Johnson (plaintiff) was fired as a police officer for the City of Shelby (defendant) by the city’s board of aldermen. Johnson brought suit, claiming a violation of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Johnson claimed that he was fired for publicly disclosing crimes that one of the aldermen committed. Johnson’s complaint did not specifically invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The city filed a motion to dismiss based on this omission. The district court granted the motion, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.