KCK Firefighter Loses Residency Suit

A Kansas firefighter who was terminated for violating the city’s residency policy, has lost his federal court lawsuit to get his job back. Todd Coleman was fired by the Kansas City Fire Department in 2016. The department claimed he spent more than 50% of his time outside of Wyandotte County.

Coleman denied violating the residency requirement but admitted operating a business outside of Wyandotte County. He filed the suit pro se claiming IAFF Local 64, Local 64’s Business Manager Robert Wing, attorney Scott Brown, and the law firm of Blake & Uhlig mishandled his grievance. He sued each of them and the city, accusing the defendants of fraud, misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of his 5th and 14th Amendment rights.

The US District Court dismissed all of Coleman’s claims, offering the following explanations relative to his 14th Amendment arguments:

  • Plaintiff alleges he was the victim of “bad faith, outrageous government conduct and manifest injustice,” as well as “overt acts of fraud” and “illegal and unethical conduct.”
  • The Court construes this as Plaintiff asserting a substantive due process claim.
  • “[T]he Due Process Clause does not protect against ‘wrong’ decisions, only ‘arbitrary’ ones.”
  • It protects against governmental abuse of power, and is “not a guarantee against incorrect or ill-advised personnel decisions.”
  • At best, these facts suggest an inference that the Government Defendants incorrectly decided to suspend and ultimately terminate Plaintiff.
  • Therefore, the Government Defendants’ alleged actions do not rise to the level of substantive due process violations because the law does not guarantee protections against ill-advised or incorrect adverse employment decisions.
  • To succeed on a procedural due process claim, a plaintiff must prove two elements: first, that he possessed a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest such that the due process protections were applicable, and second, that he was not “afforded an appropriate level of process[.]
  • For the sake of argument, the Government Defendants assume Coleman had a property interest in his employment under Kansas law. Therefore, they argue that Plaintiff’s Complaint demonstrates he received procedural due process both before and after he was deprived of his property interest in his employment.
  • The Court finds that on the face of his Complaint, Plaintiff’s allegations do not establish a procedural due process claim.
  • Under the Fourteenth Amendment, deprivation of a constitutionally protected interest must “be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case.”
  • This requires some sort of pre-termination hearing. A pre-termination hearing, “though necessary, need not be elaborate.”
  • The hearing need not be a full adversarial evidentiary hearing; it is sufficient that the employee has an opportunity to respond and present reasons why the non-reappointment should not happen.
  • Plaintiff’s factual allegations do not support an inference that the Government Defendants deprived him of procedural due process prior to his suspension and termination.
  • The requirements for post-deprivation due process are less clear than those for pre-deprivation.
  • While there is no one procedure that satisfies post-deprivation procedural due process, the Tenth Circuit recognizes that a collective bargaining agreement’s grievance procedure satisfies an employee’s entitlement to procedural due process following termination.
  • After his suspension, Plaintiff filed a grievance, thus availing himself of the grievance procedure in the Memorandum of Agreement between IAFF Local 64 and the Unified Government.
  • Through IAFF Local 64, Plaintiff’s grievance reached the arbitration process.
  • IAFF Local 64, however, withdrew the grievance for lack of merit before an arbitration hearing occurred.

Here is a copy of the decision: Coleman v. Unified Government 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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