De Groot v. Sheffield

Citation95 So.2d 912
PartiesPeter DE GROOT, Appellant, v. L. S. SHEFFIELD et al., Appellees.
Decision Date29 May 1957
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

Coffee & Coffee, Jacksonville, for appellant.

Elliott Adams and McCarthy, Lane & Adams, Jacksonville, for appellees.

THORNAL, Justice.

Appellant DeGroot, who was relator below, seeks reversal of an order of the Circuit Judge dismissing his petition for a writ of mandamus which was sought to compel the appellees to reinstate the relator as an employee of the Duval County School Board.

The determining question is whether the action of the County Civil Service Board, which supervises the county merit system, can be reviewed and collaterally assaulted as a defense to a mandamus proceeding.

Relator Peter DeGroot had been an employee of the Duval County School Board for about eighteen years prior to February 9, 1955. For the last ten years he held the position of 'Supervisor of Construction.' Since 1943 he was in the classified service under the Duval County Civil Service Act. See Chapter 22263, Laws of Florida, Acts of 1943. On August 4, 1954, the School Board, with the approval of the Civil Service Board, created the position of 'Supervising Architect' and filled the job by appointment of a registered architect named Broadfoot. On February 9, 1955, the School Board adopted a resolution delineating the functions of the Supervising Architect, many of which had theretofore been performed by DeGroot, as Supervisor of Construction. By the same resolution the School Board proposed that the position of Supervisor of Construction be abolished.

Section 7, Chapter 22263, Laws of Florida, Acts of 1943, provides in part as follows:

'* * * No position in the classified [service] shall be abolished without the approval of the Civil Service Board. Positions may be abolished only in good faith.'

Pursuant to this requirement, the School Board resolution was submitted to the County Civil Service Board which, after an extended hearing, declined to approve the resolution defining the duties of the Architect and abolishing the position of Supervisor of Construction.

Despite the action of the Civil Service Board, the School Board proceeded to dismiss DeGroot from his employment. He thereupon instituted this action in mandamus to compel reinstatement. In the mandamus proceeding the parties stipulated that the transcript of the testimony offered before the Civil Service Board could be filed in evidence. A motion to quash the alternative writ was likewise filed. Upon consideration of the record thereby presented, the trial judge concluded that regardless of the judgment of the Civil Service Board, the action of the School Board in resolving to abolish the position of Supervisor of Construction was taken in good faith and that therefore DeGroot was subject to dismissal. He thereupon granted the respondents-appellees' motion to dismiss the petition in mandamus and entered final judgment in their favor. Reversal of this judgment is here sought.

It is contended by the appellant-relator that the decision of the Civil Service Board was not subject to collateral attack by the respondents in the mandamus proceeding. He further contends that if review of that order were desired by the respondents, they should have proceeded by way of certiorari and that in all events the trial judge could not re-weigh the evidence presented to the Civil Service Board.

It is the position of the appellees that the order of the Civil Service Board should not be enforced in the absence of supporting substantial evidence and that the decision of the Board could be reviewed by the Circuit Judge regardless of the nature of the proceeding to determine whether there was substantial evidence in support thereof.

We are here squarely confronted with the problem of determining the appropriate procedure for obtaining review of an order of an administrative agency. Although administrative agencies have been known to the law for many years, it has only been within fairly recent years that a substantial body of jurisprudence has developed with reference to so-called 'administrative law.' Because of the expansion of the number of boards, commissions, bureaus and officials having authority to make orders or determinations which directly affect both public and private rights, there has been an increasing number of cases involving the extent of the authority of these agencies as well as the validity or correctness of their conclusions in particular instances. We are told that in our state government there are over one hundred boards, bureaus and officials engaged in administrative activities affecting the rights and property of individuals as well as the public. See French's Research in Florida Law, p. 54; 1 Florida Law and Practice, Administrative Law, Sec. 30. In addition there are innumerable county and city boards and agencies such as Civil Service Boards and other boards that perform similar functions.

Although over the years many cases in one form or another have come to this court involving the correctness of orders of administrative agencies, we are unaware of any that has squarely and directly raised the problems presented by the instant appeal. Despite the local nature of the particular problem at hand, it appears to us that it is appropriate to undertake to reconcil many of our previous apparently divergent opinions in an offort to establish for the future some orderly procedure in disposing of problems of this nature. We do this also in fairness to the trial judge who undoubtedly was confronted with some of these conflicting viewpoints but who did not have available the opportunity for detailed research that accompanies appellate review. Nonetheless, as pointed out by Kenneth Culp Davis in 44 Illinois Law Review p. 565, 'No branch of administrative law is more seriously in need of reform than the law concerning methods of judicial review.' This author then observes, 'No other branch is so easy to reform.' The reviewability of an administrative order depends on whether the function of the agency involved is judicial or quasi-judicial in which its orders are reviewable or on the contrary whether the function of the agency is executive in which event its decisions are not reviewable by the courts except on the sole ground of lack of jurisdiction. In the latter event the order is, of course, subject to direct or collateral attack.

It is in some measure insisted in the case before us that the decision of the Civil Service Board is beyond the scope of judicial review. The contention to this end is that the ultimate decision of the Board is executive in nature and beyond the reach of the court. In Bryan v. Landis, 106 Fla. 19, 142 So. 650, it was pointed out that where one holds office at the pleasure of the appointing power and the power of appointment is coupled with the power of removal contingent only on the exercise of personal judgment by the appointing authority, then the decision to remove or dismiss is purely executive and not subject to judicial review. In the same opinion, however, we pointed out that if removal or suspension of a public employee is contingent upon approval by an official or a board after notice and hearing, then the ultimate judgment of such official or board based on the showing made at the hearing is subject to appropriate judicial review. The reason for the difference is that when notice and a hearing are required and the judgment of the board is contingent on the showing made at the hearing, then its judgment becomes judicial or quasi-judicial as distinguished from being purely executive. See also, Owen v. Bond, 83 Fla. 495, 91 So. 686; Sirmans v. Owen, 87 Fla. 485, 100 So. 734; State ex rel. Tullidge v. Hollingsworth, 103 Fla. 801, 138 So. 372; State ex rel. Hatton v. Joughin, 103 Fla. 877, 138 So. 392; State ex rel. Pinellas Kennel Club v. State Racing Commission, 116 Fla. 143, 156 So. 317. In the same cases and similar ones it was held that where an officer or employee is removed pursuant to purely executive authority, the courts will do no more than examine into the existence of jurisdictional facts to determine only the question of the existence of executive jurisdiction.

Applying the rule of these cases to the situation before us it is perfectly obvious that in deciding upon the advisability of abolishing a position in the classified service, the Civil Service Board was exercising a quasi-judicial function. This is so for the reason that it arrived at its decision after a full hearing pursuant to notice based on evidence...

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