Police Chief’s “I’m Out Of Here” Resignation Not Coerced

Joseph Guzik was hired by the Town of St. John, Indiana in 1994 as its Police Chief. In 2004, the Town’s Police Commission held an executive session. During the meeting, Guzik was presented with a list of accusations concerning his alleged misconduct as Police Chief and was asked to resign. The allegations included lying to the Police Commission, submitting misrepresented time sheets, falsifying a year-end report, and failing to properly investigate certain incidents that occurred in the Town.

After reviewing the accusations, Guzik agreed to resign, asserting that his decision was designed to avoid the embarrassment that would likely result from a full investigation. Guzik also signed a letter of resignation because the Commissioners no longer wanted him to be the Police Chief. Guzik stated at the meeting, “Apparently, you want me gone. I’ll sign the letter, and I’m out of here.” Guzik was allegedly informed that should he refuse to resign, the written accusations against him would be made public.

Twelve days later, Guzik had a change of heart and filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment, alleging that his resignation was coerced and extorted. The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed, and upheld Guzik’s resignation.

The Court found that Guzik would be required to show that his resignation was under “duress,” a term it defined as including “any unlawful threat or coercion used by a person to induce another to act in a manner he or she would otherwise not.” As the Court described, “mere threats, which falls short of subverting the will, cannot constitute duress.

“In this case, it is apparent that Guzik’s resignation was a result of his dissatisfaction with the choices that were offered to him at the Police Commission meeting. According to his own testimony, Guzik signed the letter of resignation because he did not want to put his family through the ridicule and embarrassment of having to endure an investigation into the accusations which were made against him. In our view, presenting Guzik with a list of grievances accompanied by an alleged threat to conduct a more thorough investigation of his conduct does not amount to a coerced resignation. As a result, we conclude that the alternatives posed to Guzik at the time of his resignation were lawful alternatives. Therefore, we cannot say that Guzik’s resignation was void because of coercion or duress.”

Guzik v. Town of St. John, 2007 WL 3053290 (Ind.App. 2007).

This article appears in the December 2007 issue