Edwards v. City of Goldsboro

Decision Date14 May 1999
Docket NumberNo. 97-2609,97-2609
Citation178 F.3d 231
Parties, 15 IER Cases 333 Kenneth R. EDWARDS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF GOLDSBORO; Chester Hill, individually and in his official capacity; Richard Slozak, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants-Appellees. Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics of North Carolina; North Carolina State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police; North Carolina Troopers' Association; National Rifle Association, Amici Curiae.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Joseph Michael McGuinness, Elizabethtown, North Carolina, for Appellant. Patricia Lee Holland, Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Gregory K. Kornegay, Wilmington, North Carolina, for Appellant. Patrick H. Flanagan, Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina; W. Harrell Everett, Jr., Everett, Womble & Finan, L.L.P., Goldsboro, North Carolina, for Appellees. M. Travis Payne, Edelstein & Payne, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Amici Curiae Professional Fire Fighters, et al. Robert Dowlut, Fairfax, Virginia, for Amicus Curiae NRA.

Before ERVIN and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges, and HILTON, Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded by published opinion. Judge HAMILTON wrote the opinion, in which Judge ERVIN and Chief Judge HILTON joined.


HAMILTON, Circuit Judge:

Kenneth Edwards, a sergeant in the police department for the City of Goldsboro, North Carolina, brought this civil action against the City of Goldsboro (the City), its chief of police, Chester Hill (Chief Hill), and its city manager, Richard Slozak (City Manager Slozak), alleging numerous claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (§ 1983) and the North Carolina Constitution, and one claim under North Carolina common law. In his civil action, Kenneth Edwards (Sergeant Edwards) challenged the decision to suspend him for two weeks without pay and to place him on probationary status for one year following his teaching of a concealed handgun safety course when he had previously been denied permission to do so. He also challenged the decision to condition his continued employment with the police department upon his not teaching the course. The district court dismissed all of Sergeant Edwards' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Sergeant Edwards appeals, and we now affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Sergeant Edwards began his law enforcement career with the City of Goldsboro Police Department (the Department) in 1975. 1 As part of his duties with respect to the Department, Sergeant Edwards served as a certified firearms instructor for the City and as a law enforcement supervisor of officers patrolling a public housing unit.

On July 10, 1995, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified a bill establishing a statewide permitting program for carrying concealed handguns (the North Carolina Concealed Handgun Statute). See N.C. Gen.Stat. §§ 14-415.10 to 415.23 (Supp.1995); William F. Lane, Public Endangerment or Personal Liberty? North Carolina Enacts a Liberalized Concealed Handgun Statute, 74 N.C.L.Rev. 2214, 2215 (1996). One of the prerequisites for obtaining a concealed handgun permit under the North Carolina Concealed Handgun Statute is completion of "an approved firearms safety and training course which involves the actual firing of handguns and instruction in the laws of [North Carolina] governing the carrying of a concealed hand-gun and the use of deadly force." 2 N.C. Gen.Stat. § 14.415.12(a)(4).

In early November 1995, as part of his regular employment, Sergeant Edwards attended a firearms-instructor conference at the North Carolina Justice Academy in Salemburg, North Carolina, qualifying him to be an instructor of the concealed handgun safety course. Shortly there after, Sergeant Edwards took steps to teach the concealed handgun safety course in his off-duty hours in an effort to earn extra money to help support his elderly mother and in an effort to express his personal views on and advocacy of firearms safety. These steps included obtaining a business permit in the name of Professional Training Services and scheduling his first class for November 29, 1995. Two days prior to his first scheduled class, on November 27,Sergeant Edwards submitted a standard application for permission to engage in off-duty employment to Chief Hill and informed Chief Hill of the upcoming class. The application explained the nature of Sergeant Edwards' proposed off-duty employment. Chief Hill informed Sergeant Edwards that he would discuss the application with the City Attorney and advise Sergeant Edwards of its status the next day. 3

On November 28, 1995, Chief Hill issued a memorandum addressed to Sergeant Edwards denying his application for off-duty employment In relevant part, the memorandum states as follows:

At the present the issue of carrying a concealed handgun is a very sensitive and controversial issue. Most important, it is my duty and obligation as Chief of the Goldsboro Police Department to do what is in the best interest of the department. Therefore, I am denying your request for off duty employment as it relates to the educational training for civilians in firearms courses (carry concealed handguns).

