Dunn v. Signorelli
Generally, an at-will government employee lacks a due-process right, when the worker's contract is terminated. In 2009, the plaintiff, Attorney Patrick Dunn, won a one-year contract to represent indigent defendants in civil contempt and paternity actions. The defendant chief child protection attorney, Carolyn Signorelli, allegedly received complaints about Attorney Dunn's performance from magistrate judges, and she elected to terminate Dunn's contract early. Dunn sued and alleged that Signorelli violated his due-process rights, because he did not receive a hearing. Dunn's contract provided, "Either party may terminate the Agreement to provide legal representation for any reason by providing thirty (30) days prior written notice to the other party." To prevail on his due-process claim, Dunn must prove he possessed a constitutionally protected property interest in his position as a contract attorney, pursuant to O'Connor v. Pierson, a 2005 decision of the 2nd Circuit. Property interests arise in the employment context when the government "is barred, whether by statute or contract, from terminating (or not renewing) the employment relationship without cause," pursuant to Taravella v. Town of Wolcott, a 2010 decision of the 2nd Circuit. The court found that Attorney Signorelli complied with the contract, because she provided Attorney Dunn with 30 days' written notice. Attorney Dunn failed to prove that his discharge, without the opportunity for a hearing so that he could dispute the magistrate judges' allegations, violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The court granted Attorney Signorelli's motion for summary judgment.