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Stein v. Board

May 22, 1986


The Board of Education and Leonard David appeal from judgment entered by United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Eugene Nickerson, Judge), after a jury verdict finding a violation of Stein's procedural due process rights. Reversed and remanded.

Author: Kaufman

Before: FEINBERG, Chief Judge, KAUFMAN and OAKES, Circuit Judges.

KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge:

Stuart Stein was employed as a bus driver by A.C.J. Transportation, Inc. ("ACJ") from 1979 to 1982. The exclusive business of ACJ was to provide bus transportation for handicapped children as directed by the New York City Board of Education.

By the terms of his written contract with ACJ, Stein could not be discharged from his employment except for just cause. A written agreement between ACJ and the Board of Education, however, provided that ACJ "shall only employ persons of good moral character to serve as vehicle operators." Certification that a vehicle operator had received appropriate training was a prerequisite to a driver operating on a Board of Education route. The agreement further provided that, after determination by the Director of the Bureau of Pupil Transportation that a driver's competency "falls below acceptable standards ... [ACJ], upon receiving written notice from the Director to that effect, shall not again employ this operator on any part of the work to be performed hereunder, or on any part of the work the contractor may perform for the Board of Education under any other contract."

In early April, 1982, the Chief of Staff at the Bureau of Pupil Transportation of the Board of Education ("Bureau") received anonymous telephone calls reporting that a school bus driver had fondled himself on the bus. The Bureau asked ACJ to investigate the complaints. On April 2, Anthony DiDomenico, the president of ACJ, reported to the Bureau that a chaperone*fn1 who rode the bus with Stein had complained that Stein had exposed himself while driving the bus. The Bureau instructed DiDomenico not to allow Stein to drive on Board of Education routes until a hearing could be held. Accordingly, when Stein returned to the ACJ garage that evening after completing his route, he was informed that he could would not be permitted to drive for ACJ in the future. No explanation was given.

On April 3, ACJ sent the Bureau a written report containing allegations by several female chaperones that Stein had made sexual advances to them. One of the chaperones, Maxine Brown, sent a letter to the Bureau alleging that Stein had brought women on the bus "who looked very much like prostitutes," and that Stein had asked Brown to buy marijuana for him. Alarmed by these reports, Leonard David, Director of Compliance for the Bureau, decided to conduct a hearing. David testified that he instructed a member of his staff to send a notice of hearing to ACJ, with a request that a copy of the notice be forwarded to Stein.

The only notice Stein received, however, was a handwritten note from David with the date and the time of the hearing, and verbal instructions from an employee of ACJ to appear at the hearing office of the Bureau on Monday, April 12, 1982.

Stein went to the April 12 meeting with his union representative. For the first time, Stein was shown the letters written by the chaperones, none of whom were present at the hearing. Stein submitted letters attesting to his good character. Nonetheless, the following day, David informed ACJ that Stein was barred from driving on Board of Education routes because he fell below the standards of "good moral character" required by the contract between the Board of Education and ACJ.

Shortly thereafter Stein was discharged by ACJ. He filed a grievance with his union, and the matter went to arbitration. both sides submitted evidence, and the arbitrator declined to overturn the decision by ACJ to fire Stein.

On December 22, 1982, Stein brought an action in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleging a deprivation of due process because he did not receive adequate notice or a fair hearing before his disqualification by the Board of Education. Leonard David, the New York City Board of Education, ACJ and DiDomenico were named defendants. After a four-day jury trial, Judge Nickerson charged the jury that "Mr. Stein's job is protected by due process of law." rejecting defendants' request that the jury be instructed that in New York the decertification of a school bus driver is not a constitutionally protected property right. In addition, the district judge denied defense counsel's requested charges that Leonard David might be entitled to a good faith defense, and that the jury should award only nominal damages if it found that Stein would have been discharged by ACJ even if he had received adequate notice.

In response to four special interrogatories, the jury found Stein had not received adequate notice of the charges against him, but that defendants ACJ and DiDomenico did not conspire with the state to deprive Stein of his constitutional rights. Accordingly, it found only defendants Leonard David and the Board of Education liable for lost wages. Judgment was entered on January 24, 1986, awarding Stein $15,000 in compensatory damages plus attorneys' fees, and directing the Board of Education to hold a new hearing to determine whether Stein should be permitted to drive school buses on Board of Education routes. Leonard David and the Board of Education now appeal.


We turn first to the difficult question whether Stein's continued employment by ACJ is a protected property interest such that the state violated his procedural due process rights when it revoked his certification and caused his discharge. The district judge charged ...

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