"Property" interests subject to procedural due process protection are not limited by a few rigid, technical forms. Rather, "property" denotes a broad range of interests that are secured by existing rules or understandings. A person's interest in a benefit is a "property" interest for due process purposes if there are such rules or mutually explicit understandings that support his claim of entitlement to the benefit and that he may invoke at a hearing.
A Board of Regents and the college president of a state college, hired a teacher for four successive years under a series of one-year contracts. When the teacher's last contract expired, the Board of Regents voted not to offer him a new contract. The regents issued a press release setting forth allegations of the teacher's insubordination; however, they offered no official statement for the nonrenewal of his contract and they allowed him no hearing. The teacher brought suit, claiming that the nonrenewal of his contract was inappropriately based on his criticism of the regents and the college president and was therefore a violation of his right to free speech. The regents argued that a nontenured teacher had no right to continued employment.
Was the teacher entitled to pursue a lawsuit against the college for termination of his employment?
The Supreme Court held that the right to free speech was totally separate from the issue of tenure and that a factual determination was required. The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court that a mere subjective "expectancy" was protected by procedural due process but agreed that the teacher had to be given an opportunity to prove the legitimacy of his claim and a right to a hearing. It affirmed the decision of the appellate court, which held that respondent, a former college professor, was entitled to pursue a lawsuit against the college for termination of his employment.