Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle
429 U.S. 274 (1977)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977)

Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle

No. 75-1278

Argued November 3, 1976

Decided January 11, 1977

429 U.S. 274

Syllabus

Respondent, an untenured teacher (who had previously been involved in an altercation with another teacher, an argument with school cafeteria employees, an incident in which he swore at students, and an incident in which he made obscene gestures to girl students), conveyed through a telephone call to a radio station the substance of a memorandum relating to teacher dress and appearance that the school principal had circulated to various teachers. The radio station announced the adoption of the dress code as a news item. Thereafter, petitioner School Board, adopting a recommendation of the superintendent, advised respondent that he would not be rehired, and cited his lack of tact in handling professional matters, with specific mention of the radio station and obscene gesture incidents. Respondent then brought this action against petitioner for reinstatement and damages, claiming that petitioner's refusal to rehire him violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Although respondent asserted jurisdiction under both 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and § 1331, the District Court rested jurisdiction only on § 1331. The District Court, which found that the incidents involving respondent had occurred, concluded that the telephone call was "clearly protected by the First Amendment" and that, because it had played a "substantial part" in petitioner's decision not to rehire respondent, he was entitled to reinstatement with backpay. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Petitioner, in addition to attacking the District Court's jurisdiction under § 1331 on the ground that the $10,000 jurisdictional requirement of that provision was not satisfied in this case, raised an additional jurisdictional issue after this Court had granted certiorari and after petitioner had filed its reply brief, claiming that respondent's only substantive constitutional claim arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that, because petitioner School Board is not a "person" for purposes of § 1983, liability may no more be imposed on it where federal jurisdiction rests on § 1331 than where jurisdiction is grounded on § 1343.

Held:

1. Respondent's complaint sufficiently pleaded jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Though the amount in controversy thereunder must

Page 429 U. S. 275

exceed $10,000, even if the District Court had chosen to award only compensatory damages, it was far from a "legal certainty" at the time of suit that respondent would not have been entitled to more than that amount. St. Paul Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co.,303 U. S. 283, 303 U. S. 288-289. Pp. 429 U. S. 276-277.

2. Petitioner, in making its belated contention concerning § 1983, failed to preserve the issue whether the complaint stated a claim upon which relief could be granted against it. Because the question involved is not of the jurisdictional sort which the Court raises on its own motion, it is assumed without deciding that respondent could sue under § 1331 without regard to the limitations imposed by § 1983. Pp. 429 U. S. 277-279.

3. Since, under Ohio law, the "State" does not include "political subdivisions" (a category including school districts), and the record shows that a local school board like petitioner is more like a county or city than it is an arm of the State, petitioner is not immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 429 U. S. 279-281.

4. Respondent's constitutional claims are not defeated because he did not have tenure. Perry v. Sindermann,408 U. S. 593. Pp. 429 U. S. 283-284.

5. That conduct protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments played a substantial part in the decision not to rehire respondent does not necessarily amount to a constitutional violation justifying remedial action. The proper test is one that protects against the invasion of constitutional rights without commanding undesirable consequences not necessary to the assurance of those rights. Since respondent here satisfied the burden of showing that his conduct was constitutionally protected and was a motivating factor in the petitioner's decision not to rehire him, the District Court should have gone on to determine whether petitioner had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision even in the absence of the protected conduct. Pp. 429 U. S. 284--287.

529 F.2d 524, vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 429 U. S. 276

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