Failure To Provide Transcript Results In Demotion Being Overturned

The Indianapolis Police Department demoted Sergeant Brad Bentley to patrol officer. The City’s Police Merit Board upheld the demotion, and Bentley filed a petition for judicial review on September 10, 2014. A provision in the Indianapolis City Code requires the City to file the transcript from a Merit Board hearing within 30 days of receiving a court summons. The City failed to comply with the transcript requirement, did not file the transcript for seven months.

The trial court struck the transcript from the record as untimely filed. Bentley filed a summary judgment motion, claiming he was entitled to a judgment overturning his demotion. The City filed a response to Bentley’s summary judgment motion, but the trial court struck the City’s pleading from the record. The trial court then found in favor of Sergeant Bentley.

An appeals court upheld the decision overturning the demotion. The Court cited the Code provision, which provides that “the City shall cause the Merit Board to file a true and complete copy of the transcript of the hearing with the Court.” The Court noted that “it is atypical for the respondent, rather than the petitioner, to bear the cost and responsibility of preparation and filing of the transcript of the administrative proceeding. But the City drafts and passes its own ordinances, and this is how it has chosen to structure the review of Merit Board decisions.

“Having decided to structure its procedure in this fashion, the City is bound to comply with it. The plain language of the Ordinance requires that the City file the transcript of the Merit Board hearing within 30 days of receipt of the summons. In this case, the 30-day deadline passed on October 16, 2014. The City did not file the transcript until April 27, 2015 – 193 days late. And never once during the course of those six months did the City request an extension of time or in any way indicate that it was experiencing difficulty with preparation of the transcript.

“This tardiness was not de minimis; it was extreme. And filing a required document over six months late is not substantial compliance, as the City argues. The trial court did not err by concluding that the City did not meet the procedural burden imposed by the Ordinance.”

The City also argued that because the Code provision did not set forth a consequence for an untimely filing, there should be no consequences whatsoever. The Court disagreed, commenting that “reading the Ordinance in this way would make the 30-day requirement entirely superfluous. Furthermore, it would enable the City to infinitely delay all petitions for judicial review of Merit Board decisions, which is a result not intended by the ordinance and which we cannot countenance.

“In our view, the absence of a prescribed consequence merely means that the consequence is left for the trial court to determine. For example, the trial court could order the City to pay the attorney fees of the petitioner for the period of delay. We acknowledge that striking the transcript is an extreme remedy. But as noted above, in this particular case, the City’s delay was egregious. Therefore, we cannot say that the trial court erred by striking the transcript that was filed over six months after the deadline had passed.

“After the trial court struck the untimely-filed transcript and the City’s untimely-filed summary judgment brief and designated evidence, it was left only with Bentley’s summary judgment motion and designated evidence. In this case, with no transcript and no evidence designated by the City in support of the demotion, there is no evidence supporting the demotion.”

City of Indianapolis v. Bentley, 2016 WL 3745545 (Ind. App. 2016).