Pursuant to the Ohio law, the respondent argued that the Board’s decision to fire him without a cause and its refusal to review the discharge violates the law.
Property interests are not created by the Constitution, they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law.
In 1979 the Cleveland Board of Education hired respondent James Loudermill as a security guard. On his job application, James stated that he had never been convicted of a felony. Eleven months later, as part of a routine examination of his employment records, the Board discovered that in fact James had been convicted of grand larceny. The Board informed James that he had been dismissed because of his dishonesty in filling out the employment application. James was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the charge of dishonesty or to challenge his dismissal. Under Ohio law, James was classified civil servant. Such employees can be terminated only for cause, and may obtain administrative review if discharged.
Does the state Board that fired a civil servant without a cause and an opportunity for review violate the Constitution?
Yes, all the process that is due is provided by a pretermination opportunity to respond, coupled with post-termination administrative procedures as provided by the Ohio statute. Because respondents allege that they had no chance to respond, the district court erred in dismissing for failure to state a claim.
In one legislative breath, Ohio has conferred upon civil service employees such as respondents in these cases a limited form of tenure during good behavior, and prescribed procedures by which that tenure may be terminated. Here, the employee’s statutorily defined right is not a guarantee against removal without cause in the abstract, but such a guarantee as enforced by the procedures which the Ohio legislature has designated for the determination of cause. The Fourteenth Amendment does not support the conclusion that Ohio’s effort to confer a limited form of tenure upon respondents resulted in the creation of a property right in their employment.
The Due Process Clause provides that certain substantive rights – life, liberty, and property – cannot be deprived except pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures. The categories of substance and procedure are distinct. Were the rule otherwise, the Clause would be reduced to a mere tautology. Property cannot be defined by the procedures provided for its deprivation any more than can life or liberty. The right to due process is conferred, not by legislative grace, but by constitutional guarantee. While the legislature may elect not to confer a property interest in public employment, it may not elect not constitutionally authorize the deprivation of such an interest, once conferred without appropriate procedural safeguards.