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Law School Case Brief

Bishop v. Wood - 426 U.S. 341, 96 S. Ct. 2074 (1976)

Rule:

A property interest in employment can be created by ordinance, or by an implied contract. In either case, however, the sufficiency of the claim of entitlement must be decided by reference to state law. The North Carolina Supreme Court has held that an enforceable expectation of continued public employment in that state can exist only if the employer, by statute or contract, actually grants some form of guarantee. Whether such a guarantee is given can be determined only by an examination of the particular statute or ordinance in question.

Facts:

A former police officer, whose employment had been terminated by the city manager of a North Carolina city without a hearing to determine the sufficiency of the cause for the discharge, brought an action in the United States District Court against the city manager and chief of police, contending that he had a constitutional right to a pretermination hearing because he was classified as a "permanent employee" under a city ordinance. The city ordinance provided that a permanent employee whose work was unsatisfactory was to be notified of his deficiencies and informed of how his work could be made satisfactory, that a permanent employee who failed to perform work up to the standard of his classification, or who continued to be negligent, inefficient, or unfit to perform his duties, might be dismissed by the city manager, and that any discharged employee who so requested would be given written notice of his discharge setting forth the effective date and reasons for the discharge. The District Court granted defendant city officials' motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Issue:

In an action against city officials by a former city employee who was terminated without a hearing to determine the sufficiency of cause for his discharge and claimed his public employment was a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause, was the summary judgment in favor of the city officials proper?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On a writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that petitioner's discharge did not deprive him of a property interest protected by U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Court found that petitioner held his position at the will and pleasure of the city and that he had no property interest. As the district court construed the ordinance, respondent city manager's determination of the adequacy of the grounds for discharge was not subject to judicial review. Petitioner was merely given certain procedural rights that the district court found not to have been violated. As the reasons for his termination were communicated orally to petitioner and were not made public, they could not have formed the basis for a claim that petitioner's interest in his good name, reputation, honor, or integrity was impaired. As such, the Court affirmed the judgment that had affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of respondents, city manager and the chief of police, in the action brought by petitioner former city employee. 

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