Eight-year Delay in Employment Termination Proceedings Did Not Violate Substantive Due Process

August 28, 2019

In Campos v. Cook County, et al., No. 18-3472, County correctional officer was twice terminated, and his termination was twice vacated by the circuit court upon judicial review. After eight years of termination proceedings and suspension without pay, the officer brought a federal Section 1983 lawsuit claiming that the termination proceedings violated his substantive due process rights. The district court dismissed the complaint, and Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court began by reaffirming the limited scope of substantive due process and the reluctance of the courts to expand the concept due to the “scarce and open-ended” nature of this “unchartered area.” A plaintiff must allege a violation of a fundamental right or liberty and the violation must be arbitrary.

Unfortunately for the county correctional officer in this case, the appellate court held that employment rights are not fundamental under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; therefore, to state a wrongful termination claim for substantive due process, the employee must allege a violation of some other constitutional right and that his state law remedies are inadequate to address the arbitrary  deprivation of a state created property interest in the employment. The officer no doubt had a state created property interest in his employment (he could only be fired for cause). However, he failed to allege an independent constitutional claim to support his substantive due process theory. Further, despite the protracted nature of the termination proceedings, the officer did avail himself of state law remedies and, in fact, convinced the circuit court twice to vacate his termination. The eight year delay is not so arbitrary or outrageous so as to violate substantive due process.

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