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City of Miami v. Jean-Phillipe

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

November 13, 2017

City of Miami, Appellant,
Jean Marie Jean-Phillipe, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Jose M. Rodriguez, Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 15-9001

          Victoria Méndez, City Attorney, and Kerri L. McNulty, Assistant City Attorney, for appellant.

          Buschel Gibbons, P.A. and Robert C. Buschel and Eugene G. Gibbons (Ft. Lauderdale), for appellee.

          Before SUAREZ, LAGOA, and SCALES, JJ.

          SUAREZ, J.

         The City of Miami (the "City") appeals the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellee Jean Marie Jean-Phillipe ("Jean-Phillipe") in his challenge to the City Manager's actions following a Civil Service Board review of a disciplinary action against him. Finding error in the procedures followed below, we reverse and remand so that Jean-Phillipe may pursue his proper remedy of an appeal to the appellate division of the circuit court.

         Factual Background

         As the details of the complaints lodged against Jean-Phillipe are irrelevant to the issue in this appeal and our analysis of that issue, it is sufficient for purposes of this opinion to state that following an investigation by the City's police department, Jean-Phillipe, a City of Miami police officer, was issued a reprimand and suspended for 200 hours. Jean-Phillipe appealed that suspension to the Civil Service Board pursuant to the remedies afforded him under the City of Miami Code of Ordinances. The Civil Service Board found Jean-Phillipe not guilty of the actions for which he was disciplined. Those written findings were forwarded to the City Manager, also pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Code of Ordinances. The City Manager rejected the finding of innocence as to one charge and imposed a 200 hour suspension as to that charge.

         Jean-Phillipe then brought an action for declaratory relief in the circuit court. Jean-Phillipe argued that the City Manager did not have the authority to reverse the Civil Service Board's finding of not guilty. Over the City's objection, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Jean-Phillipe and issued a Final Judgment which vacated the City Manager's suspension and remanded to the City to reinstate the Civil Service Board's recommended finding of not guilty. The City then filed the present appeal.

         Because we find that the procedures followed by both parties in this case were incorrect, we reverse and remand. As explained below, the appropriate remedy for Jean-Phillipe was to seek review of the City Manager's determination in the appellate division of the circuit court and not in the circuit court itself. As further explained below, the City Manager's review of the findings of fact by the Civil Service Board was limited, and, upon remand, the appellate division will have to decide whether his determination that those conclusions were not supported by competent substantial evidence was proper. Finally, we clarify that the City had no right to challenge the City Manager's final determination on its own, but could properly respond to any appeal brought by Jean-Phillipe.

         City of Miami Code Provisions

         In pertinent parts, the Code of Ordinances states:

40-122 - Disciplinary Actions Generally.
(a) Authority of city manager, department director; appeals to board; investigatory, evidentiary powers of board.
Any officer or employee in the classified service may be removed, fined, laid off, or reduced in grade by the city manager or by the director of the department in which he/she is employed, for any cause which will promote the efficiency of the service; but he/she must be furnished with a written statement of the reasons therefor within five days from the date of the removal, suspension, fine, layoff, or reduction in grade, and be allowed a reasonable time for answering such reasons in writing, which shall be made a part of the records of the board; and he/she may be suspended from the date when such written statement of reason is furnished him/her. No trial or examination of witnesses shall be required in such case except at the discretion of the city manager or the department director.
Any employee in the classified service who deems that he/she has been suspended, removed, fined, reduced in grade or demoted without just cause may, within 15 days of such action by the department director, request in writing a hearing before the civil service board to determine the reasonableness of the action. [e.s.] The board shall, within 30 days after appeal of the employee disciplined, proceed to hear such appeal. After hearing and considering the evidence for and against the employee, the board shall report in writing to the city manager its ...

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