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Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill
Decided on Mar. 19, 1985; 470 US 532



A. Issues Discussed: 1st Amendment (press, speech, association)

B. Legal Question Presented:

What pretermination process must be accorded to a public employee who can be discharged only for cause?


A. Background:

In 1979, the Cleveland Board of Education (petitioner) hired James Loudermill (respondent) as a security guard. On his job application, respondent stated that he had never been convicted of a felony despite having been convicted of grand larceny in 1968. Eleven months after being hired, petitioner discovered his conviction during a routine examination of employment records and subsequently dismissed respondent from his job. He was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the charge of dishonesty or to challenge his dismissal, despite an Ohio law, Ohio Rev. Code Section 124.34 (1984), declaring that "classified civil servants" could only be terminated for cause and are entitled to obtain administrative review if discharged.

Respondent filed an appeal with the Cleveland Civil Service Commission which upheld his dismissal after taking 9 months to make its decision. Respondent then filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleging that Section 124.34 was facially unconstitutional because it did not afford him an opportunity to respond to the charges against him prior to removal. He also claimed it was a violation of his due process rights to liberty and property. The District Court dismissed his case for failure to adequately present his claim.

Another case, consolidated for appeal for the Sixth Circuit, involved (respondent no. 2) Richard Donnelly. Donnelly was a bus mechanic for the Parma Board of Education (petitioner no. 2). In August 1977, Donnelly was fired because he had failed an eye examination. In a complaint essentially identical to Loudermill's, Donnelly challenged the constitutionality of the dismissal procedures.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed in part and remanded the case. The Court of Appeals found that both respondents had been deprived of due process. 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.

Both employers petitioned for certiorari. In a cross-petition, Loudermill sought review of the rulings adverse to him. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review all three petitions.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
James G. Wyman argued the cause for respondents.

Robert M. Fertel, by appointment of the Court, argued the cause and filed briefs for Mr. Loudermill.
James G. Wyman argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Thomas C. Simiele. John F. Lewis and John T. Meredith.

Robert M. Fertel, by appointment of the Court, argued the cause and filed briefs for respondents for the Cleveland Board of Education, et al.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union of the Cleveland Foundation by Gordon J. Beggs, Edward R. Stege, Jr., and Charles S. Sims; for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees of the AFL-CIO, by Richard Kirschner; and for the National Educational Association by Robert H. Chanin and Michael H. Gottesman. Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Ohio et al. by Anthony J. Celebrezze, Jr., Attorney General of Ohio, and Gene W. Holliker and Christine Manuelian, Assistant Attorneys General; Charles A. Graddick, Attorney General of Alabama; Robert K. Corbin, Attorney General of Arizona; Tany S. Hong, Attorney General of Hawaii; Lindley E. Pearson, Attorney General of Indiana; Robert T. Stephen, Attorney General of Kansas; Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan; Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General of Minnesota; William A. Allain, Attorney General of Mississippi; Michael T. Greely, Attorney General of Montana; Brian McKay, Attorney General of Nevada; Gregory H. Smith, Attorney General of New Hampshire; Irwin I. Kimmelman, Attorney General of New Jersey; Robert WeFald, Attorney General of North Dakota; Michael Turpen, Attorney General of Oklahoma; David Frohnmayer, Attorney General of Oregon; LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General of Pennsylvania; Mark V. Meierhenry, Attorney General of South Dakota; Bronson C. La Follette, Attorney General of Wisconsin; and Archie G. McClintock, Attorney General of Wyoming; and for the National School Boards Association by Gwendolyn H. Gregory and August W. Steinhilber.

"Respondents' [deprivation of due process] claim depends on their having had a property right in continued employment.' If the respondents had a property right in continued employment, the State could not deprive them of this property without due process. 'The Ohio statute plainly creates such an interest... respondents possessed property rights in continued employment.'

[T]he Due Process Clause provides that certain substantive rights - life, liberty, and property - cannot be deprived except pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures. The right to due process 'is conferred, not by legislative grace, but by constitutional guarantee. While the legislature may elect not to confer a property interest in [public] employment, it may not constitutionally authorize the deprivation of such an interest, once conferred, without appropriate procedural safeguards.'

Due process 'requires some kind of a hearing’ prior to the discharge of an employee who has a constitutionally protected property interest in his employment. Due process requires notice and an opportunity to respond. The government’s interest in immediate termination does not outweigh the private interest of retaining employment... 'The tenured public employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer's evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story.'

The delay in Loudermill's administrative proceedings did not constitute a separate constitutional violation. The Due Process Clause requires provision of hearing ‘at a meaningful time,' and here the delay stemmed in part for the thoroughness of the procedures...

[A]ll 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. Because respondents allege[d] in their complaints that they had no chance to respond, the District Court erred in dismissing for failure to state a claim."

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • White, B. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Burger, E. Pro (Joined the majority)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined the majority)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined the majority)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined the majority)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined the majority)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote concurring dissenting opinion, joined the majority)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus curiae urging affirmance. The United States Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's decision by an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.