PERRY v. SINDERMANN

Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
70-36
Petitioner 
Charles R. Perry et al.
Respondent 
Robert P. Sindermann
Advocates
(argued the cause for the petitioners)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
Tags
Term:
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?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Sindermann, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

Yes and yes. In a 5-3 decision, the Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit and held that Sindermann was entitled to a full trial in federal District Court and a hearing before the Board of Regents. The Court acknowledged that Sindermann did not have a contractual or tenure-based right to continued employment by Odessa Junior College. However, this lack was "immaterial to [Sindermann's] free speech claim." Writing for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart relied on Shelton v. Tucker and Keyishian v. Board of Regents in emphasizing that nonrenewal of a one-year teaching contract "may not be predicated on [a teacher's] exercise of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights." However, the Court stopped short of invalidating Sindermann's termination, as the Board of Regents' reasoning had not been established. While Sindermann had yet to "show that he has been deprived of an interest that could invoke procedural due process," the Court stated that his claim did "raise a genuine issue." While Odessa College did not have a formal tenure system, the Court recognized the possibility of a college having an "unwritten 'common law'" "in practice" that would grant "the equivalent of tenure." Given the policies of Odessa College, Sindermann was entitled to a hearing before the Board of Regents as well.

Cite this Page
PERRY v. SINDERMANN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 06 July 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_36>.
PERRY v. SINDERMANN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_36 (last visited July 6, 2014).
"PERRY v. SINDERMANN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_36.