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LCW Wins Dismissal Of Terminated Peace Officer’s Lawsuit
LCW Associate Attorneys Nathan Jackson and Lars Reed successfully represented a city in a lawsuit that a former police officer brought.
In the spring of 2021, the city’s police department launched an internal affairs investigation into the police officer’s alleged misconduct. In April 2021, the district attorney’s office filed criminal charges against the officer. The officer was represented by counsel both in the criminal proceeding and in the internal affairs investigation. Once the investigation and all pre-disciplinary processes were completed, the department terminated the officer, and the officer appealed.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the police union outlined the exclusive process for the officer to appeal his firing. The MOU contained a multi-step grievance procedure, and each step contained specific deadlines for the officer to request to advance his appeal. The officer’s counsel missed the deadline to advance the appeal to arbitration by over a month. The city manager denied the officer’s arbitration request on the grounds that the officer waived further appeal rights under the MOU.
The officer filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief from the trial court and an order for the city to arbitrate his termination appeal. The officer’s counsel indicated that the failure to meet the MOU’s deadlines was due in part to members of his family falling ill. He argued that his failure to timely request arbitration was due to excusable neglect. He further argued that relief was appropriate given the fundamental due process rights at stake.
LCW filed a demurrer on behalf of the city. One of the grounds for demurrer was that declaratory relief was not an available remedy for the officer because there was no dispute as to the MOU’s language and the officer’s rights under it. The court agreed. The officer had not shown the MOU language was ambiguous. The MOU stated that the failure to meet the timelines for advancing the grievance forfeited further grievance rights. The court also found the officer’s counsel’s failure to timely advance arbitration was not the result of excusable neglect, because the failure to meet a simple deadline was not an oversight that a reasonably prudent person would make. The officer sought leave to amend his lawsuit, and this request was denied.
Based on the foregoing, the court sustained the city’s demurrer without leave to amend, because the officer’s claim arose from an MOU that is subject to only one reasonable interpretation.
A demurrer is a request for a court to dismiss a case because the case is not viable. A demurrer is a powerful tool that can save public agencies money by getting lawsuits dismissed at the pleading stage, without a trial or discovery. LCW attorneys can help public agencies identify legal deficiencies in a lawsuit that may make a case appropriate for demurrer.