Finnin v. Board of County Com'Rs of Frederick

Decision Date31 July 2007
Docket NumberCivil Action No. RDB 07-32.,Civil Action No. RDB 06-3429.,Civil Action No. RDB 07-30.
Citation498 F.Supp.2d 772
PartiesCaptain Kevin FINNIN et al., Plaintiffs, v. BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF FREDERICK COUNTY, MARYLAND, Defendant. Firefighter III Charles E. Scott, Plaintiff, v. Board of County Commissioners of Frederick County, Maryland, Defendant. Battalion Chief Doug Brown et al., Plaintiffs, v. Board of County Commissioners of Frederick County, Maryland, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

William J. Chen, Jr., Chen Walsh Tecler and McCabe, Rockville, MD, for Plaintiffs.

Laura Nachowitz Steel, Yoora Pak, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman and Dicker LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BENNETT, District Judge.

These three related actions were filed by various employees ("Plaintiffs") of Frederick County's Division of Fire and Rescue Services ("DFRS") to challenge the DFRS's promotions and pay policies. Specifically, Captain Kevin Finnin ("Finnin"), Captain Dennis Wenner ("Wenner"), and Firefighter III Charles E. Scott ("Scott") allege that they were denied promotions within DFRS, because the administrative rules for discretionary promotions were not followed. In addition, twenty-two DFRS officers, including Finnin and Wenner, allege that newly promoted individuals of the same rank within DFRS are paid salaries exceeding their respective salaries. The Plaintiffs claim that their federal and Maryland constitutional rights were violated and seek several remedies, including injunctive and declaratory relief, a writ of mandamus, and a writ of certiorari. Pending before this Court are Defendant Board of County Commissioners of Frederick County, Maryland's three Motions to Dismiss. This Court has jurisdiction over the matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441, and 1446, and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The issues have been fully briefed by the parties and a hearing was held before this Court on July 23, 2007. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED as to Plaintiffs' federal and state constitutional claims. The Motions to Dismiss are DENIED as to the remaining state claims, which are REMANDED to the Circuit Court for Frederick County, as this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them.

BACKGROUND

The facts are reviewed in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs. Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir.2005).

Promotions Policy

In November of 2005, Frederick County's Division of Fire and Rescue Services ("DFRS") adopted an Administrative Operations Manual ('the Manual"). (Finnin Pls.' Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss ¶ 14.) Section B3.19.2 of the Manual sets forth the minimum eligibility requirements for promotion to various ranks within DFRS including Lieutenant, Captain, and Battalion Chief. (Finnin Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. 10.) Pursuant to this provision, between March 14, 2006, and March 31, 2006, DFRS accepted applications from those officers eligible for a competitive promotion to three positions at the rank of Battalion Chief and thirteen positions at the rank of Fire/Rescue Lieutenant. (Finnin Pls.' Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss ¶ 20; Scott Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss ¶ 19.) Charles Scott ("Scott"), who held the rank of Firefighter III, applied for a Lieutenant position. (Scott Compl. ¶ 11.) Kevin Finnin ("Finnin") and Dennis Wenner ("Wenner"), both Captains, applied for Battalion Chief positions. (Finnin Compl. ¶¶ 12, 16.)

During the two week application period, DFRS issued a "Clarification for the 2005 Battalion Chief Promotions." (Finnin Pls.' Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss ¶ 16.) In this document, DFRS stated that "the requirement of three years in grade as a uniformed Fire/Rescue Captain will not be in effect for the tenure of the Battalion Chief Promotional Eligibility List that will be created by this examination process." (Id) Prior to this "Clarification," the only DFRS officers eligible for promotion to the rank of Battalion Chief were Captains. (Finnin Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 7, n. 4.)

On April 10, 2006, pursuant to General Order 06-011, candidates were selected for the Battalion Chief and Lieutenant positions. (Id. at Ex. 16.) Plaintiffs Finnin, Wenner, and Scott were not chosen for a promotion. (Id. at Ex. 16.)

