Miller v. Civil Service Com'n

Citation271 S.W.3d 659
Decision Date22 January 2008
Docket NumberNo. M2006-00917-COA-R3-CV,M2006-00917-COA-R3-CV
PartiesLeonard Michael MILLER v. CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION OF THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee

David L. Raybin, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Leonard Michael Miller.

James L. Charles, Department of Law of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, for the appellee, Civil Service Commission of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

OPINION

WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., J., joined. WILLIAM B. CAIN, J., not participating.

This appeal involves the reorganization of the upper echelons of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department by the new Chief of Police. The reorganization plan, which had been reviewed and approved by the Director of Human Resources and the Civil Service Commission, abolished the Assistant Chief of Police positions and rolled back the incumbents to the rank of Captain. One of the former Assistant Chiefs of Police filed suit in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, asserting that the abolishment of the Assistant Chief of Police position did not comply with the Civil Service Commission's rules. Specifically, he argued (1) that the Assistant Chief of Police position had not been abolished but rather had been renamed and (2) that the increased use of temporary assignment ranks was not appropriate because it increased the Chief of Police's control over the highest ranking officers. The trial court determined that the reorganization plan was consistent with the Civil Service Commission's rules, and the former Assistant Chief of Police appealed. Like the trial court, we have determined that the reorganization plan is consistent with the applicable rules of the Civil Service Commission.

I.

In January 2004, Ronal W. Serpas became the new Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Because he is responsible for the efficient operation of the police department, Chief Serpas immediately undertook an examination of the command structure and, based on his extensive law enforcement experience,1 determined that it was top heavy — that there were "too many generals." Accordingly, Chief Serpas decided to alter the lines of accountability and responsibility between the chief of police, his first level of assistants, and the actual divisional operations of the police department.

In April 2004, after receiving guidance and counsel from the city's Director of Human Resources, Chief Serpas submitted a formal request to reorganize the command structure of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. The plan was designed to "remove the layer of supervision between the first reports to the chief executive and the divisional commanders." Accordingly, the plan called for:

(1) reducing the number of bureaus in the department from five to three;

(2) placing each bureau under the command of a Deputy Chief of Police, rather than an Assistant Chief of Police, who would report directly to the Chief of Police;

(3) abolishing the Assistant Chief of Police position and rolling back the incumbents to the rank of Captain and then reassigning them;

(4) abolishing the Major position;2 and

(5) utilizing the temporary assignment positions of Deputy Chief of Police and Commander.

The Director of Human Resources approved Chief Serpas's reorganization plan. After his reorganization plan was approved, Chief Serpas formally notified the incumbent Assistant Chiefs of Police that the Assistant Chief of Police position was going to be abolished and that they would be rolled back to the rank of Captain and reassigned.

As a result of the reorganization, three Assistant Chiefs of Police retired, and two others accepted temporary assignment ranks as Deputy Chief of Police. Leonard Michael ("Mickey") Miller, who had been the Assistant Chief of Police for the West Patrol Division since 2003 and who was not yet eligible to retire, was rolled back to the rank of Captain. However, Chief Serpas also gave him the temporary assignment rank of Commander with a slight increase in annual salary. He continued to supervise the West Patrol Division.

Commander Miller promptly appealed to the Civil Service Commission. He asserted that he could not be rolled back to the rank of Captain because the Assistant Chief of Police position had not been effectively "abolished." Commander Miller based this argument on his belief that the duties of the Deputy Chief of Police position were the same as the duties of his former Assistant Chief of Police position. He also insisted that the increased use of temporary assignment positions that did not afford the incumbents full civil service protection would subject the incumbents to too much control by the Chief of Police.

The Civil Service Commission conducted a hearing and, on August 10, 2004, issued findings of fact and conclusion of law, including:

(1) that the Chief of Police is responsible for the efficient operation of the Metropolitan Police Department;

(2) that the civil service rules permit the Chief of Police to roll back employees when doing so is necessary because of the abolishment of positions (3) that the Director of Human Resources had approved Chief Serpas's proposed reorganization and had determined that it made sense from an organizational perspective;

(4) that the current positions of Deputy Police Chief and Commander have different responsibilities than the previous positions of Assistant Police Chief and Major;

(5) that assigning Captains as Commanders of the six sectors/precincts did not add an additional level of supervision; and

(6) that the Chief of Police's reorganization plan, including the abolishment of the Major and Assistant Chief of Police positions, complied with Civil Service Commission Rule 3.11.

Accordingly, the Commission upheld Chief Serpas's reorganization plan, as well as his decision to roll back Commander Miller to the rank of Captain and to give him the temporary assignment rank of Commander.

Commander Miller filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Davidson County seeking judicial review of the Commission's decision. On April 11, 2006, the trial court filed a memorandum opinion, stating in part:

As found by the Civil Service Commission, the abolishment of the ranks of Police Major and Assistant Police Chief was done within the limits of the Chief's authority and in accordance with the Rules and Policies of the Civil Service Commission, particularly Rule 3.11. As a result of the reorganization, the administration was changed from two Deputy Chief and five Assistant Chief positions to three Deputy Chief positions. Duties previously performed by the Assistant Chiefs were transferred to the Deputy Chiefs, along with additional duties which had been previously performed by the Chief of Police. The Commission found that the new positions of Deputy Chief and Commander had different responsibilities than the previous Assistant Chief and Police Major positions. These findings are supported by the record, and this Court concurs that there was not a substitution of positions but, rather, a true reorganization of high level positions within the Police Department, including the reallocation of administrative and supervisory responsibilities.

* * *

The decision to reorganize the Department, the reallocation of responsibilities among the various positions, and the abolishment of the Assistant Chief and Police Major were all made and done in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Metropolitan Charter and Civil Service rules. [Commander Miller] was afforded the procedural and substantive rights due him under the Civil Service regulations. Much of [Commander Miller's] argument takes issue with the manner in which the reallocation of job assignments was made and the perceived effort of the Chief to consolidate power and control of the Department by staffing the Department's upper management positions using assignment classifications rather than permanent positions. Whether this is wise or appropriate is a policy decision vested in the Chief of Police and the Department of Personnel.

Accordingly, the trial court affirmed the Commission's rollback of Commander Miller to the position of Captain and dismissed his case.

Commander Miller has appealed to this court. He does not argue that the proper procedures were not followed, that the Chief of Police may not reorganize the Metropolitan Police Department, or that the use of temporary assignment positions is impermissible. Rather, his appeal rests on two distinct grounds. First, Commander Miller asserts that there has been no abolishment of the Assistant Chief of Police position for the purpose of Civil Service Commission Rule 3.11 because the Deputy Chief of Police position is the functional equivalent of the Assistant Chief of Police position. He insists that Chief Serpas's reorganization merely substituted one position for the other with the duties of the Assistant Chiefs of Police now being performed by the Deputy Chiefs of Police. Second, Commander Miller asserts that Chief Serpas's emphasis on the temporary assignment positions of Deputy Chief of Police and Commander, which do not offer the same level of civil service protection, impermissibly increases his control over the upper level command structure of the Metropolitan Police Department.

II.

The courts review the decisions of local civil service boards that affect the status of employees of local governments using Tenn.Code Ann. § 4-5-322(h) (2005)'s standard of review. Tenn.Code Ann. § 27-9-114(b)(1) (2000); City of Memphis v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 216 S.W.3d 311, 315-16 (Tenn.2007); Tidwell v. City of Memphis, 193 S.W.3d 555, 560 (Tenn.2006). Therefore, both the trial and appellate courts3 will...

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