Lapinski v. City of Reno, 9854

CourtSupreme Court of Nevada
Citation603 P.2d 1088,95 Nev. 898
Docket NumberNo. 9854,9854
PartiesConrad LAPINSKI, Appellant, v. CITY OF RENO, Nevada; Carl Bogart, Mayor; Patricia Lewis, Marcel Durant, Clyde Biglieri, Bruno Menicucci, Nick Lauri, and Bill Granata, City Council thereof; and Robert H. Oldland, City Manager, Respondents.
Decision Date14 December 1979

James C. Van Winkle, Reno, for appellant.

Louis S. Test, City Atty., and Lance R. Van Lydegraf, Asst. City Atty., Reno, for respondents.



By petition for writ of mandate in the court below, Conrad Lapinski, appellant herein, challenged the Reno City Council's refusal to reinstate him to the position of City Traffic Safety Engineer. The trial court dismissed the petition. Lapinski also sought a writ of certiorari and damages but neither issue is before the court. The parties stipulated that further hearing on the question of damages would be held at a later time, if necessary.

Lapinski was recruited for the position with the City of Reno by former City Manager Joe Latimore in 1974, while Lapinski was employed by the City of Riverside, California, as traffic engineer. The Reno City Council confirmed Lapinski's appointment after an interview. His employment with the City began in September, 1974, and continued until June 18, 1975 (his last date of pay).

After Lapinski had been hired as City Traffic Safety Engineer, the Reno city government underwent changes. The office of traffic engineer was placed under the supervision of the Director of Public Works, Jack Easley. Robert H. Oldland, one of the respondents herein, had become City Manager. The day Easley's appointment was confirmed, Lapinski was moved to a garage office so that Easley could take his office. Soon after arrival Easley refused to approve Lapinski's six-month step increase in pay on the basis that he was not familiar with Lapinski's work. On April 7, 1975, the City Manager requested action on a Council memorandum, seeking traffic changes on Center Street. Easley rewrote Lapinski's memorandum to order the change as requested. On April 23, 1975, Lapinski attended a meeting of traffic engineers in Sacramento, California. On April 24, 1975, Easley recommended to Oldland that Lapinski be fired. Oldland met with Easley and Lapinski on April 24 and April 25, 1975. Oldland placed Lapinski on a thirty-day probationary period, ending May 30, 1975. On June 19, 1975, Easley again recommended Lapinski's termination. Oldland did terminate Lapinski. Lapinski states he was notified of his termination June 20, 1975. Lapinski thereafter sought a public hearing before the City Council to appeal the decision. On June 26, 1975, Easley wrote a memorandum at the request of Oldland detailing "areas of concern" which had led to the termination. On June 27, 1975, Oldland wrote a memorandum to the City Council stating the reasons for Lapinski's termination. The parties throughout the appeal have referred to these memoranda as the "charges" against Lapinski, which will be referred to here as the "memorandum charges." The parties have stipulated that the memorandum charges were before, and considered by, the City Council at the hearing on July 21, 1975, and constituted part of the record before the court below.

The City Council, at their meeting on July 21, 1975, agreed that Lapinski's appearance before them would be a "hearing" and the deputy city attorney present at the meeting advised the Council that the Council had to find there was "legal cause" for Lapinski's termination. The Council allowed Lapinski's attorney to call and examine witnesses and the members of Council asked questions. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Council agreed to continue the matter to another time for a closed personnel hearing, at which Lapinski, his attorney, and Jack Easley were to be present. There is no record of the proceedings in closed session or the persons present. Lapinski claims he was excluded from all but the final discussions.

Although the parties have briefed and argued the question, we need not decide whether language of the Reno City Charter, Art. III, § 3.020 providing that dismissal be "for cause" mandates a termination hearing. 1 Nor do we decide the nature and extent of any concomitant constitutional provisions if a hearing were mandated. 2 Inasmuch as the City Council agreed on July 21, 1975, to hold a public hearing, we think the City was obliged to afford Lapinski a substantially fair hearing and establish that legal cause did exist for his termination. At this juncture, we deem the City precluded from arguing that no hearing was required.

