“Just Cause” Clause In Indiana Chief’s Contract Meaningless

Ronald Taylor was the Police Chief for the Town of New Chicago, Indiana. While he was initially hired as an at-will employee, Taylor and the City subsequently entered into an agreement under which he could only be terminated for “just cause.”

The City Council approved the contract in October 2003, several months after all of its incumbent members had been defeated in a primary election. When the new Council took office on January 1, 2004, it voted the same day to terminate Taylor as Chief of Police. Taylor then filed a lawsuit contending that his termination was not for just cause, and thus was a breach of his contract.

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the “just cause” provision in Taylor’s contract was void. The Court noted that under Indiana law, police chiefs are specifically exempted from job protections granted rank-and-file members of police departments. As the Court put it, “towns retain the authority to remove a police chief from the rank of chief without notice, hearing or good cause shown.”

The Court held that “the Legislature has determined towns ought to retain the authority to remove a police chief without notice, hearing or good cause shown from the rank of chief. The Town may not bargain away this authority and by contract commit itself to act in an agreed manner. The law requires the Town retain its freedom of judgment up to the very moment it was required to act so that its decision when finally made would be influenced only by regard for public welfare and not by contractual agreements and liability concerns.”

Taylor v. Town of New Chicago, 839 N.E.2d 212 (Ind.App. 2005).

This article appears in the March 2006 issue