Kentucky ‘Auxiliary Sheriff’ Does Not Have Property Right To Job

Denny Adams was an “auxiliary sheriff” with the Fulton County, Kentucky Sheriff’s Department. The position was a volunteer position, and Adams never had an employment contract with the Sheriff’s Office and never received a salary for his efforts. He never took an oath of office nor was he issued a firearm. He was, however, given a badge and other forms of identification that associated him with the authority of the Sheriff’s Office.

As an auxiliary deputy sheriff, Adams’s duties primarily involved highway patrol and the transportation of prisoners. The only form of payment Adams received from the Sheriff’s Office was reimbursement for meals he purchased while transporting prisoners. In all, Adams served as an auxiliary deputy on a purely volunteer basis and for his own personal enjoyment.

Sometime after Adams began volunteering, the Sheriff was diagnosed with cancer and discontinued his day-to-day activities with the Sheriff’s Office while undergoing treatment. The Sheriff delegated all of his authority to his chief deputy, who later summoned Adams to his office for the purpose of discussing a number of oral and written complaints filed against Adams. During the meeting, the chief deputy suspended Adams from his position.

Adams also owned and operated Adams Wrecker Service. The Sheriff’s Office included Adams Wrecker Service in a rotation of local businesses used for the provision of wrecker services in Fulton County. At a July 12, 2012 meeting, the Fiscal Court voted to “stop doing business with Adams Brothers Body Shop and Wrecker Service until further notice.” The Fiscal Court made its decision 21 days after Adams was suspended from the Sheriff’s Office.

Adams sued the County, contending that his suspension was the sole reason the Fiscal Court voted to discontinue its relationship with his business, and that his suspension and the Fiscal Court’s decision to stop doing business with Adams Wrecker Service were violations of his due process rights.

A federal court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that Adams had no due process rights to begin with. The Court held that “Adams’s procedural due process claim fails because he cannot, as a matter of law, demonstrate that he had a protected property interest in his position as an auxiliary deputy sheriff. Property interests protected by the Constitution stem from an independent source, such as state law, and are not created by the Constitution itself. In order to establish a protected property interest in his position as an auxiliary deputy sheriff, Adams must be able to point to some statutory or contractual right conferred by the state which supports a legitimate claim to continued employment. Even assuming for the purposes of analysis that Adams’s role as an auxiliary deputy could be considered ‘employment,’ he cannot point to any state law or contractual right that would vest him with a legitimate expectation in continued employment.

“In Kentucky, county sheriffs are elected, constitutional officers. Unless the individual counties establish a deputy sheriff merit board, the Sheriff may appoint his or her own deputies and may revoke the appointment at his or her pleasure. In the present case, Fulton County has not established a deputy sheriff merit board. Therefore, the chief deputy had the authority to hire and fire deputies and auxiliary deputies, like Adams, in his discretion.”

The Court then turned to the County’s decision to stop doing business with Adams’ towing company. The Court ruled that “as a matter of law, Adams cannot show that his business relationship with Fulton County created a constitutionally protected property interest. The Fiscal Court’s decision to do business with Adams was wholly discretionary, and ‘a party cannot possess a property interest in the receipt of a benefit when the decision to award or withhold the benefit is wholly discretionary.’”

Adams v. Fulton County Fiscal Court, 2012 WL 3791326 (W.D. Ky. 2012).