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Estess v. Bossier City Municipal Fire And Police Civil Service Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 20, 2019

CHRISTOPHER A. ESTESS Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
BOSSIER CITY MUNICIPAL FIRE AND POLICE CIVIL SERVICE BOARD Defendant-Appellee

          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 158116 Honorable Edward Charles Jacobs, Judge.

          BREEDLOVE LAW FIRM, APLC By: Pamela N. Breedlove Counsel for Appellant

          KEAN MILLER, LLP By: Michael D. Lowe Counsel for Appellee

          Before WILLIAMS, MOORE, and STONE, JJ.

          STONE, J.

         Sergeant Christopher Estess (the "plaintiff") was laterally transferred from one position to another within the Bossier City Police Department. He sought to appeal that transfer to the Bossier Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board (the "board"), which summarily dismissed the appeal without an evidentiary hearing. The plaintiff appealed that dismissal to the district court, and sought a writ of mandamus ordering the board to hold an evidentiary hearing. The City of Bossier intervened in the trial court proceedings. The trial court affirmed the dismissal of the appeal, and denied mandamus. For the reasons stated hereinafter, we reverse and remand to the board with instructions.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The plaintiff is an employee of the Bossier City Police Department. He was transferred from internal affairs to patrol, and sought to appeal that transfer to the board. The plaintiff's attorney wrote an appeal letter to the board, stating:

Sergeant Estess was performing very well in his position, timely completing all of his investigations, and did not request this transfer. Chief McWilliams statements to Sergeant Estess regarding the reasons for the transfer show that the transfer was not being done in good faith or for cause. The change in Sergeant Estess' work schedule, clothing allowance, and authority and prestige as a result of the transfer was adverse action equivalent to a demotion such that it was discipline and corrective action and appealable under 33:2501.
Pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 33:2489 & 33:2501, Sergeant Estess hereby appeals his transfer as the transfer was made deliberately to discriminate against him and was corrective/disciplinary action. Sergeant Estess requests that the matter be heard at the earliest possible date.

         The board scheduled a conference on the matter for December 12, 2018. The plaintiff appeared without counsel and argued that he personally felt that his transfer constituted discipline, and therefore the board was required to grant a hearing. He also stated that the police chief's statements indicated a discriminatory motive in transferring him. The board held that the plaintiff's appeal letter failed to state a factual basis for the appeal and thereby violated Board Rule V, Section 1, which requires the appeal letter to contain a "clear and concise statement of…the basis for the appeal." On that ground, the board dismissed the appeal without holding an evidentiary hearing.

         The plaintiff appealed the board's decision to the district court, and filed a petition for writ of mandamus ordering the board to hold a hearing. The district court denied mandamus and dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff then filed the instant appeal, enumerating 12 assignments of error. However, in substance, he makes only two assignments of error: (1) the district court erred in affirming the board's dismissal without evidentiary hearing; and (2) the district court erred in refusing to grant the writ of mandamus ordering the board to hold an evidentiary hearing on the plaintiff's appeal letter. For the reasons stated hereinafter, we reverse the dismissal of the plaintiff's appeal, and remand to the board with instructions to allow the plaintiff a reasonable opportunity to amend the appeal letter.

         DISCUSSION

         The Bossier City Fire and Police Civil Service Board operates pursuant to the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Law (La. R.S. 33:2471 through La. R.S. 33:2508). This case requires us to determine whether Board Rule V is within the scope of rulemaking authority conferred on the board by La. R.S. 33:2478, and if so, whether the Board erred in applying Board Rule V.

         Louisiana has a separate civil service system for state employees (and employees of cities with populations over 400, 000). That system is created and governed by Article 10 of the Louisiana Constitution. Two prior decisions, Rocque v. Dept. of Health and Human Res., 505 So.2d 726 (La. 1987), and Khosravanipour v. Dept. of Transp., 592 So.2d 5 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1991), involved state civil service employees, but nonetheless are authoritative regarding the present case.[1] Because the present case involves a municipal civil service employee, it is necessary to first consider the underlying legislative (constitutional) provisions and administrative rules involved in Rocque and Khosravanipour. As will be shown below, those legislative provisions and administrative rules parallel the municipal civil service statutes and the board rule involved in this case.[2]

         State civil service

         Discipline.

         La. Const. art. 10, §8(A) provides as follows relative to a state civil service employee's right to appeal disciplinary action taken against him or her:

A classified employee subjected to such disciplinary action shall have the right of appeal to the appropriate commission pursuant to Section 12 of this Part. The burden of proof on appeal, as to the facts, shall be on the appointing authority. (Emphasis added).

         Discrimination.

         La. Const. art. 10, §8(B) prohibits discrimination against state civil service employees, as follows:

No classified employee shall be discriminated against because of his political or religious beliefs, sex, or race. A classified employee so discriminated against shall have the right of appeal to the appropriate commission pursuant to Section 12 of this Part. The burden of proof on appeal, as to the facts, shall be on the employee. (Emphasis added).

         Rulemaking authority.

         La. Const. art. 10, §10(A)(1)(a) authorizes the Civil Service Commission to ...


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