Florida Deputy Sheriffs Have No Property Right To The Job

Steven Yelvington began working for the Flagler County, Florida Sheriff’s Office in 1997. Yelvington received a variety of awards, including being selected as “Deputy of the Year” in 1999 and 2001. Sometime in 2001, Yelvington’s relationship with his supervisors began to deteriorate. In 2002, the Department suspended Yelvington for violating a direct order following an incident which Yelvington considered to be a joke. The incident involved Yelvington giving a “warning ticket” to his supervisor. Yelvington’s labor organization, the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, entered into a settlement agreement with the County in which the suspension was reduced to a verbal counseling, and Yelvington agreed he would transfer from the patrol division and become an undercover narcotics investigator.

In 2003, the County proposed terminating Yelvington for untruthfulness. A second settlement agreement was later entered into between the Department and Yelvington. The settlement called for the termination to be withdrawn; in exchange, Yelvington agreed to resign from the Sheriff’s Department.
Yelvington sued the Department, contending that the investigations into his conduct violated his due process rights because the investigations were not conducted in accordance with Florida’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. A federal court dismissed Yelvington’s lawsuit.

The Court found that before an employee can claim to have due process rights to the job, the employee must show either the existence of a “property” or “liberty” interest in the job. The concept of a property interest has long been designed by the United States Supreme Court as a “legitimate expectation of continued employment.” Usually, property rights to the job are created by state law, civil service provisions, or the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. (Though Yelvington was a member of a labor organization, he was not covered by a collective bargaining agreement).

The Court found that in Florida, “a deputy sheriff has no protected property interest in his or her employment, as deputy sheriffs in Florida are not deemed to be employees of the Sheriff, but rather, are appointees who serve at the pleasure of the Sheriff. Because deputy sheriffs are not employees and both their selection and retention come under the absolute control of the Sheriff, they have no property interest in their positions for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Yelvington v. Fleming, 2007 WL 1970866 (M.D.Fla. 2007).

This article appears in the September 2007 issue