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Guithues v. Merritts

OPINION FILED MAY 6, 1977.

ANGIE GUITHUES ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

CHARLES MERRITTS ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. JOHN J. HOBAN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE GEORGE J. MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiffs appeal from an order of the circuit court of St. Clair County dismissing their complaint. Plaintiffs alleged that their employment was terminated by defendants in violation of due process and equal protection guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, plaintiffs alleged that they were not rehired because they instituted legal proceedings against defendants.

Plaintiffs, Angie Guithues, Jessie Kerchoff and Margaret Merrick, were employed for 7, 18, and 5 years respectively as attendance officers of School District 189. These are non-certified employment positions. While plaintiffs were employed by the school district the defendants or their predecessors in office, who are members of the Board of Education of School District 189, passed a resolution stating as a declaration of policy that any existing non-certified employee who moved from the school district would be terminated in his employment with the school district. Subsequently, plaintiffs moved outside School District 189.

On July 19, 1973, defendants passed a resolution terminating the employment of plaintiffs without providing plaintiffs with the opportunity for a hearing prior to discharge. This action was in conformity with the resolution of non-residency which had been in effect in this school district since 1969.

After pleading both the 1969 and the July 19, 1973, resolutions, plaintiffs alleged that on December 7, 1973, a judge of the circuit court of St. Clair County "did declare the aforementioned resolution unconstitutional and void." While it is not clear from the record or briefs which resolution was held unconstitutional, we assume that the trial court struck down the 1969 resolution stating a declaration of policy. Nevertheless, on April 15, 1974, the court entered the following order:

"This court can find no authority for the proposition that it can order the defendants to rehire said plaintiffs; the testimony and exhibits offered indicate that said plaintiffs are hired on an annual basis, they do not have tenure."

After defendants' continued refusal to rehire plaintiffs, this action was initiated.

Plaintiffs contend in this appeal (1) that defendants terminated their employment without notice and hearing in violation of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and (2) that the defendants refused to rehire plaintiffs because they had exercised their constitutionally protected right to petition the court for redress of their grievances. They argue that the trial court erred in dismissing their complaint based on these grounds.

At this point we wish to make it clear that the plaintiffs have not relied on the previous judgment declaring the resolution unconstitutional in framing their cause of action. Our decision in this case is thus limited to the specific questions presented.

Pre-termination hearings were discussed at great length in Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 33 L.Ed.2d 548, 92 S.Ct. 2701, and Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 33 L.Ed.2d 570, 92 S.Ct. 2694.

In Roth, the plaintiff was hired as an assistant professor at a state university for a fixed term of one academic year, the notice of his faculty appointment so specifying. He completed the academic year, but was informed that he would not be rehired for the following academic year. Under university rules he was given no reason for the decision not to rehire him, nor was he given any opportunity to challenge the decision at a hearing. He then brought an action in the United States District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief, in which he alleged that the failure to give him notice of the reason for his nonretention and an opportunity for hearing was in violation of his right to procedural due process. The district court granted summary judgment in his favor, ordering the university to give him a hearing and to provide reasons for his nonretention. (310 F. Supp. 972.) The United States Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit affirmed. (446 F.2d 806.) But on certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that plaintiff was not constitutionally entitled to a statement of reasons or to a hearing on the decision not to rehire him. The pertinent provisions of the Supreme Court's opinion may be summarized as follows:

(1) Procedural due process applies only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the fourteenth amendment's protection of liberty and property and the range of such interests is not infinite;

(2) Procedural due process protects only those interests that a person has already acquired in specific benefits;

(3) The plaintiff was in no way deprived of an interest in liberty, for in declining to re-employ him, the State did not impose on him any stigma or other disability that foreclosed his freedom ...


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