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U.S. Supreme Court

Hortonville Dist. v. Hortonville Educ. Assn., 426 U.S. 482 (1976)

Hortonville Joint School District No. 1 v. Hortonville Education Assn.

No. 74-1606

Argued February 23-24, 1976

Decided June 17, 1976

426 U.S. 482


After negotiations for renewal of a collective bargaining contract between respondent teachers and petitioner Wisconsin School Board failed to produce agreement, the teachers went on strike in direct violation of Wisconsin law. The Board thereafter conducted individual disciplinary hearings. Through counsel, the striking teachers advised that they wished to be treated as a group, and contended that the Board was not sufficiently impartial properly to discipline them. The Board terminated the striking teachers' employment, whereupon respondent teachers brought this suit, contending, inter alia, that the hearing was inadequate to meet due process requirements. The state trial court granted the Board's motion for summary judgment. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed, holding that the procedure followed by the Board had violated federal due process requirements, since an impartial decisionmaker was required to resolve the controversy, and the Board was not sufficiently impartial. Since state law afforded no adequate remedy, the court provided that, after the Board's notice to fire a teacher and a hearing, a teacher dissatisfied with the Board's decision could secure a de novo hearing from a county court of record on all issues.

Held: The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not guarantee respondent teachers that the decision to terminate their employment would be made or reviewed by a body other than the School Board. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U. S. 471, distinguished. Pp. 426 U. S. 489-497.

(a) The record does not support respondents' contention that the Board members had a personal or official stake in the dismissal decision sufficient to disqualify them. Pp. 426 U. S. 491-492.

(b) Mere familiarity with the facts of a case gained by an agency in the performance of its statutory role does not disqualify a decisionmaker, Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U. S. 35, 421 U. S. 47; FTC v. Cement Institute, 333 U. S. 683, 333 U. S. 700-703, and here, the School Board's participation pursuant to its statutory duty in the

Page 426 U. S. 483

collective bargaining negotiations was not a disqualifying factor. Pp. 426 U. S. 492-494.

(c) The School Board, in whom the State has vested the policymaking function, is the body with the overall responsibility for governing the school district, and its members are accountable to the voters for how they discharge their statutory duties, one of which is to employ and dismiss teachers. Permitting the Board to make the policy decision at issue here preserves its control over school district affairs, leaving the balance of power over this aspect of labor relations where the state legislature has placed it. Pp. 426 U. S. 495-496.

66 Wis.2d 469, 225 N.W.2d 658, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 426 U. S. 497.

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