Volunteer Firefighter Has No Property Right To Job

Matthew Preston was a volunteer firefighter with the City of Pleasant Hill, Iowa. After questions about Preston’s medical certification were raised, the City first suspended Preston, and then placed him on two years of probation and imposed several performance requirements. Preston thought the requirements were unacceptable and sued the City, claiming his due process rights were violated.

The federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Preston’s lawsuit. Preston’s argument turned on the contention that a “fire code official” included “the fire chief and duly authorized representatives of the fire chief.” Preston argued that he was assigned a portion, if not all, of a fire code official’s responsibilities, was sufficient to establish that Preston was the chief’s “duly authorized representative” and thus a “fire code official.” Tying the knot, Preston pointed to the fact that “fire code officials” could only be disciplined for just cause, and contended that this meant he had a due process right to his job.

The Court disagreed, finding “Preston was not a fire code official. Preston cites no legal authority for the fundamental premise of his argument: namely, when a firefighter performs some of the duties of a fire code official, a genuine dispute of material fact materializes as to whether that firefighter is a fire code official. The code explicitly states the fire code official shall be appointed by the chief appointing authority of the jurisdiction. The chief appointing authority is the City Council, and there is no evidence in the record that the Council appointed Preston as fire code official.

“In any event, it is undisputed Preston did not exercise many of the most significant responsibilities of a fire code official. For example, Preston did not interpret the code, adopt policies, procedures, rules or regulations to clarify the application of the code, or enforce the code. The chief did not view Preston as a fire code official.”

Preston v. City of Pleasant Hill, 642 F.3d 646 (8th Cir. 2011).

This article appears in the September 2011 issue