Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill
470 U.S. 532 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985)

Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill

No. 83-1362

Argued December 3, 1984

Decided March 19, 1985*

470 U.S. 532

Syllabus

In No. 83-1362, petitioner Board of Education hired respondent Loudermill as a security guard. On his job application, Loudermill stated that he had never been convicted of a felony. Subsequently, upon discovering that he had in fact been convicted of grand larceny, the Board dismissed him for dishonesty in filling out the job application. He was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the dishonesty charge or to challenge the dismissal. Under Ohio law, Loudermill was a "classified civil servant," and by statute, as such an employee, could be terminated only for cause, and was entitled to administrative review of the dismissal. He filed an appeal with the Civil Service Commission, which, after hearings before a referee and the Commission, upheld the dismissal some nine months after the appeal had been filed. Although the Commission's decision was subject to review in the state courts, Loudermill instead filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that the Ohio statute providing for administrative review was unconstitutional on its face because it provided no opportunity for a discharged employee to respond to charges against him prior to removal, thus depriving him of liberty and property without due process. It was also alleged that the statute was unconstitutional as applied, because discharged employees were not given sufficiently prompt postremoval hearings. The District Court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, holding that, because the very statute that created the property right in continued employment also specified the procedures for discharge, and because those procedures were followed, Loudermill was, by definition, afforded all the process due; that the post-termination hearings also adequately protected Loudermill's property interest; and that, in light of the Commission's crowded docket, the delay in processing his appeal was constitutionally acceptable. In No. 83-1363, petitioner Board of Education fired respondent Donnelly from his job as a bus mechanic because he had

Page 470 U. S. 533

failed an eye examination. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, which ordered him reinstated, but without backpay. He then filed a complaint in Federal District Court essentially identical to Loudermill's, and the court dismissed for failure to state a claim. On a consolidated appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed in part and remanded, holding that both respondents had been deprived of due process and that the compelling private interest in retaining employment, combined with the value of presenting evidence prior to dismissal, outweighed the added administrative burden of a pretermination hearing. But 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.

Held: All 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; since respondents alleged that they had no chance to respond, the District Court erred in dismissing their complaints for failure to state a claim. Pp. 470 U. S. 538-548.

(a) The Ohio statute plainly supports the conclusion that respondents possess property rights in continued employment. The Due Process Clause provides that the substantive rights of life, liberty, and property cannot be deprived except pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures. The categories of substance and procedure are distinct. "Property" cannot be defined by the procedures provided for its deprivation. Pp. 470 U. S. 538-541.

(b) The principle that, under the Due Process Clause, an individual must be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest requires "some kind of hearing" prior to the discharge of an employee who has a constitutionally protected property interest in his employment. The need for some form of pretermination hearing is evident from a balancing of the competing interests at stake: the private interest in retaining employment, the governmental interests in expeditious removal of unsatisfactory employees and the avoidance of administrative burdens, and the risk of an erroneous termination. Pp. 470 U. S. 542-545.

(c) The pretermination hearing need not definitively resolve the propriety of the discharge, but should be an initial check against mistaken decisions essentially a determination of whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the charges against the employee are true and support the proposed action. The essential requirements of due process are notice and an opportunity to respond. Pp. 470 U. S. 545-546.

(d) The delay in Loudermill's administrative proceedings did not constitute a separate constitutional violation. The Due Process Clause

Page 470 U. S. 534

requires provision of a hearing "at a meaningful time," and here the delay stemmed in part from the thoroughness of the procedures. Pp. 470 U. S. 546-547.

721 F.2d 550, affirmed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, in Parts I, II, III, and IV of which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in Part II of which MARSHALL, J., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 470 U. S. 548. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post p. 470 U. S. 551. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 470 U. S. 559.

Page 470 U. S. 535

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