Bishop v. Wood - 426 U.S. 341 (1976)


U.S. Supreme Court

Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341 (1976)

Bishop v. Wood

No. 74-1303

Argued March 1, 1976

Decided June 10, 1976

426 U.S. 341

Syllabus

On respondent Chief of Police's recommendation, respondent City Manager terminated petitioner's employment as a policeman without a hearing, telling him privately that the dismissal was based on a failure to follow orders, poor attendance at police training classes, causing low morale, and conduct unsuited to an officer. A city ordinance provides that a permanent city employee (as petitioner was classified) may be discharged if he fails to perform work up to the standard of his classification, or if he is negligent, inefficient, or unfit to perform his duties. Petitioner brought suit against respondents, claiming that, as a "permanent employee" he had a constitutional right to a pre-termination hearing; that the ordinance, even though not expressly so providing, should be read to prohibit discharge for any reason other than those specified, and therefore to confer tenure on all permanent employees; that his period of service, together with his "permanent" classification, gave him a sufficient expectation of continued employment to constitute a protected property interest under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and that the false explanation for his discharge deprived him of interest in liberty protected by that Clause. During pretrial discovery, petitioner was again advised of the reasons for his dismissal. The District Court granted respondents' motion for a summary judgment, holding, on the basis of its understanding of state law, that petitioner "held his position at the will and pleasure of the city." The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Under the District Court's tenable view of state law, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals and which will be accepted by this Court in the absence of any authoritative state court interpretation of the ordinance involved, petitioner's discharge did not deprive him of a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 426 U. S. 343-347.

2. Assuming that the explanation for petitioner's discharge was false, as this Court must do, since summary judgment was entered against him, such false explanation did not deprive him of an interest in liberty protected by that Clause. Pp. 426 U. S. 347-349.

Page 426 U. S. 342

(a) Since the City Manager's private oral communication to petitioner of the reasons for his discharge was never made public, it cannot properly form the basis for a claim that petitioner's interest in his "good name, reputation, honor, or integrity" was thereby impaired. Nor can the communication of such reasons during pretrial discovery provide retroactive support for such claim, since it was made in the course of a judicial proceeding that did not commence until after petitioner had suffered his alleged injury. Pp. 426 U. S. 348-349.

(b) The truth or falsity of the City Manager's explanation determines whether or not his decision to discharge petitioner was correct or prudent, but neither enhances nor diminishes petitioner's claim that his constitutionally protected interest in liberty was impaired. P. 426 U. S. 349.

Affirmed. See 48 F.2d 1341.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 426 U. S. 350. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 426 U. S. 355. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 426 U. S. 361.



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