The Frederick County Personnel Rules set out a four-step process when an employee files a grievance against an action taken by the County or one of its divisions. The Personnel Rules do not allow for grievances regarding "negotiations of wages [or] salaries ... [and] non-selection for a position or promotion to a County position...." (Brown Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. 4 at 23.) A grievance must be filed "[w]ithin ten days after the event giving rise to the grievance...." (Id.) If an employee is unsatisfied with the initial resolution of his grievance, he may appeal to his Department Head within five working days of the initial resolution. (Id.) If the resolution of this second step is unsatisfactory, an aggrieved employee may appeal the prior determination to his Division Head. (Id.) Finally, if the aggrieved employee finds the Division Head's decision unavailing, he must request a hearing and final determination of the issue before the Board of County Commissioners of Frederick County ("the Board") within five days of the Division Head's decision. (Id.)

On April 12, 13, and 18, 2006, Finnin, Wenner, and Scott, respectively, submitted grievances regarding the promotions process to DFRS. (Finnin Compl. ¶¶ 12, 17; Scott Compl. ¶ 11.) Their grievances were based on several noted inadequacies in the promotions process, including the fact that the three Plaintiffs knew some or all of the interview evaluators, the evaluation panels consisted of two rather than three persons, officers were promoted without sufficient rank or time in grade, favoritism was exhibited towards certain applicants, the promotions process was delayed, and those holding the rank of Captain were discriminated against. (See, e.g., Finnin Compl. ¶ 13.)

On April 20, 2006, the Director of DFRS denied Wenner's and Finnin's grievances, because final decisions regarding the eligibility requirements, interview process, and ranking criteria were not made within ten days of the aggrieved action. (Finnin Compl. ¶¶ 14, 19.) On June 2, 2006, Scott's grievance was denied for the same reasons. (Scott Compl. ¶ 13.)

Wenner and Finnin pursued a hearing before the Board on June 29, 2006. During this hearing, the Board heard argument regarding whether Plaintiffs' grievances were timely and whether Plaintiffs' grievances were "grievable" under DFRS rules. On September 5, 2006, the Board ruled that Plaintiffs' grievances for lack of promotion were not "grievable" and they were untimely. (Finnin Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 10.) Scott also requested an appeal. After a September 25, 2006 hearing, the Board reached the same determination in his case on October 17, 2006. (Scott Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. 1 at 4.)

Finnin and Wenner filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Frederick County on October 30, 2006 against the Board of County Commissioners of Frederick County, Maryland. The Complaint contains six counts for each of the two Plaintiffs: (1) declaratory judgment, (2) injunctive relief, (3) writ of mandamus, (4) writ of certiorari, (5) state constitutional rights violations, and (6) violation of federal constitutional rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On December 27, 2006, the case was removed to this Court (Case No. RDB-06-3429). On January 4, 2007, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Finnin Paper No. 7.)

On November 9, 2006, Scott filed a Complaint against the Board seeking the same forms of relief. On January 5, 2007, his case was removed to this Court (Case No. RDB-07-30), and, on January 8, 2007, the Board filed a Motion to Dismiss (Scott Paper No. 5).

Pay Policy

On May 26, 2006, twenty-two officers in DFRS who held ranks to which other officers were recently promoted, learned that those newly promoted officers were receiving higher salaries than were then being received by those twenty-two officers. (Brown Pls.' Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss ¶ 5.) On July 13, 2006, the DFRS director conducted a group grievance hearing and subsequently denied the officers' grievances because they centered on the negotiation of wages and salaries. (Id. ¶ 7.) The officers pursued their grievances further, and, on September 27, 2006, the Board conducted a hearing regarding whether the grievances were timely and "grievable" under the Personnel Rules. (Id. ¶ 8.) On October 5, 2006, the Board denied their appeal and ruled that a grievance could not be filed regarding the rates at which DFRS officers are compensated. (Id. ¶ 10.)

On November 14, 2006, the twenty-two officers1 ("Brown Plaintiffs") filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Frederick County against the Board. The Complaint contains six counts for each Plaintiff: (1) declaratory judgment, (2) injunctive relief, (3) writ of mandamus, (4) writ of certiorari, (5) state constitutional rights violations, and (6) violation of federal constitutional rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case was removed to this Court on January 5, 2007 (Case No. RDB-07-32). On January 12, 2007, Defendant filed a Motion for Lack of Jurisdiction, or in the alternative, for Failure to State a Claim. (Brown Paper No. 13.)

STANDARDS OF REVIEW
I. Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction

Defendant seeks the dismissal of the pay policy claims in the Brown case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Generally, when reviewing a motion to dismiss where the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint are purported to be defective, "the district court may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one...

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