Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, No. 92-55473

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtWILL
Parties65 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 465 Robert L. VERNON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES; Los Angeles City Council; Board of Police Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles; Zev Yaroslavsky, individually and as Los Angeles City Councilman; Stanley Sheinbaum, individually and as Commissioner Board of Police Commissioners; Jesse Brewer, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 92-55473
Decision Date23 June 1994

Page 1385

27 F.3d 1385
65 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 465
Robert L. VERNON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES; Los Angeles City Council; Board of
Police Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles; Zev
Yaroslavsky, individually and as Los Angeles City
Councilman; Stanley Sheinbaum, individually and as
Commissioner Board of Police Commissioners; Jesse Brewer,
et al., Defendants-Appellees.
No. 92-55473.
United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted Oct. 6, 1993.
Decided June 23, 1994.

Page 1388

William Bently Ball, Elizabeth B. Place, Ball, Skelly, Murren & Cornell, Harrisburg, PA, David L. Casterline, Casterline & Agajanian, Los Angeles, CA, for plaintiff-appellant.

Louis R. Miller, Shari J. Cohen, Christensen, White, Miller, Fink & Jacobs, Los Angeles, CA, for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before: FLETCHER and D.W. NELSON, Circuit Judges, and WILL *, Senior District Judge.

Opinion by Judge WILL.

WILL, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiff Robert L. Vernon, retired Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Board of Police Commissioners and its finding that the individual defendants were entitled to immunity as to their actions. Vernon brought an action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, alleging that certain City of Los Angeles officials violated his United States First and Fourteenth Amendment and California state constitutional rights in connection with their investigation of whether his religious views were having an impermissible effect on his on-duty police department performance.

The district court had subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331, 1343(a)(3), and 1367(a). We have jurisdiction over this timely appeal from the final decision of the district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291. We affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the plaintiff's state constitutional claims and Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause claims. Because we conclude that Vernon's state and federal constitutional rights were not violated, we do not address the district court's findings that the individual defendants were entitled to legislative and qualified immunity. We deny the defendants' request for attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988.

I.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Robert L. Vernon was the Assistant Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department (the "LAPD") at the time of the commencement of this action. As the Director of the LAPD Office of Operations, he had charge of eighty-five percent of operations for the approximately 8,400-member LAPD police force. He commanded all patrol units and most detectives. In 1980, he was appointed by the California governor as a Commissioner of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. Since 1984, he has served as an elder of the Grace Community Church (the "Church"), in Sun Valley, California.

On May 5, 1991, an article appearing in the Los Angeles Magazine critically commented on Vernon's involvement in the Church. Specifically, the article quoted from a series of audiotapes made by Vernon for the Church approximately fifteen years earlier. According to the article, Vernon "condemns homosexuality, depicts cops as 'ministers of God,' instructs churchgoers that 'the woman is to be submissive to the man' and adjures men to 'recognize the concept of disciplining followers, whether it be your son, employees or anyone under your control--your wife.' " The Dan Quayle Principle Strikes Again, Los Angeles Magazine, May 21, 1991, at 28, Pl.'s Decl.Supp.Mot.Prelim.Inj., Ex. 1. Vernon claims that the article greatly misrepresented his sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Defendant Zev Yaroslavsky is one of several City Councilmen having oversight responsibility for the LAPD. On May 22, 1991, at a City Council meeting to confirm Michael

Page 1389

Yamaki as a Police Commissioner, Yaroslavsky confronted Yamaki with the Los Angeles Magazine article and solicited his agreement, upon his confirmation, to inquire into whether Vernon's religious beliefs improperly affected the operations of the LAPD.

Defendant Stanley Sheinbaum is a Police Commissioner of the City of Los Angeles. On May 25, 1991, Sheinbaum questioned publicly whether Vernon still held the religious views attributed to him and if so, whether they were having an impermissible effect on his on-duty performance in the LAPD.

Yaroslavsky had allegedly uncovered evidence which suggested that: (1) Vernon had justified a secret, unauthorized investigation into Chief of Police Daryl Gates' off-duty activities by proclaiming that "God wants me to be chief"; (2) Vernon gave unfair advantages in hiring and promotion decisions to fellow Church members within the LAPD by manipulating LAPD test scores; (3) Vernon was known throughout the LAPD as a "bible thumper" and as head of the LAPD "God squad"; (4) Vernon was influenced by his religious views in ordering no arrests at antiabortion demonstrations, and in attempting to thwart the progress of homosexual and female officers within the LAPD; (5) Vernon had pressured LAPD officers to attend religious meetings at the Church and at LAPD headquarters; and (6) Vernon had used religious symbols, such as fish, in official LAPD correspondence. Based on this evidence, on June 3, 1991, Yaroslavsky sent a letter to defendant Melanie Lomax, acting President of the Board of Police Commissioners (the "Board"), requesting that an investigation be conducted to determine whether any of the alleged improprieties had in fact occurred.

In pertinent part, the letter stated:

As you are aware, questions have arisen recently about whether the views of Assistant Police Chief Robert L. Vernon may be improperly shaping the operations and policies of the Los Angeles Police Department. During his confirmation hearing, Commissioner Yamaki indicated a willingness to conduct an investigation of this matter. I am writing today to confirm my interest in such a review.

Chief Vernon is, of course, entitled to his personal religious and political views. I vigorously defend his right to his views. However, when one's views interfere with one's ability to perform official duties fairly and without bias, it is no longer a personal matter, but a matter of public policy.

