73 F.3d 1525 (10th Cir. 1996), 94-2220, Saavedra v. City of Albuquerque

Docket Nº:94-2220.
Citation:73 F.3d 1525
Party Name:Stanley SAAVEDRA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALBUQUERQUE, The CITY OF; Albuquerque Personnel Board; The City of Albuquerque Employee Health Center; Arthur A. Blumenfeld, Chief Administrative Officer; Linda Logan-Condon, Former Chairperson of the Personnel Board; T. Zane Reeves, Personnel Hearing Officer, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:January 17, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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73 F.3d 1525 (10th Cir. 1996)

Stanley SAAVEDRA, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

ALBUQUERQUE, The CITY OF; Albuquerque Personnel Board; The

City of Albuquerque Employee Health Center; Arthur A.

Blumenfeld, Chief Administrative Officer; Linda

Logan-Condon, Former Chairperson of the Personnel Board; T.

Zane Reeves, Personnel Hearing Officer, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 94-2220.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 17, 1996

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Paul S. Livingston, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for appellant.

Randy M. Autio, Assistant City Attorney, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for appellee City of Albuquerque.

Todd M. Stafford (David A. Rammelkamp with him on the brief) of Kelly, Rammelkamp, Muehlenweg & Lucero, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for appellees City of Albuquerque Personnel Board, Linda Logan-Condon and T. Zane Reeves.

Before BRISCOE, COFFIN [*] and BARRETT, Circuit Judges.

BARRETT, Senior Circuit Judge.

Stanley Saavedra (Saavedra), plaintiff-appellant, appeals from orders of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees, T. Zane Reeves, the Personnel Hearing Officer (PHO), the Albuquerque Personnel Board (Board) and the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico (City), and dismissing his 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 civil rights complaint.

Facts

Saavedra commenced working for the City as a fire-fighter and emergency medical technician on or about September 20, 1982. His employment with the City was governed, in part, by the City's Merit System Ordinance (MSO) adopted pursuant to N.M. Stat. Ann. Sec. 3-13-4 (1978), and a collective bargaining agreement between the City and the International Association of Firefighters Local 244 (Union). Under the collective bargaining agreement, "[a]ll actions involving discipline and terminations shall provide due process as described by the Merit System Ordinance and existing applicable law." (Appellee's Supplemental Appendix, Vol. I at 000063).

Section 2-9-25(D) of the City's MSO provided in part: management actions questioned by an employee which result in dismissal

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are designated as Class I grievances; PHO's have the authority to hear and render decisions in Class I grievances; a PHO's decision is reviewable by the Board; and, "[t]he decision of the Personnel Board shall be reviewable in District Court...." Sec. 2-9-25(D)(5). Under the City's MSO, "safety-sensitive" employees, such as Saavedra, could be dismissed for justifiable cause, including testing positive for drugs.

In March, 1991, Saavedra suffered some personal and emotional problems. He self-referred himself to the City's Employee Health Center for an evaluation. Saavedra gave a urine sample. A specific gravity test applied to the sample indicated that it was essentially the same as water. Saavedra, at the request of City, gave a second urine sample several days later which tested positive for the presence of metabolites of marijuana.

On March 27, 1991, Albuquerque Fire Department Chief Montoya notified Saavedra in writing that he had tested positive for drug use in violation of the City's regulations. On April 2, 1991, Chief Montoya conducted a pre-termination hearing. Saavedra attended the hearing and was represented by Roman Velarde, his Union president. Saavedra was terminated on April 8, 1991, solely because he had tested positive for the presence of metabolites of marijuana in his urine. Thereafter, Saavedra filed a grievance challenging his termination.

Saavedra was provided with a post-termination grievance hearing in accordance with the City's MSO. PHO Reeves presided. During the course of the hearing, which was conducted on four one-day sessions in July, September, and October, 1991, Saavedra was represented by counsel. Saavedra appeared in person and was allowed to present evidence and to confront and examine adverse witnesses. The City also presented evidence.

Following the hearing, PHO Reeves prepared detailed written findings of fact, conclusions, and recommendations to the Board in which he recommended that Saavedra's grievance be denied and his discharge be upheld on the basis of just cause. The Board upheld PHO Reeves' recommendations by a 5-0 vote. Although Sec. 2-9-25(D)(5) of the City's MSO provided that "[t]he decision of the Personnel Board shall be reviewable in District Court ... [w]here the decision is in violation of applicable constitutional provisions or is otherwise illegal," Saavedra did not appeal to a New Mexico district court. Rather, he filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 in federal district court against PHO Reeves, the Board and the City seeking, inter alia, "declaratory and compensatory relief for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments" and "relief for substantive and procedural due process violations arising from the pre-termination and post-termination administrative proceedings." (Appellant's Appendix, Vol. I at 000001).

PHO Reeves, Linda Logan-Condon, Chair of the Board, and the Board (hereinafter collectively referred to as "individual appellees") moved for summary judgment on Count IV, Negligent and Tortious Conduct, and Count VII, Punitive Damages. Individual appellees argued that the PHO and members of the Board who had adjudicated Saavedra's grievances were entitled to absolute immunity from personal liability for quasi-judicial acts. Individual appellees argued, alternatively, that their actions were shielded by qualified immunity.

The City moved for summary judgment on Count I, Violation of the Fourth Amendment, and Count II, Violations of Due Process Rights. The City argued that it had reasonable suspicion to believe that Saavedra was engaging in drug activity and that it was, accordingly, justified in compelling him to submit a urine sample. 1 The City also argued that Saavedra was provided with all the process he was due.

On July 27, 1994, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the individual appellees on Counts IV and VII finding that since individual appellees were acting in their "adjudicative capacities and performing quasi-judicial acts, [they] are entitled to absolute immunity." Saavedra v. City of Albuquerque,

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59 F.Supp. 526, 531 (D.N.M.1994). The district court noted that if Saavedra "is correct in his contention that the City's procedures failed to satisfy requirements of due process, he may still pursue relief against the City." Id.

On August 25, 1994, the district court entered a final judgment in which it granted the City summary judgment on Counts I and II. The court found, inter alia, that: the City had reasonable suspicion to test Saavedra for drug use after he had admitted smoking marijuana, exhibited erratic behavior, and threatened violent behavior toward his supervisors; Saavedra "cannot now be heard to complain that he wasn't given a chance to contest the outcome of the drug test when it was his own admission which confirmed its validity," (Appellant's Appendix, Vol. II at 000259); and the post-termination grievance process accorded Saavedra pursuant to the City's MSO provided Saavedra all the due process that he was entitled to under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed, sua sponte, the remaining counts.

Issues

On appeal, Saavedra contends that the district court erred in: (1) granting absolute judicial immunity to the Board members; (2) granting the City summary judgment on Count I; and (3) granting the City summary judgment on Count II.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same legal standards employed by the district court. Gehl Group v. Koby, 63 F.3d 1528, 1533 (10th Cir.1995). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Hagelin for President Committee of Kan. v. Graves, 25 F.3d 956, 959 (10th Cir.1994), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 934, 130 L.Ed.2d 880...

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