Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand,
303 U.S. 95 (1938)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand, 303 U.S. 95 (1938)

Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand

No. 256

Argued January 10, 1938

Decided January 31, 1938

303 U.S. 95


1. Where a state court does not decide a cause upon an independent state ground, but, deeming a federal question to be before it, actually entertains and decides that question adversely to the federal right asserted, this Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment if final. P. 303 U. S. 98.

2. This Court may not refuse jurisdiction because the state court might have based its decision, consistently with the record, upon an independent and adequate state ground. P. 303 U. S. 98.

3. The opinion of the state court may be examined to ascertain whether a federal question was raised and decided or whether the court rested its judgment on an adequate nonfederal ground. P. 303 U. S. 98.

4. Any doubt here as to whether the validity of the state statute under the Federal Constitution was drawn into question, arising from the generality of a reference in the opinion of the state court, held removed by a certificate signed by all the justices of the state court, and made a part of the record, to the effect that the reference was to Art. I, § 10, of the Constitution of the United States. P. 303 U. S. 99.

5. A legislative enactment may contain provisions which, when accepted as the basis of action by individuals, become contracts between them and the State within the protection of Art. I, § 10, of the Federal Constitution. P. 303 U. S. 100.

6. Where it is claimed that a state statute impairs the obligation of a contract alleged to have been created by an earlier statute, this Court, while according great weight to the views of the highest court of the State, must determine for itself questions as to the existence and effect of the contract and as to whether its obligation was impaired. P. 303 U. S. 100.

7. The Indiana Teachers' Tenure Act of 1927 provided that a public school teacher who had served under contract for five or more successive years, and thereafter entered into a contract for further service with the school corporation, thereby became a "permanent teacher," and that the contract, upon the expiration of its stated

Page 303 U. S. 96

term, should be deemed an "indefinite contract" and remain in force until succeeded by a new contract signed by both parties or cancelled in the manner provided in the Act. A permanent teacher's contract must be in writing, and could be cancelled only after notice and hearing, and for causes specified in the Act, but not for political or personal reasons. The teacher could cancel only upon five days' notice, but not during the school term nor within 30 days of the beginning thereof. An amendatory Act of 1933, as construed by the state court, repealed the earlier Act insofar as township teachers and schools were concerned and permitted the termination of the employment of such teachers without regard to the conditions and limitations of the earlier Act. Held that, under the Act of 1927, the right of a permanent teacher to continued employment upon an indefinite contract was contractual, and the obligation of such a contract in the case of a township teacher was unconstitutionally impaired by the Act of 1933. P. 303 U. S. 104.

8. Although every contract is made subject to the implied condition that its fulfillment may be frustrated by proper exercise of the police power, yet, in order to have this effect, the exercise of the power must be for an end which is in fact public, and the means adopted must be reasonably adapted to that end. P. 303 U. S. 108.

9. The state court's decision of a federal question in favor of the defendant being erroneous, and it not having passed upon a second ground of demurrer which appears to involve no federal question, and which may present a defense still open to the defendant, the cause is reversed and remanded for further proceedings. P. 303 U. S. 109.

5 N.E.2d 531, 913, 7 N.E.2d 777, reversed.

Certiorari, 302 U.S. 678, to review a judgment affirming the dismissal, on demurrer to the complaint, of an action for a writ of mandate.

Primary Holding

Federal courts can prevent states from enforcing laws that improperly restrict the freedom to contract of their citizens.


Three years after Anderson started working as a public school teacher in Indiana, the state created the Teachers' Tenure Law. The employment contracts that Anderson signed over the next two years stated that they were subject to this law, but then it was repealed with reference to teachers in township schools. A school official named Brand told Anderson that he was planning to fire her, and he conducted a hearing to discuss the grounds for her termination. The county commissioner approved her termination, and she was scheduled to be released at the end of the following school year. Anderson sought a writ of mandate to compel Brand to continue her employment, while Brand responded that he had decided her employment status in conjunction with the county commissioner. Brand also noted that the tenure law had been repealed with regard to township schools. The state courts agreed and dismissed the case. Anderson brought an appeal on the grounds that repealing the law violated the Contracts Clause.



  • Owen Josephus Roberts (Author)
  • Charles Evans Hughes
  • James Clark McReynolds
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
  • Pierce Butler
  • Harlan Fiske Stone
  • Benjamin Nathan Cardozo
  • Stanley Forman Reed

This law, which repeatedly referred to a contract, created a contractual right for teachers to continue teaching unless they engaged in behavior that would trigger one of the reasons to remove a tenured teacher. The state could not interfere with that right by repealing parts of the law with reference to certain teachers. If the case is to be dismissed, it must be only on grounds that do not involve federal law.


  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)

A statute rather than an actual contract provides the basis for the right of tenured teachers in the state to continue their employment unless they are removed for cause. The state should retain authority over education, which includes the right to amend or repeal laws as circumstances change. No vested and inalienable contract right may be inferred from a law if it would interfere with the legislature's right to modify existing laws.

Case Commentary

Even if the freedom to contract is impaired, a decision from a state court may stand if it can rest on an alternate ground. Federal courts generally try to find alternate grounds if possible to rationalize the decision, and they will defer to state courts regarding the factual issue of whether the freedom to contract actually was impaired.

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