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Simard v. Board of Education of Town of Groton

decided: January 30, 1973.

PAUL G. SIMARD ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWN OF GROTON ET AL., APPELLEES



Lumbard, Feinberg and Mansfield, Circuit Judges.

Author: Feinberg

FEINBERG, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Paul G. Simard, a language teacher, was denied tenure by the decision of defendant Board of Education of Groton, Connecticut not to renew his one-year contract. Alleging that his constitutional rights were violated by this action, plaintiff and three teacher associations brought this action against the Board, seven of its members and four other individual defendants in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).*fn1 Plaintiff Simard sought preliminary, as well as permanent, injunctive relief. He rejected the court's suggestion that, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2), the hearing on the application for a preliminary injunction be consolidated with the trial of the action on the merits, and a hearing as to preliminary relief only was held in June 1971, at which five witnesses testified. Thereafter, Chief Judge M. Joseph Blumenfeld, in a thorough opinion, denied the application and also denied defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. A full trial was held some seven months later, at which ten witnesses testified, after which Judge Blumenfeld dismissed the complaint.*fn2 We agree with the judge's conclusion that on the facts of this case, plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I

Simard taught French and Latin at the Fitch Senior High School in Groton from September 1968 until August 1971. From the beginning of his employment, Simard had been an active member of the Groton Education Association (GEA), which negotiated teachers' contracts with the Board of Education. He served as Vice-President and President of the GEA and, in 1970-71, as Chairman of the Professional Rights and Responsibilities Committee, the negotiating arm of the GEA. Teacher contract negotiations, at least from 1965 to 1971, had been less than amicable, resulting in two work stoppages in 1967 and 1969. Negotiations for the 1971-72 contract, in which Simard served as chief negotiator for the GEA, were characterized by particular bitterness and recrimination.

The relevant portions of the Connecticut statute governing employment of teachers are set forth in the margin.*fn3 The parties agree that had Simard's contract been renewed for the 1971-72 academic term, he would have achieved tenure by the operation of law; and it is conceded that the rights of a school teacher in Connecticut are greater after he has achieved tenure status.*fn4 In early February 1971, however, he was notified by defendant Chapman, the Groton Superintendent of Schools, that his contract would not be renewed for the coming year -- a decision that effectively denied him tenure. Simard's skill as a classroom teacher is not disputed on the record before us. Instead, the Superintendent predicated nonrenewal of the contract on two of the six grounds set forth in the Connecticut statute: "insubordination against reasonable rules of the board of education," § 10-151(b)(2), and "other due and sufficient cause," § 10-151(b)(6). To this statement of reasons was appended a list of 21 specific instances of conduct which allegedly formed the basis for the Superintendent's decision.*fn5

Upon appellant's request and as authorized by statute § 10-151(a), the Board conducted a public hearing on the Superintendent's decision not to renew plaintiff's contract. The hearing, at which six witnesses testified, extended over four days in early March 1971. Simard was represented by counsel and was afforded the opportunity to call witnesses and to cross-examine; Simard was also given a transcript of the proceedings without cost. After the hearing, the Board unanimously concluded, in a seven-page opinion, that there were "adequate grounds for the Superintendent of Schools to deny Mr. Simard a teaching contract for the following year . . . ." The Board took pains to observe that it had in no way been influenced by Simard's affiliation with the GEA or by his prominent role in contract negotiations. The Board stated:

The various infractions of the rules and regulations taken as a whole indicated to the Board that the likelihood of Mr. Simard conforming to such reasonable rules and regulations in the future was minimal. . . . The incidents cited by the Superintendent of Schools and the administrators of the school system in the statement of reasons appear to be symptoms of an attitude on the part of Mr. Simard that is deemed by the Board of Education not to be conducive to a fair and effective administration of the school system. The fact that Simard was often late to his class assignments; that he failed to supervise his assigned classes in accordance with the established rules and express direction of the Principal; that he failed to cooperate in the preparation of necessary outlines for the high school evaluation; that his presence in the administration offices and stockroom at Fitch Senior High School were unauthorized and unexplained; and the fact that he directly challenged the authority of the supervising Principal of the high school and read one of the written reprimands issued by his Principal to his students, all reflect conduct and an attitude not consistent with the professional responsibility of a member of the staff of the high school.

Plaintiff claims that the Board deprived him of both procedural and substantive due process as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment and that it unconstitutionally penalized him for his exercise of rights protected by the first amendment.

II. The Due Process Claims

At the threshold, successful assertion of any due process claims turns on whether Simard's interests in renewal of his contract with tenure thereafter rise to the level of those encompassed by the fourteenth amendment's protection of "liberty" and "property." In Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 92 S. Ct. 2701, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548 (1972), and Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 92 S. Ct. 2694, 33 L. Ed. 2d 570 (1972), the Supreme Court considered the interests of non-tenured teachers and concluded that to show deprivation of liberty, a complainant must demonstrate that the reasons given for denial of tenure would "seriously damage his standing and associations in the community" or foreclose "his freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities." 408 U.S. at 573, 92 S. Ct. at 2707. To have a protected property interest, the Court continued, is to have more than a "unilateral expectation" of continued employment; some "legitimate claim of entitlement to it" must be established, 408 U.S. at 577, 92 S. Ct. at 2709, by showing either concrete state rules and regulations or a well-established joint understanding amounting to a " de facto tenure program." 408 U.S. at 599-602, 92 S. Ct. at 2709. The parties differ over whether plaintiff has alleged deprivation of interests constituting liberty or property as the Court has defined these elusive concepts.*fn6 We need not so decide, however, as we assume, for purposes of argument only, that the fourteenth amendment guarantee of due process applies.

A. Procedural Due Process

As we have previously observed, however,

the inquiry does not end with this assumption; it only begins. Due process does not invariably require the procedural safeguards accorded in a criminal proceeding. Rather "the very nature of due process negates any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation." Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers, Local 473, AFL-CIO v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 81 S. Ct. 1743, 1748, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1230 (1961). See Hannah v. Larche, 363 U.S. 420, 442, 80 S. Ct. 1502, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1307 (1960) ("'Due ...


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