Coolidge v. Bruce

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation249 Mass. 465,144 N.E. 397
PartiesCOOLIDGE, Mayor, v. BRUCE, District Judge.
Decision Date14 June 1924

249 Mass. 465
144 N.E. 397

BRUCE, District Judge.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex.

June 14, 1924.

Case reserved from Superior Court, Middlesex County; John C. Crosby, Judge.

Petition for writ of certiorari by Richard B. Coolidge, Mayor of the City of Medford, against Charles M. Bruce, Judge of the First District Court of Eastern Middlesex. On reservation. Writ granted.

[249 Mass. 468]L. G. Brooks, of Boston, for petitioner.

F. P. Garland and F. D. Healy, both of Boston, for respondent.


This is a petition for a writ of certiorari brought by the mayor of Medford against the judge of the First district court of Eastern Middlesex.

[1][2] The usual function of a writ of certiorari is to enable a party without remedy by appeal, exception or other mode of correcting errors of law committed against his rights, to bring the true record of an inferior tribunal, whose proceedings are judicial or quasi judicial in nature, properly extended, so as to show the principles of the decision, before a superior court for examination as to material mistakes of law apparent on such record. Only errors of law can be reviewed. Findings of fact are not commonly open to revision. The case at bar is a proper one for certiorari. Driscoll v. Mayor of Somerville, 213 Mass. 493, 100 N. E. 640;

[144 N.E. 398]

Swan v. Three Justices of the Superior Court, 222 Mass. 542, 544, 111 N. E. 386;Commissioner of Public Works v. Justice of Dorchester District Court, 228 Mass. 12, 16, 116 N. E. 969;Westport v. County Commissioners, 246 Mass. 556, 141 N. E. 591;Rex v. Nat. Bell Liquors, Ltd., [1922] 2 A. C. 128, 153-156.

[3] The petitioner in the case at bar, acting as mayor, removed one Fitzpatrick as police officer of Medford. The police officer was within the classified service. There was compliance with all requirements of the statute as to notice and hearing. After his removal Fitzpatrick brought a petition in the district court of the judicial district where he resided, addressed to the respondent as judge of the court, praying [249 Mass. 469]that the action of the mayor in removing him be reviewed. This petition is brought against the respondent to correct the errors of law alleged to have been committed by him in the proceedings on that petition and to be apparent on the face of his return.

The return of the respondent shows that no oral testimony was presented at the hearing here attacked but that by agreement the case was submitted upon the charge made against Fitzpatrick, a stenographic report of the proceedings and evidence before the petitioner acting as mayor at the hearing held by him under G. L. c. 31, § 44, the decision rendered by him upon such hearing and the rules and regulations of the police department of Medford. The charges on which Fitzpatrick was removed were in groups numbered from 1 to 5. The petitioner acting as mayor found Fitzpatrick ‘Guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer on March 30, 1922, and on January 16, 1923,’ and ‘guilty of violating the rules of the police department on January 15, 1923.’ These findings followed substantially word for word ‘the reasons specifically given in writing’ to him under G. L. c. 31, § 44, as charge numbered 2 and the first of several dates in charge numbered 3. He was exonerated on the other charges. The conclusion of the findings of the petitioner acting as mayor was that the ‘order of removal was and hereby is made for just cause and for specific reasons duly given.’

The respondent in his review of the decision of the petitioner acting as mayor held that:

‘A charge made February 13, 1923, of conduct unbecoming an officer on March 30, 1922, is too remote to be entered as a charge, and no evidence supports January 16, 1923.’

[4] The first of these conclusions cannot rightly be regarded as anything other than a ruling of law. It was erroneous. No such period of limitation as less than 11 months bars conduct unbecoming a police officer from being considered as a reason for removing him. It is the character of the breach of duty which ought to have weight on the question of removal and not the period of time, within reasonable limits, after which the charge is made. A long delay in bringing forward a charge of that nature as a reason for removal[249 Mass. 470]might be evidence of bad faith, although that here disclosed in the absence of circumstances giving color to the transaction would seem short even for that purpose. The finding of the respondent is explicit that the removal was not made in bad faith. This charge was not too remote in time as matter of law to be considered as a basis for removal.

[5][6] The second part of this conclusion of the respondent is that no evidence supports the charge of conduct...

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