Resignation Deprives Officers Of Ability To File Lawsuit

Grant Spinks, Robert Kovacs, and Michael Exley were police officers in Clinton, New Jersey. In 2001, the Police Department conducted an internal investigation based on complaints of malingering by some officers. The investigation revealed that several officers, including Spinks, Kovacs, and Exley, had been idle when they claimed to be working.

The Township submitted the ultimate results of its investigation to a County prosecutor, who filed criminal charges. In November 2001, the three officers pled guilty to falsifying documents, were admitted into a pre-trial intervention program, resigned their positions as police officers, and stipulated they would not work again in law enforcement in New Jersey.

The three officers later filed a lawsuit against the Township, contending that the 2001 investigation had been commenced in retaliation for their engaging in protected labor activity. The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit.

Key in the Court’s decision was the fact that the three officers were unable to show that the Township had taken any “adverse action” against them. Quoting from a trial judge’s ruling, the Court found that “the actual termination resulted from the officers’ resignation which was clearly procured by the prosecutor as a condition of not filing felony charges, the officers’ admission into Pre-Trial Intervention, and their being allowed to retain pension benefits. The prosecutor determined who and what to charge. Such decision was not a Township decision. Accordingly, the officers have failed to show sufficient retaliatory actions. Nor did they make any claims that a mere investigation itself absent their resignation would constitute retaliation.”

Spinks v. Township of Clinton, 955 A.2d 304 (N.J.A.D. 2008).

This article appears in the January 2009 issue