Allegations concerning promotion, hiring and treatment of gays and lesbians, and, most recently, the consultation of religious elders on issues of public policy, deserve to be reviewed. If the allegations have merit, then they should be addressed and the problems corrected. If they are without merit, then they should be laid to rest at once. It is critical that this issue be dealt with thoroughly and expeditiously.

Letter from Yaroslavsky to Lomax of 6/3/91, Decls., Ex. C at 45. Yaroslavsky released the letter to the press on the same day. Vernon immediately reacted to the publicity by stating on KNBC-TV that "[i]nvestigating me because of my beliefs is against the law. It's against my rights as an individual." Br. of Appellant at 10.

On June 4, 1991, on Sheinbaum's motion, the Board voted unanimously to request that Chief of Police Daryl Gates initiate an investigation into these allegations. Later that day, Sheinbaum and Lomax made public statements concerning the investigation. For example, Sheinbaum stated that "the views of the assistant Chief are his own. He has every right to them. What bothers me ... is that some allegations do claim it has impacted on his role as Assistant Police Chief. That's going to be up to Chief Gates to determine." Excerpt of Regular Board Mtg. on 6/4/91, Sheinbaum Decl., Ex. C at 9. On June 5, 1991, Lomax sent an official request to Chief Gates on behalf of the Board, which called for an investigation.

In pertinent part, the memorandum stated:

The Board of Police Commissioners requests that an investigation be conducted into certain issues raised by Councilman Yaroslavsky concerning the on-duty activities of Assistant Chief Robert L. Vernon.

The investigation should include a determination in the areas of the promotions, hiring and treatment of gays, lesbians and

Page 1390

women, and the consultation of religious elders on matters of police policy.

It is respectfully requested that findings be made as to whether Chief Vernon has sent official communications from this office which contain or have displayed religious symbols. It is also specifically requested that a determination be made as to whether employees who have been promoted by Chief Vernon have received preferential treatment through their affiliations with his church. This determination is to include both sworn and civil personnel.

It should be clear from the outset that it is not the intention of this Board to abridge the First Amendment rights of Chief Vernon or anyone else, as each member of this Commission would vigorously protect and defend those rights. The Board wishes only to ensure that Chief Vernon's personal beliefs have not created any adverse impact on any job-related matters and that he has not violated any Department policies or procedures. It is toward this end that a thorough investigation is requested.

It is requested that a progress report be presented in Closed Session on June 25, 1991, and that a final report be completed as early in July, 1991, as possible.

Memorandum from Lomax to Chief of Police of 6/5/91, Lomax Decl., Ex.C. The request was sent to Gates pursuant to a Board policy requiring that complaints from the general public or elsewhere alleging police misconduct be referred to the Chief of Police for investigation.

Shortly following his receipt of Lomax's memorandum, Chief Gates began the investigation of Vernon in accordance with the policies established by the Board and the LAPD. According to Chief...

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198 practice notes
  • Burbridge v. Sampson, No. CV 99-9482 ABC(MCx).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Central District of California
    • September 29, 1999
    ..."should avoid adjudication of federal constitutional claims when alternative state grounds are available." Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1391-92 (9th Cir.1994). "Where the state constitutional provisions offer more expansive protection than the federal constitution, [the Cour......
  • ASS'N OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERN. v. Stearns, No. CV 05-6242 SJO (MANx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • March 28, 2008
    ...also governs "a claim brought under a hostility to religion theory." Am. Family, 277 F.3d at 1121; see also Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1396 (9th Cir.1994) ("The government neutrality required under the Establishment Clause is ... violated as much by government disapproval ......
  • Bureerong v. Uvawas, No. CV95-5958 ABC (BQRx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • March 21, 1996
    ...the state supreme court would reach based on state appellate court decisions, statutes, and treatises. Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 510, 130 L.Ed.2d 417 22 As defined by 29 C.F.R. ? 530.1(d), industrial homework "means t......
  • Her v. Jacquez, 2: 09 - cv - 612 - JAM TJB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • April 15, 2011
    ...id. at 60. A federal court interpreting state law is bound by the decisions of the highest state court. See Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1994). As the California Supreme Court has now spoken on what constitutes sufficient evidence under section 186.22(b)(1), t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
198 cases
  • Burbridge v. Sampson, No. CV 99-9482 ABC(MCx).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Central District of California
    • September 29, 1999
    ..."should avoid adjudication of federal constitutional claims when alternative state grounds are available." Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1391-92 (9th Cir.1994). "Where the state constitutional provisions offer more expansive protection than the federal constitution, [the Cour......
  • ASS'N OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERN. v. Stearns, No. CV 05-6242 SJO (MANx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • March 28, 2008
    ...also governs "a claim brought under a hostility to religion theory." Am. Family, 277 F.3d at 1121; see also Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1396 (9th Cir.1994) ("The government neutrality required under the Establishment Clause is ... violated as much by government disapproval ......
  • Bureerong v. Uvawas, No. CV95-5958 ABC (BQRx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • March 21, 1996
    ...the state supreme court would reach based on state appellate court decisions, statutes, and treatises. Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 510, 130 L.Ed.2d 417 22 As defined by 29 C.F.R. ? 530.1(d), industrial homework "means t......
  • Her v. Jacquez, 2: 09 - cv - 612 - JAM TJB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • April 15, 2011
    ...id. at 60. A federal court interpreting state law is bound by the decisions of the highest state court. See Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1994). As the California Supreme Court has now spoken on what constitutes sufficient evidence under section 186.22(b)(1), t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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