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Gilbert v. Homar

June 9, 1997

JAMES E. GILBERT, PRESIDENT, EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY, ET AL., PETITIONERS

v.

RICHARD HOMAR



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

No. 96-651

Argued March 24, 1997

Decided June 9, 1997

On August 26, 1992, while employed as a policeman at East Stroudsburg University (ESU), a Pennsylvania state institution, respondent was arrested by State Police and charged with a drug felony. Petitioners, ESU officials, suspended him without pay, effective immediately, pending their own investigation. Although the criminal charges were dismissed on September 1, his suspension remained in effect. On September 18, he was provided the opportunity to tell his side of the story to ESU officials. Subsequently, he was demoted to groundskeeper. He then filed suit under 42 U. S. C. Section(s) 1983, claiming, inter alia, that petitioners' failure to provide him with notice and a hearing before suspending him without pay violated due process. The District Court granted petitioners summary judgment, but the Third Circuit reversed.

Held: In the circumstances here, the State did not violate due process by failing to provide notice and a hearing before suspending a tenured public employee without pay. Pp. 3-11.

(a) In Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470 U. S. 532, this Court held that before being fired a public employee dismissable only for cause was entitled to a limited pre-termination hearing, to be followed by a more comprehensive post-termination hearing. The Third Circuit erred in relying on dictum in Loudermill to conclude that a suspension without pay must also be preceded by notice and a hearing. Due process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U. S. 471, 481; FDIC v. Mallen, 486 U. S. 230, 240. Pp. 3-6.

(b) Three factors are relevant in determining what process is constitutionally due: (1) the private interest that will be affected by the official action; (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and (3) the Government's interest. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U. S. 319, 335. Respondent asserts an interest in an uninterrupted paycheck; but account must be taken of the length and finality of the temporary deprivation of his pay. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U. S. 422, 434. So long as a suspended employee receives a sufficiently prompt post-suspension hearing, the lost income is relatively insubstantial, and fringe benefits such as health and life insurance are often not affected at all. On the other side of the balance, the State has a significant interest in immediately suspending employees charged with felonies who occupy positions of public trust and visibility, such as police officers. While this interest could have been accommodated by suspending respondent with pay, the Constitution does not require the government to give an employee charged with a felony paid leave at taxpayer expense. The remaining Mathews factor is the most important in this case: The purpose of a pre-suspension hearing-to assure that there are reasonable grounds to support the suspension without pay, cf. Loudermill, supra, at 545-546-has already been assured by the arrest and the filing of charges. See FDIC, supra. That there may have been discretion not to suspend does not mean that respondent had to be given the opportunity to persuade officials of his innocence before the decision was made. See id., at 234-235. Pp. 6-10.

(c) Whether respondent received an adequately prompt post-suspension hearing should be considered by the Third Circuit in the first instance. Pp. 10-11. 89 F. 3d 1009, REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Justice Scalia

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

This case presents the question whether a State violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to provide notice and a hearing before ...


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