The determinative issue in this case is whether there was substantial evidence placed before the City Council from which it could have made a finding that legal cause existed to terminate Lapinski's employment with the City of Reno. State ex rel. Sweikert v. Briare, 94 Nev. 752, 588 P.2d 542 (1978); No. Las Vegas v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 83 Nev. 278, 281, 429 P.2d 66, 68 (1967). In making this determination, this court, as was the court below, is limited to the record which was before the Council. Alley v. Nevada Real Estate Div., 94 Nev. 123, 575 P.2d 1334 (1978); Barnum v. Williams, 84 Nev. 37, 436 P.2d 219 (1968).

This court has held "cause" to be:

. . . legal cause, and not any cause which the officer authorized to make such removal may deem sufficient. It is implied that an officer cannot be removed at the mere will of the official vested with the power of removal, or without any cause. The cause must be one which specifically relates to and affects the administration of the office, and must be restricted to something of a substantial nature directly affecting the rights and interests of the public. The cause must be one touching the qualifications of the officer or his performance of his duties, showing that he is not a fit or proper person to hold the office. An attempt to remove an officer for any cause not affecting his competency or fitness would be an excess of power and equivalent to an arbitrary removal.

Ex rel. Whalen v. Welliver, 60 Nev. 154, 158, 104 P.2d 188, 190-191 (1940); Hardison v. Carmany, 88 Nev. 670, 676-677, 504 P.2d 1, 5 (1972).

The City contends that the information set forth in the memorandum charges and the testimony during the Council meeting constitute substantial evidence that Lapinski did not follow and implement City policy or perform his duties properly. The City argues that the cause shown was of a substantial nature and directly affected the rights and interests of the public.

With respect to the Easley memorandum, we note that certain allegations do not clearly refer to times prior to June 19, 1975. 3 Mr. Easley concluded his memorandum as follows:

If the (sic) I were to summarize, I would put it this way: I do not feel that the City administration can allow, nor condone, insubordination, falsehoods, negligence to problems, the putting off of activities, improper or not planning for the future, disregard for proposal grant funding, non-supervision of his personnel, disregard of employment requirements such as registration, tardiness in responses and poorly written informative memos for your signature.

The City argues that testimony concerning Lapinski's lack of registration as a professional engineer,...

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5 cases
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    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • September 5, 1980
    ...Clark County Board of Commissioners and the Planning Department, with its primary focus on the variance itself. Lapinski v. City of Reno, 95 Nev. 898, 901, 603 P.2d 1088, 1090 (1979); Bartlett v. Board of Trustees, 92 Nev. 347, 350, 550 P.2d 416, 417 (1976); Urban Renewal Agcy. v. Iacometti......
  • Rust v. Clark County School Dist., 14541
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • June 27, 1984
    ...60 Nev. 154, 104 P.2d 188 (1940); Paulson v. Civil Service Commission, 90 Nev. 41, 518 P.2d 148 (1974); Lapinski v. City of Reno, 95 Nev. 898, 603 P.2d 1088 (1979). As we have consistently reiterated, legal cause is "not any cause which the officer authorized to make such removal may deem s......
  • State v. Malcic, 70341
    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • April 28, 2017
    ...authority's decisions and findings between Dredge, Jackson, and Knapp, on the one hand and, on the other, Lapinski v. City of Reno, 95 Nev. 898, 603 P.2d 1088 (1979). Under the standard-of-review framework espoused by the former cases, a hearing officer will normally review an agency's term......
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    • United States
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    ...requires the substantial evidence standard. McCracken v. Fancy, 98 Nev. 30, 31, 639 P.2d 552, 553 (1982); Lapinski v. City of Reno, 95 Nev. 898, 901, 603 P.2d 1088, 1090 (1979); State ex rel. Sweikert v. Briare, 94 Nev. 752, 755-58, 588 P.2d 542, 544-46 (1978); Paulson v. Civil Service Comm......
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