Perry v. Sindermann

PETITIONER: Charles R. Perry et al.
RESPONDENT: Robert P. Sindermann
LOCATION: Odessa Junior College

DOCKET NO.: 70-36
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 408 US 593 (1972)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1972
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1972

ADVOCATES:
Michael H. Gottesman - argued the cause for the respondent
W. O. Shafer - argued the cause for the petitioners

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

(1) Was Sindermann entitled to a full trial in District Court?

(2) Was Sindermann entitled to a hearing before the Board of Regents?

Media for Perry v. Sindermann

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1972 in Perry v. Sindermann

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 70-36 Perry against Sindermann.

Mr. Shafer, you may lower the lectern if you would like to.

It's on the right side.

W. O. Shafer:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

Usually I carry a coke box to take care of that difference.

Petitioners in this case are the President and the Board of Regents of Odessa College, a small town in West Texas.

The respondent, Sindermann was a teacher employed on a year to year contract, which had it's expiration was not renewed.

Termination did not occur during the contract term.

Before the term date actually expired and before official notice that it would not be renewed, he claimed he was fired for anti-administration activity.

The President of this college also had about simultaneous with the notification of non-renewal, issued a press release in which he detailed the activities, and as we read in this claim that it had any thing to do with his discharge.

But it is set out in detail, what we considered to be, too precise, valid and legitimate grounds for non-renewal which included one; persistent insubordination and two; a disruption of harmony, among his colleagues, by the way of harassment.

Now, we don't know of any decisions that says that either of those situations, or invalid as grounds for dismissal, three days and with a notification--

Harry A. Blackmun:

You concede that there was a dismissal here or simply a --

W. O. Shafer:

It is a non-renewal, Mr. Justice and I debate in terms of termination and I may slip and say discharge, I do hope to make it clear that it was a year-to-year contract.

It was not renewed at the expiration of the contract.

Harry A. Blackmun:

It was a failure to the rehire.

W. O. Shafer:

Yes, it is a failure to renew or give him another contract.

These are year-to-year contracts, and what we present here as a non-tenure college in a non-tenure state and with a non-tenure profession.

And if I say termination, and I mean to say non-renewal.

Potter Stewart:

Well you said dismissal, and I wondered if you were speaking that and I gather you are not.

W. O. Shafer:

No sir, we do not.

Potter Stewart:

This was a professor, you are saying?

W. O. Shafer:

Yes, well, and I guess you would say pro-professor, yes sir, this is a junior college and--

Potter Stewart:

A two-year college.

W. O. Shafer:

Yes, sir a two year college.

So we don't have chairs and things of that types of that nature, if you would find in a Ford University.

I do hope to make that clear though I may have used that term, I don't mean to, I will try not to.

Three days after, he had notice of the non-renewal, Sindermann filed a suit in the Federal Court in our area for $475000 of damages, and seeking various other relief.

Simultaneously, with the filing of a suit, he wrote a letter asking for a hearing which was the first indication, or request for an entire period, no hearing was made, the case proceeded under the court--

Thurgood Marshall:

Does the college provided for hearing if requested?