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Poiencot v. Lafayette Consolidated Government

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 31, 2017

SCOTT POIENCOT
v.
LAFAYETTE CONSOLIDATED GOVERNMENT, ET AL.

         APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LAFAYETTE, DOCKET NO. C-20156178 HONORABLE LAURIE A. HULIN, DISTRICT JUDGE

          William L. Goode The Goode Law Firm, A.P.L.C. Plaintiff/Appellant - Scott Poiencot

          Michael P. Corry, Sr., J. Daniel Siefker, Sr., Briney Foret Corry Defendant/Appellee - Lafayette Consolidated Government

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Billy H. Ezell and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          SYLVIA R. COOKS JUDGE.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 12, 2012, Scott Poiencot, who was an officer with the Lafayette Police Department (hereafter LPD), was terminated from his employment by former LPD Police Chief James Craft. Poiencot had been the subject of three separate Internal Affairs' investigations: AD2012-007, AD2012-010 and AD2012-012. Prior to his termination, Poiencot had been employed by LPD for several years, obtaining the rank of Corporal.

         Investigation AD2012-007 involved the removal and subsequent release to the media of a confidential document from a police file. It was eventually determined Lieutenant Greg Cormier removed the document in its original form from the file of an investigation. Certain information was whited out on the form before it was given to Poiencot. The confidential document was then disseminated to the local media and made public.

         Investigation AD2012-010 pertained to Poiencot's secret recording of a phone conversation between Gabe Thompson and Major George Alfred of the LPD. Thompson recorded the conversation, without the knowledge of Major Alfred, using a device provided to him by Poiencot. Poiencot admitted that he downloaded the conversation to a disc, which was later released to the media without authorization from Thompson, Major Alfred or the LPD.

         Investigation AD2012-012 dealt with Poiencot's failure to submit to a polygraph examination pursuant to Investigation AD2012-007. He initially refused to submit to the polygraph, but later agreed to do so. However, he was charged with insubordination for the initial refusal.

         Poiencot appealed his termination to the Lafayette Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board (hereafter the Board). The Board considered Poiencot's termination during an evidentiary hearing which occurred on November 11, 2015. At the conclusion of that hearing, the Board unanimously upheld the termination of Poiencot's employment with the LPD, finding the termination was "in good faith and for cause."

         Poiencot then appealed to the Fifteenth Judicial District Court, arguing the Board should only have considered Internal Affairs' investigation AD2012-007 in its determination. Over Poiencot's objection, the Board consolidated all three Internal Affairs' investigations. Poiencot alleged he received three Personal Action Forms stating he had been terminated, one for each investigation. Poiencot argued he could only be fired one time, for the findings in investigation AD2012-007. He contended he could not be terminated on the findings in AD2012-010 or AD2012-012 because he was no longer a civil service employee upon the termination for the infraction stated in AD2012-007. As a result, Poiencot maintained the Board acted in bad faith and without cause in hearing the appeals for AD2012-010 and AD2012-012. Moreover, Poiencot asserted the Board reversed the termination in AD2012-007 which, he argued on appeal, voided and thus made the affirmances of AD2012-010 and AD2012-012 null and void.

         In opposition to Poiencot's argument, Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government (hereafter LCG) maintained the decision to terminate was made in good faith and for cause by a 5-0 vote of the Board. LCG argued the termination was justified because Poiencot violated confidentiality policies and/or released confidential information. LCG specifically noted Poiencot participated in secretly recording a fellow officer, an act which has been held by the courts to be sufficient to warrant termination. LCG also contended termination was an appropriate sanction for insubordination as a result of Poiencot's refusal to take a polygraph examination upon request. LCG maintained Poiencot was terminated once for violations relating to all three of the investigations conducted against him.

         The district court noted pursuant to La.R.S. 33:2501(3), the issue before it was whether the Board's decision to affirm the termination was made in good faith and for cause. The district court gave the following reasons for its finding that the Board acted in good faith and for cause in terminating Poiencot:

A formal complaint triggered the start of the investigation of Mr. Poiencot. The Lafayette Police Department requested and was granted an extension to complete the investigation of sixty days. Mr. Poiencot was notified and able to participate in this investigation. Mr. Poiencot was notified of his predetermination hearing within the timeframe granted by the extension. Mr. Poiencot was also given predetermination hearings, represented by counsel through the entire process, and was able to prepare a defense to the allegations brought against him. As such, this court finds Mr. Poiencot was given due process as established in [Cleveland Bd. Of Educ. v.] Loudermill [470 U.S. 532');">470 U.S. 532, 105 S.Ct. 1487 (1985)] and the Police Bill of Rights was not violated by the Board.
This case centers around three internal investigations that were conducted concerning Mr. Poiencot (AD2012-007, AD2012-010 and AD2012-012), and his subsequent determination from the Lafayette Police Department as a result. When examining the record, there was testimony from Chief Craft that Mr. Poiencot was terminated as a result of three administrative investigations. An objection was lodged by appellant.
The Board, after examination of the evidence, concluded that the actions of Mr. Poiencot warranted his termination. They voted 5-0 upholding the termination of Mr. Poiencot. The Board's decision to have one hearing does not in and of itself lead the court to find that the Board did not act in good faith and for cause. No authority was cited by appellant to support that the Board must proceed with a separate trial for each investigation. The Board chose to act in an efficient manner and hear all matters that were consistent and employed the same form of procedure. Further, this court does not find any manifest error that would cause this court to overturn the Board's factual conclusions. This court finds that the Board acted in good faith and for cause in the termination of Mr. Poiencot.

         A final judgment was issued affirming the actions of the Board. Poiencot has appealed that judgment to this court, asserting in his lone assignment of error that the district court "was manifestly erroneous in finding that the Board acted in good faith and had legal cause to uphold Mr. Poiencot's employment termination by the [Appointing Authority]." For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         ANALYSIS

         Louisiana Revised Statutes 33:2501(A) provides the procedure for appeals by civil service employees to the Board:

Any regular employee in the classified service who feels that he has been discharged or subjected to any corrective or disciplinary action without just cause, may, within fifteen days after the action, demand, in writing, a hearing and investigation by the board to determine the reasonableness of the action. The board shall grant the employee a hearing and investigation within thirty days after receipt of the written request.

         In the event of an appeal of the Board's decision rendered under Subsection A, Subsection E provides a procedure to appeal the Board's decision to the district court. Specifically, La.R.S. 33:2501(E)(1) provides:

Any employee under classified service and any appointing authority may appeal from any decision of the board, or from any action taken by the board under the provisions of the Part that is prejudicial to the employee or appointing authority. This appeal shall lie direct to the court of original and unlimited jurisdiction in civil suits of the parish wherein the board is domiciled.

         The standard of review for appealing the Board's decisions to the district court is set forth in La.R.S. 33:2501(E)(3), and provides as follows:

This hearing shall be confined to the determination of whether the decision made by the board was made in good faith for cause under the provisions of this Part. No appeal to the court shall be taken except upon these grounds and except as provided in Subsection D of this Section.

         In Moore v. Ware, 01-3341, pp. 7-8 (La.2/25/03), 839 So.2d 940, 945-46, the Louisiana Supreme Court explained the standard of review ...


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