Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle

PETITIONER: Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education
RESPONDENT: Fred Doyle
LOCATION: Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education at Finneytown Middle School

DOCKET NO.: 75-1278
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 429 US 274 (1977)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1976
DECIDED: Jan 11, 1977
GRANTED: Apr 19, 1976

ADVOCATES:
Michael H. Gottesman - for respondent
Philip S. Olinger - for petitioner

Facts of the case

Fred Doyle was a certified teacher and employee of the Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education from 1966 until 1971. In 1969, he was elected president of the Teachers’ Association during a period of tension between the board and the Teacher’s Association. Doyle was also involved with a series of incidents beginning in 1970 where he allegedly behaved inappropriately toward students and other staff members; in one incident, Doyle made obscene gestures to two students. Finally, in February 1971, Doyle conveyed the substance of an internal memorandum regarding a proposed staff dress code to a disc jockey at WSAI, a Cincinnati radio station. The disc jockey promptly announced the dress code as a news item.

One month later, the superintendent of the school district recommended that the board not renew Doyle’s contract, along with the contracts of nine other teachers. The board adopted the superintendent’s recommendations. In response to Doyle’s request for an explanation, the board stated that Doyle displayed a “lack of tact in handling professional matters,” and cited both the call to the disc jockey and the obscene gestures Doyle made toward students. Doyle brought a § 1331 federal question action against the board for reinstatement with damages, claiming that the board’s refusal to rehire him violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

While the district court found that all of the incidents occurred, it held that Doyle was still entitled to reinstatement with backpay. The court concluded that Doyle’s call to the radio station was protected by the First Amendment and that the call played a substantial part in the board’s decision not to rehire Doyle, a violation of Doyle’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit affirmed in a short per curiam opinion.

Question

1. Was Mt. Healthy City School District Board protected by the sovereign immunity clause of the Eleventh Amendment?

2. Was Mt. Healthy City School District Board forbidden by the First Amendment from considering Doyle’s phone call to a radio station in its decision not to renew Doyle’s contract?

Media for Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 1976 in Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 11, 1977 in Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 75-1278, Mt. Healthy School District against Doyle will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

In this case, responded was an untenured teacher and an employee of the Mt. Healthy Board of Education, the petitioner.

The respondent filed this action in United States District Court for the Souther District of Ohio and complained that the Board's failure to renew his employment contract was in violation of his rights under the United States Constitution because that decision had been motivated by the Board's disapproval of certain actions protected against state interference by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The District Court found that it had jurisdiction under the general federal questions section, 28 USC 1331 and ruled that though a number of other incidents have been considered by the Board, the teacher was entitled to reinstatement with back pay because the First Amendment protected conduct have been a substantial factor and the words of the Court and it's decision not to rehire.

This judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

For the reason set forth and an opinion filed with the clerk this morning, we conclude that respondent did state a cause of action adequate to his established jurisdiction under Section 1331.

But because the issue wasn't preserved on appeal, we express no view on the actual merits of either the theory apparently accepted by the courts below that responded had an implied constitutional cause of action under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, or the theory not to specifically addressed by those courts that he have an action under Section 1983.

Accepting without deciding that respondent's complaint states a good cause of action, we call -- we hold that the case must be returned to the lower courts for additional findings.

The finding that the First Amendment protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in a decision not to rehire does not necessarily imply that the teacher would have necessarily been rehired that the impermissible factor had not been considered because the First Amendment does not require that employee should be put in a more favorable position bu virtue of their exercise of First Amendment Rights.

We vacate and remand for determination by the lower courts of the question whether the Board would have decline to rehire the teacher quite apart from the protected conduct.