Civil Service Appeals Get New Trials In Ohio

In October 2006, Michael Bryant was suspended by the Hamilton, Ohio Police Department for unbecoming conduct, untruthfulness, and insubordination. The internal affairs investigation which led to this sanction was conducted by Captain Joseph Murray, Lieutenant Scott Scrimizzi, and Sergeant Michael Waldeck.

In early 2007, Murray received an unsolicited subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine along with a bill for $54. The bill indicated that subscriptions had also been sent to Lieutenant Scrimizzi and Sergeant Waldeck. This prompted an internal affairs investigation.

Bryant eventually admitted to forging their subscriptions as a “stupid joke,” but denied doing so in retaliation for his previous suspension. The Department nonetheless terminated Bryant. When the City’s Civil Service Commission upheld his termination, Bryant appealed to a trial court. When the trial court also upheld the termination, Bryant challenged the decision in the Ohio Court of Appeals.

The question before the Court was what standard of review a trial court should use with respect to civil service decisions. Citing an Ohio statute, the Court found that “as a member of the Police Department, Bryant’s case fell within a special civil service statute. Bryant was entitled to a ‘trial de novo’ in his appeal before the trial court.”

The Court also sketched out the scope of what a “trial de novo” might look like: “In a trial de novo, the trial court independently examines the record as it appears before the Commission. The Court has the discretion to permit a party to supplement the record with additional evidence if it so chooses. Unlike some other administrative appeals, the trial court is empowered to substitute its own judgment for that of the Commission. The Court may dispose of all issues of law and fact as though no proceeding had been held before the Commission. The burden of proof during such a trial is placed on the appointing authority, which must prove the truth of the charges against the terminated employee by a preponderance of the evidences.”

Since the trial court did not apply these rules, the Court overturned his termination and remanded the case to the trial court for a trial de novo.

Bryant v. Hamilton Civil Service Commission, 2009 WL 2232025 (Ohio App. 2009).

This article appears in the October 2009 issue