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Denning v. Johnson County

Supreme Court of Kansas

July 11, 2014

FRANK DENNING, Sheriff of Johnson County, Kansas, Appellee,
v.
THE JOHNSON COUNTY, KANSAS, SHERIFF'S CIVIL SERVICE BOARD, Appellee, and MICHAEL MAURER, Appellant

Page 441

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 46 Kan.App.2d 688, 266 P.3d 557 (2011) .

Appeal from Johnson District Court; JAMES F. VANO, judge.

Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the district court is affirmed. Judgment of the district court is affirmed.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

1. K.S.A. 19-805(a) permits a county sheriff to appoint, promote, demote, and dismiss additional deputies and assistants necessary to carry out the duties of the office, for whose official acts the sheriff is responsible.

2. K.S.A. 19-4303 et seq. requires counties designated as " urban area" counties and counties having certain populations to establish a sheriff's civil service system.

3. The duties of a sheriff's civil service board are outlined in K.S.A. 19-4311 and include the duty to conduct hearings and hear complaints by or against personnel for the purpose of demotion, suspensions, or removal of personnel. K.S.A. 19-4311(h).

4. K.S.A. 19-4327(a) provides that the sheriff may dismiss any permanent employee when the sheriff considers that the " good of the service" will be served thereby. But the statute further specifies that no permanent employee shall be dismissed for political, religious, or racial reasons.

5. Under K.S.A. 19-4327(b), a permanent employee can seek review of his or her dismissal by requesting a hearing before a sheriff's civil service board. The sheriff's civil service board is authorized to receive evidence at the hearing and to determine the reasonableness of the sheriff's personnel decision.

6. A sheriff's civil service board is authorized under K.S.A. 19-4327(d) to approve or disapprove the sheriff's dismissal of a permanent employee and may order reinstatement of a dismissed employee with back pay, sustain the dismissal, or sustain the dismissal with certain conditions.

7. When conducting a hearing pursuant to K.S.A. 19-4327, a sheriff's civil service board exercises quasi-judicial functions. K.S.A. 60-2101(d) permits appeals to a district court from a judgment rendered or final order made by a political or taxing subdivision, or any agency thereof, exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions. Consequently, a party aggrieved by a sheriff's civil service board decision may seek judicial review of that decision under K.S.A. 60-2101(d).

8. When an appeal is taken to the district court under K.S.A. 60-2101(d), the district court may not substitute its judgment for that of the political or taxing subdivision or agency, and the court's scope of review is limited to determining whether the challenged order was within the subdivision or agency's scope of authority; was substantially supported by the evidence; or was fraudulent, arbitrary, or capricious. This same scope of review applies upon further appeal to the appellate courts.

9. Administrative agencies are creatures of statute and their power is dependent upon authorizing statutes; therefore, any exercise of authority claimed by the agency must come from within the statutes.

10. The plain language of K.S.A. 19-4327(b) and (d) authorizes a sheriff's civil service board to receive and consider evidence for and against a dismissal in determining the reasonableness of the sheriff's personnel decision, to approve or disapprove of the sheriff's decision, and to make appropriate orders based on its findings and conclusions.

11. When a sheriff's civil service board conducts a hearing requested by a dismissed employee, it performs a quasi-judicial function, essentially sitting as an appeals board, and its role is to determine the reasonableness of the sheriff's personnel decision.

12. Generally, a decision is reasonable if it is substantially supported by the evidence. Substantial competent evidence possesses both relevance and substance and provides a substantial basis of fact from which the issues can be reasonably determined.

Morgan L. Roach, of McCauley & Roach, LLC, of Kansas City, Missouri, argued the cause, and Jeff S. Kratofil, of the same firm, was with him on the briefs for appellant Michael Maurer.

Michael F. Delaney, of Spencer Fane Britt & Browne LLP, of Overland Park, argued the cause, and Michael C. Leitch, of the same firm, was with him on the brief for appellee Johnson County, Kansas, Sheriff's Civil Service Board.

Lawrence L. Ferree, III, of Ferree, Bunn, O'Grady & Rundberg, Chtd., of Overland Park, argued the cause, and Grant M. Hash, of the same firm, was with him on the brief for appellee Frank Denning.

MORITZ, J. JOHNSON, J., dissenting.

OPINION

Page 442

[299 Kan. 1072] Moritz, J.

This case began innocuously enough when Johnson County Sheriff's Department Master Deputy Michael Maurer cracked a department vehicle's windshield with a binder while attempting to shoo a bothersome horsefly. While the horsefly's life may have

Page 443

ended, the long and tortuous factual and procedural history of this case had just begun.

Maurer initially reported the incident by writing " Crack in windshield--rock" on a yellow sticky note and leaving the note for his commanding officer, Sergeant Joe Greenwood. The next morning, Maurer briefly spoke with Greenwood and advised him the crack on the windshield had " spiderwebbed" as the result of a rock chip. But another deputy who witnessed the horsefly incident soon reported that Maurer caused the damage when he hit the windshield with the binder. Maurer eventually responded to questions regarding the incident in two separate written reports and disclosed additional facts regarding his role in damaging the windshield.

After an internal investigation and hearing before an internal review board, Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning terminated Maurer's employment for violating the department's professional standard on truthfulness. In doing so, Denning adopted the position of the review board recommending termination based on Maurer's false statements in the sticky note and his verbal statement to his commanding officer indicating the windshield damage was caused by a rock rather than Maurer's own actions.

Maurer appealed to the Johnson County Sheriff's Civil Service Board (CSB), and the CSB reversed Denning's decision and ordered Maurer's reinstatement. Denning appealed to the district court, and the district court reversed the CSB's decision and remanded the case to the CSB for further proceedings. Maurer appealed [299 Kan. 1073] the district court's decision to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning the district court's decision to remand the case to the CSB for further proceedings was not a final order. On remand, the CSB reversed itself, upholding Denning's decision to terminate Maurer. Maurer appealed to the district court, and the district court affirmed the CSB's second decision. Maurer appealed to the Court of Appeals, and the panel majority affirmed both district court decisions, ultimately upholding Maurer's termination. Judge Leben dissented and would have affirmed the CSB's first decision upholding Maurer's reinstatement. Denning v. Johnson County Sheriff's Civil Service Board, 46 Kan.App.2d 688, 266 P.3d 557 (2011), rev. granted 294 Kan. 943 (2012).

We granted Maurer's petition for review under K.S.A. 20-3018(b), obtaining jurisdiction under K.S.A. 60-2101(b). We affirm the Court of Appeals' decision affirming the district court's decision to vacate the CSB's first decision, and thus we ...


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