LOCATION: Federal Power Commission
DOCKET NO.: 74-1303
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CITATION: 426 US 341 (1976)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 10, 1976
Charles E. Burgin - for respondents
Norman B. Smith - for petitioner
Facts of the case
Media for Bishop v. WoodAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1976 in Bishop v. Wood
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 10, 1976 in Bishop v. Wood
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment of the Court in number 74-1303, Bishop v. Wood, will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.
John Paul Stevens:
This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The petitioner is a former policeman for the city of Marion, North Carolina.
He brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Western district of North Carolina, claiming that his discharge violated his constitutional right to due process of law, because the city did not grant him a hearing in advance of his discharge.
The District Court dismissed his complaint, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall deprive a person of property, or liberty without due process of Low.
In this case, the District Court held, that under North Carolina law, petitioner “held his position at the will and pleasure of the city.”
It followed that his discharge did not deprive him of property within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The District Court further held that the discharge did not deprive petitioner of the constitutionally protected interest in liberty.
In this Court, the petitioner makes two basic arguments.
First, he contends that the lower courts misconstrued the applicable city ordinance, and that under that ordinance, he could only be discharged for cause and therefore as a matter of state law, he did have a property interest in his job.
We reject that argument on the basis of the Court's customary practice of accepting the answer to a question of state law concurred in by both the District Court and the Court of Appeals which deal more regularly with such questions than this Court.
Even though as an original proposition, we might have interpreted the city ordinance differently.
We therefore conclude that the petitioner had no property interest in his employment.
Second, the petitioner contends that the discharge created a stigma on his reputation, and therefore impaired his constitutionally protected interest in liberty.
We reject this argument essentially for two reasons.
First, recognizing that every discharge may have some adverse effect on an employee's ability to obtain future employment.
As we have in the past, we conclude that this fact is not sufficient to establish a deprivation of liberty.
A contrary conclusion would authorize federal judicial review of almost every personal decision made by a public employer.
Second, since the reasons for petitioner's recharge were communicated to him in private, we reject his claim that his reputation was thereby stigmatized even if we assume as he argues, that the reasons given him by the chief of police were false.
Accordingly, as more fully explained in the written opinion filed with the clerk, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr, Justice Marshall joined.
Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan, Mr. Justice Marshall, and Mr. Justice Blackmun joined, and Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan joined.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Mr. Justice Stevens.