Perry v. Sindermann Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Robert Sindermann (Respondent) taught for ten years at in the state college system in Texas under a series of contracts. After a disagreement with the college administration, Respondent’s last one-year contract was not renewed without opportunity for a hearing. Respondent brought this action in Federal District Court, alleging that the failure to afford him a hearing violated his Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of procedural due process.

Facts of the case

Robert Sindermann had been a professor at Odessa Junior College for four years, working under one-year contracts. After his election as president of the Texas Junior College Teachers Association, he had several public disagreements with the Odessa Junior College Board of Regents. In May 1969, after the expiration of his teaching contract, Sindermann was not offered a new contract and terminated by the college’s Board of Regents. While the Board of Regents did issue a press release accusing him of insubordination, they did not provide official reasons for his termination or the option of a hearing for him to challenge his termination. Sindermann filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. He alleged that his termination was due to his disagreements with the Board of Regents, a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech, and that the lack of a hearing violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The District Court ruled for the Board of Regents without a full trial. He appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which held that his termination would have been unconstitutional if it was based on his exercise of free speech or if he had a reasonable expectation of continued employment. The Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the District Court.

Question

Did Respondent’s lack of tenure or contractual right to re-employment, taken alone, defeat his claim that nonrenewal violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights? Did Respondent have de facto tenure, sufficient to afford him procedural due process?

Answer

No. The grant of summary judgment against Respondent was improper. A teacher, like the Respondent, who has held his position for many years, might be able to show from the circumstances of his service and other relevant facts that he has a legitimate claim of entitlement to job tenure. Proof of such a property interest would obligate college officials to grant him a hearing at his request, where he could be informed of the grounds for nonretention and challenge their sufficiency. Dissent. The District Court should be directed to enter summary judgment for respondent entitling him to a statement of the reasons why his contract was not renewed and a hearing on the disputed issues of fact. Concurrence. None.

Conclusion

“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.”

  • Case Brief: 1972
  • Petitioner: Charles R. Perry et al.
  • Respondent: Robert P. Sindermann
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 408 US 593 (1972)
Argued: Jan 18, 1972
Decided: Jun 29, 1972