Bill Of Rights Statute Of Limitations Stops Running When Employee Is Fired

Carlos Sanchez was a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. In 2003, Sanchez was served with a multi-count disciplinary charge, including allegations that he maintained an improper relationship with a drug dealer, that he failed to notify his commanding officer of an informant he was utilizing, that he improperly purchased a motorcycle from a known informant, and that he released confidential documents and information to an informant.

During Sanchez’s disciplinary hearing, evidence was developed that Sanchez had improperly used Department computers. LAPD’s Board of Rights found Sanchez guilty of several of the charges, and the Chief terminated Sanchez effective May 1, 2003. The same day the Chief fired Sanchez, the Department started a new investigation against him on the grounds he had improperly used his Department computer.

As a result of a settlement agreement, Sanchez was eventually reinstated with back pay on or about January 3, 2006. A month later, the Department conducted a supplemental investigation of the computer misuse charges against Sanchez. The investigation resulted in Sanchez’s termination on July 28, 2006.

Sanchez challenged his termination on the grounds that the Department did not take disciplinary action within one year as required by Section 3304 of California’s Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act. The key question was whether Section 3304 allowed for the tolling or extension of the one-year limitations period during the time that Sanchez was discharged.

The California Court of Appeals found that the statute of limitations in fact was tolled: “The Department discovered Sanchez’s misuse of Department computers after May 2, 2003, when Sanchez testified in the first hearing. The one-year period began to run at that time. However, the one-year period stopped running when Sanchez was discharged on June 30, 2003, because at that juncture he was no longer a City employee and thus was no longer available for disciplinary action.

“Upon Sanchez’s reinstatement on January 3, 2006, the running of the one-year period resumed. Less than eight months elapsed between the Department’s discovery of Sanchez’s misconduct related to the computer use and its June 27, 2006 notification to Sanchez of the proposed disciplinary action. Therefore, the charge relating to computer misuse was timely.”

Sanchez v City of Los Angeles, 2009 WL 2569254 (Cal. App. 2009).

This article appears in the October 2009 issue