutory notice and hearing procedures applicable to terminations for cause under the Teachers Tenure Act.

4. Constitutional due process requires that any teacher subject to superannuation must be given reasonable notice and an opportunity for a hearing, so the teacher can challenge the action on grounds that the superannuation statute does not apply to this teacher or that this teacher has not attained the statutory retirement age.

Joseph G. Berick, Robert S. Stone and James Markus, Cleveland, for appellee.

James Woodring and Roy E. Lachman, Cleveland, for appellants.

MARKUS, Presiding Judge.

Plaintiff-librarian brought this action against the school board that employed her and the individual board members, claiming that they had wrongfully terminated her employment. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that the board had varied from statutory procedures in its attempt to retire plaintiff at age seventy, so the court granted plaintiff judgment for an additional year's salary. At the same time, the trial court rejected plaintiff's claims that defendants had violated her civil rights and dismissed her actions against them for additional compensatory and punitive damages.

Both the board and plaintiff appeal. The board contends that (a) plaintiff's superannuation was proper, (b) plaintiff waived any right to bring this action by her delay in objecting to termination, (c) plaintiff's damages should be reduced by retirement benefits which she had received, and (d) the court erred by later adding prejudgment interest to the award. Plaintiff's cross-appeal challenges the dismissal of her additional claims against the board's members, arguing that her termination violated her rights to due process and equal protection, and that her termination was motivated by malice, prejudice and discrimination.

We conclude that defendants complied with governing statutes and properly superannuated plaintiff, so they are not liable to her for any claimed damages. If plaintiff were entitled to damages, prejudgment interest was not properly awarded. Otherwise, we agree with the trial court's rulings on the parties' claims and defenses. In view of these decisions, we reverse in part, affirm in part, and enter final judgment for defendants.

Many of the facts in this case are undisputed. Plaintiff was employed by defendant school board as a high school librarian with tenure and a continuing contract. She attained age seventy during August 1977. In anticipation of her forthcoming seventieth birthday, the high school principal discussed her possible retirement with her on several occasions in March and April 1977. These discussions were prompted by the school district's Board of Education Policy 4119.3, which had been adopted pursuant to retirement provisions in R.C. 3307.37. Policy 4119.3 provides:

"Retirement. Any employee who reaches the age of seventy years between September 1, and August 31, in any given school year, shall be retired before the opening of the next school year. Exceptions may be made on the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools and the approval of the Board of Education."

On April 14, 1977, the superintendent of schools sent the following written notice to plaintiff regarding her employment contract:

"This is to notify you that your contract will be discussed and acted upon by the Chagrin Falls Board of Education at its meeting on Monday, April 18, 1977."

Plaintiff chose not to attend that meeting, believing that the board's decision to retire her was "cut and dried." At that meeting, the board voted unanimously to terminate plaintiff's contract by involuntary retirement.

Plaintiff learned about that action on the same evening. She was formally notified by certified letter dated April 25, 1977:

"This letter is to officially inform you that the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District Board of Education, at a regular meeting on the 18th day of April, 1977, unanimously voted to terminate your contract effective August 31, 1977, due to superannuation. This action by the Board of Education was taken in accordance with its policy 4119.3 and section 3307.37 of the Ohio Revised Code."

The school board's collective bargaining agreement with its professional staff extended "during the period September 1, 1975 through August 31, 1977." The local school calendar established a summer recess during which professional personnel had no duties under their regular contracts, from June 11, 1977 to September 31, 1977.

On April 22, 1977, plaintiff applied to the State Teachers Retirement System for retirement benefits effective July 1, 1977, and she began receiving payments on September 21, 1977. Plaintiff denied any obligation to retire during her discussions with the high school principal in March and April, but she first notified the board that she objected to her involuntary retirement on August 1, 1977. She filed this case challenging the board's action on November 4, 1977.

Her complaint asserted, inter alia, that her 1977 termination was void because it purported to superannuate on a date different from June 30, which she claimed was the only termination date authorized by statute. Therefore, as a protective measure and without prejudice to their position that they had properly terminated her contract in 1977, the board again voted to terminate her for superannuation effective June 30, 1978. This second termination vote occurred on June 12, 1978, and the board sent plaintiff written notice of its further action on June 19, 1978. Apparently, all parties to this action agree that the 1978 termination was lawful, if the 1977 termination was not.


Defendants' first assignment of error asserts:

"The court erred in holding that when a school board superannuates a teacher under O.R.C. § 3307.37 effective August 31 of that year, and notifies the teacher of its decision prior to June 30 of that year, the teacher is entitled to an extra year's salary."

This claimed error presents the dispute that is central to all parties' positions. Its resolution depends on the proper interpretation of R.C. 3319.08 and 3307.37, which govern involuntary retirement of a certificated school faculty "member" with a "continuing contract" by a public educational institution "employer."

Plaintiff had been employed on a continuing contract as a tenured faculty member, so her contract was automatically renewed each year, subject to any changed terms in negotiated collective bargaining agreements. R.C. 3319.08 then defined the duration of a continuing contract:

"A continuing contract is a contract which shall remain in effect until the teacher resigns, elects to retire, or is retired pursuant to section 3307.37 of the Revised Code or until it is terminated or suspended * * *." (Emphasis added.)

Each of the five procedures by which a continuing contract can be concluded is governed by separate code sections. A teacher's resignation must conform to time limits in R.C. 3319.15, or the teacher's certificate may be subject to a year's suspension. Terms and conditions for a teacher's voluntary retirement are controlled by R.C. 3307.38 and related sections. The grounds and procedures for "termination of a contract by board of education" are prescribed in R.C. 3319.16. Suspension is authorized by R.C. 3319.15 (for improper resignation) and R.C. 3319.17 (for reduction in number of teachers employed).

The board here sought to terminate plaintiff's continuing contract by involuntary retirement, a procedure separately authorized by R.C. 3307.37:

"An employer may as of the thirtieth day of June of any year terminate the contract or the employment of any member who has attained the age of seventy or who will attain the age of seventy by the following thirty-first day of August."

Unlike the code section governing termination for cause (R.C. 3319.16), this section makes no provision for notice to the teacher or a hearing on termination by superannuation. 1

This board had adopted local rules, regulations, and contracts which affected its implementation of involuntary retirements allowed by R.C. 3307.37. Local regulations and contracts, consistent with state law, are expressly authorized in R.C. 3313.17, 3313.20, and 3313.47. Boards of education have broad discretion to carry out their statutory functions. Greco v. Roper (1945), 145 Ohio St. 243, at 248-250, 61 N.E.2d 307 . Thus, defendants' Board of Education Policy 4119.3 established a rule for mandatory retirement at age seventy, subject only to the board's power to make specific exceptions on the superintendent's recommendation.

A mandatory retirement program is consistent with R.C. 3307.37, if the mandatory retirement age is not earlier than the age at which involuntary retirement is authorized by that code section. Cf. State ex rel. Bishop v. Bd. of...

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