(J.A. 35). On November 29, 1995, Chief Hill also verbally informed Sergeant Edwards that his application for permission to engage in off-duty employment was denied. 4

In response, Sergeant Edwards canceled his first scheduled class and filed a grievance with Major Hobbs of the Department, the Major of Support Services, on November 30, complaining about the denial of his application. Sergeant Edwards addressed the grievance to Major Hobbs in compliance with the chain of command and Department personnel policy. Major Hobbs responded in writing the same day that he lacked authority to approve the application.

On December 4, 1995, Chief Hill officially notified Sergeant Edwards by letter that his application for permission to engage in off-duty employment was denied because " 'carrying concealed weapons is a very sensitive and controversial issue.' " (J.A. 109). On December 6, 1995, without any explanation or advance notice, Chief Hill transferred Sergeant Edwards from the position of supervisor of the public housing unit, a position he had held for four years, to the position of line sergeant.

On December 9 and 10, 1995, while off-duty, Sergeant Edwards conducted classes with respect to the concealed handgun safety course at a "private place without any connection to the City." (J.A. 110). Then on December 18 and 19, 1995, he requested a hearing before a grievance panel, pursuant to the City's personnel rules and regulations, to address Chief Hill's denial of his application for per-mission to engage in off-duty employment. Sergeant Edwards made the request through Chief Hill and City Manager Slozak.

On December 19, 1995, Major Isler notified Sergeant Edwards by telephone to be at Chief Hill's office the next day for a meeting, but told him that he (Major Isler) did not know what the meeting was about The meeting indeed took place the following day with the following persons in attendance: (1) Chief Hill; (2) Major Hobbs; (3)Major Isler; (4) the City Attorney, Harrell Everett (Everett); and (5)Sergeant Edwards, who was not represented by counsel. At the meeting, without giving Sergeant Edwards notice or an opportunity to be heard, Chief Hill abruptly began reading aloud a letter of suspension and probation dated December 20, 1995. In sum, the letter stated: (1)that Chief Hill had advised Sergeant Edwards that his application for permission to engage in off-duty employment was denied as not in the best interest of the Department; (2) Sergeant Edwards engaged in the very type of off-duty employment for which he was denied permission to engage; (3) as a result, Sergeant Edwards was suspended for two weeks without pay and placed on probation for one year; and (4)if Sergeant Edwards again engaged in secondary employment without permission, Chief Hill would recommend his immediate termination as an employee of the City.

On January 17, 1996, a grievance hearing by the City's grievance panel was held at City Hall regarding the entire matter, with the following persons in attendance: (1) Chief Hill; (2) Major Hobbs; (3)Everett; (4) the City's personnel director, Al King; (5) a clerk for the City, (6) the chairman of the City's grievance panel, Jack Cannon; (7)two employees of the City; (8) two private citizens; and (9) Sergeant Edwards. On January 22, 1996, the City's grievance panel met without Sergeant Edwards being present. At the meeting, the City's grievance panel ratified Chief Hill's decision to deny Sergeant Edwards' application for permission to engage in secondary employment for the reasons cited by Chief Hill, and thereby impliedly affirmed Chief Hill's suspension of Sergeant Edwards and placement of him on probation for one year.

On January 30, 1996, City Manager Slozak sent a letter to Sergeant Edwards upholding the City's grievance panel's decision. This decision by City Manager Slozak served as the final decision of the City regarding Sergeant Edwards' application for permission to engage in off-duty employment and the discipline he suffered as a result of engaging in such off-duty employment without permission.

Chief Hill, City Manager Slozak, and the City (collectively the Defendants) have allowed other City employees to engage in off-duty employment and self-employment "and have condoned and ratified such employment without punishment or with substantially less severe or insignificant punishment." (J.A. 114). Sergeant Edwards' complaint lists ten similarly situated employees of the City by name whom the Defendants allowed to engage in various types of off-duty...

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