Talk about stepping in the middle of something …

City of Athens v. MacAvoy (Published): An Athens PD officer was sleeping on the job — with a married woman.  The husband finds out, and files a complaint with the Chief of Police  This sets off a jurisdictional “Who’s on First?” of police officer discipline.

The Chief placed the officer on indefinite suspension.  Texas Local Government Code Chapter 143 gives officers a right to appeal discipline actions to an independent examiner.  The officer appeals.  He says the suspension was improper because, under Texas Government Code Chapter 614, he should have been given a copy of the husband’s complaint before he was suspended.  The 143 examiner agrees with the officer, and reverses the suspension.

The City of Athens appeals the examiner’s decision by suing.  The City contends that the 143 examiner didn’t have jurisdiction to apply 614.  The trial court held that it (the trial court) did not have jurisdiction because Chapter 143 makes the examiner’s decision final, unless the examiner lacked jurisdiction.

The Tyler court says: 

1. Look into the City’s allegations.  Maybe 614 is beyond a 143 examiner’s authority to apply, maybe it isn’t.  Either way, the City’s pleadings raise the question.  The trial court jumped the gun by dismissing the case.  For now, the trial court has jurisdiction to consider the question.  After considering the matter, it may turn out that the The City is wrong, in which case the trial court will not have jurisdiction.  But the City may be right, in which case the trial court will have jurisdiction.  Case remanded so the trial court can figure it out.

2. Don’t get sucked into another jurisidctional merry-go-round.  Let’s say that the 143 examiner does have authority to apply 164. There are occasions when an examiner’s application of a statute is so hare-brained that the application is outside of the examiner’s authority.  “Don’t go there”, says the Tyler court (not in so many words, of course).  The City complains that, even if 614 applies, the Chief himself qualifies as a “complainant” and thus the officer was given the required pre-suspension complaint.  The examiner figured that the complaint that 614 is about is the husband’s.  That’s not exactly a hare-brained conclusion.  It may still be wrong, of course.  If the Tyler court were deciding the issue itself, it might side with the City.  But the point is that Chapter 143 gives examiners a wide degree of latitude in interpreting statutes within their jurisidiction to apply.  This interpretation is within that latitude.

So it come back to: Is the application of a provision in Chapter 614 within the jurisdiction of a Chapter 143 examiner?  On this front, as if getting into the middle of a marriage isn’t bad enough, the officer has stepped into the middle of a feud between the Texas Legislature and the Supreme Court of Texas.

The City argues that the old version of 614 is limited to certain kinds of officers, and doesn’t apply to this officer.  The officer counters, “So what?”  There’s a new version of the statute and a slight change in the wording makes it look like he’s now protected by 614.  The City responds: Yes, but when the Texas Legislature passed the new statute, they did not intend for the new statute to change the law spelled out by the old one.

And that, dear readers, is the fued discussed in the post entitled Texas Legislature/Supreme Court of Texas Showdown!

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