Terminated Officers’ Mandatory Hearing Before Board Of Rights Satisfied POBR Administrative Appeal Right

CATEGORY: Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Safety
DATE: Jan 07, 2020

This case examined the administrative appeal rights of two former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) sergeants under the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act (POBR).  Both sergeants were subject to separate investigations for unrelated allegations of misconduct.  The trial court coordinated the hearing on both sergeants’ cases because they presented an identical POBR issue.

The City of Los Angeles’s charter mandates that any decision to remove a peace officer from duty requires a hearing before and the decision by a Board of Rights (Board). In 2010 and 2015, the LAPD initiated two separate internal investigations into two sergeants for alleged misconduct.  Following the investigations, their commanding officers recommended termination of both, pending Board review in accordance with the City’s charter.  After complying with Skelly procedures, LAPD’s Chief of Police also determined that both sergeants would be removed from their positions with the LAPD based upon the investigations’ sustained findings, pending Board review.

After full evidentiary hearings, the Board found the sergeants were guilty of many of the sustained findings against them. The Chief then executed removal orders for both sergeants.

The sergeants then filed petitions for writ of mandate, alleging the City violated their POBR rights by failing to provide a fair administrative appeal, as required by Government Code section 3304(b). Notably, the sergeants did not argue that the Board hearings were insufficient to satisfy the POBR. Rather, they both argued that the Board hearings occurred before the agency issued its “final” sanction against them (i.e., the Board hearing was an interim step on the way to a final disciplinary action).

The trial court agreed, ordering the City to vacate the terminations and provide the sergeants with an opportunity for an administrative appeal as required by the POBR.

The Court of Appeal disagreed and reversed, holding that the hearing before the Board was the administrative appeal that Government Code section 3304(b) requires. Specifically, the Court of Appeal held that the Chief identified removal as the specific sanction against both sergeants before the Board hearing, and therefore the Board hearing constituted an administrative appeal that satisfied Section 3304(b).  The Court of Appeal held that the City charter’s requirement of a Board hearing is part of the procedure the POBR requires.  The Court of Appeal declined to require the City to provide any more than what the POBR mandates.

Gonzalez v. City of Los Angeles, 42 Cal.App.5th 1034 (2019).