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Holmes v. City of Memphis Civil Service Commission

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

January 13, 2017

JERRY HOLMES
v.
CITY OF MEMPHIS CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION

          Session November 17, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Shelby County No. CH-13-0507 Walter L. Evans, Chancellor

         An employee of the Memphis Fire Department was terminated following his involvement in a physical altercation in which he struck a business associate in the face with a hammer. The City of Memphis Civil Service Commission upheld the termination, and the employee filed a petition for judicial review. The chancery court reversed the termination, holding that the Civil Service Commission erred in not allowing the employee the benefit of Tennessee's self-defense statute, in excluding certain evidence of disparate treatment, and in entering a decision not supported by substantial and material evidence. Having reviewed the record, we reverse the judgment of the chancery court in all respects and remand the case for such further proceedings as are necessary and consistent with this opinion.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Reversed and Remanded

          Bruce McMullen and Zayid A. Saleem, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, City of Memphis Civil Service Commission.

          Darrell J. O'Neal, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jerry Holmes.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Jerry Holmes had been employed by the Memphis Fire Department for 20 years when he was involved in a physical altercation at his home with Leon Bosby, a former business associate, on June 4, 2009. On that date, Mr. Bosby, accompanied by his five-year-old son, drove to Mr. Holmes's house to pay $500 of a $4, 000 debt he owed Mr. Holmes from an earlier transaction. When they arrived, Mr. Holmes invited Mr. Bosby and Mr. Bosby's son into his house to discuss Mr. Bosby's payment of the remaining debt. The discussion became heated when Mr. Holmes asked Mr. Bosby to sign two receipts as evidence of the remaining debt. Although Mr. Holmes and Mr. Bosby subsequently gave conflicting accounts of the events that followed, it is undisputed that a physical altercation ensued during which Mr. Holmes struck Mr. Bosby in the face with a hammer. Bleeding profusely, Mr. Bosby returned to his vehicle and left Mr. Holmes's house with his son. After driving a short distance, Mr. Bosby flagged down a police officer and reported that he had been attacked by Mr. Holmes. In the meantime, Mr. Holmes called 911 and reported that he had been attacked by Mr. Bosby. Several police officers arrived at Mr. Holmes's house shortly thereafter to investigate the matter. After completing their investigation, the officers arrested Mr. Holmes and charged him with aggravated assault.

         Due to the serious nature of the charges against Mr. Holmes, the Memphis Fire Department requested an investigation of the incident. The Memphis Police Department's Inspectional Services Bureau conducted the investigation and prepared a report detailing its findings. The report contained, among other things, Mr. Holmes's and Mr. Bosby's accounts of the incident. In his statement to investigators, Mr. Bosby maintained that he was trying to leave the house with his son when Mr. Holmes attacked him from behind. Mr. Bosby stated that he never touched Mr. Holmes prior to the attack. Mr. Holmes, on the other hand, admitted to striking Mr. Bosby with a hammer but maintained that he did so in self-defense. Police reports included in the investigative report reflected the responding officers' determination that the evidence at the scene supported Mr. Bosby's account of the events.

         Shortly thereafter, the City of Memphis (the "City") charged Mr. Holmes with violating the following disciplinary rules:

Division of Fire Services Operations Manual, Volume 100, Rules and Regulations
Section 102.01, Page 2, Regulation 9
Members shall not exhibit conduct either on duty or off duty that is in breach of public trust.
Section 102.01, Page 2, Regulation 10
Members shall not exhibit conduct, either on duty or off duty that could be considered unbecoming a member of the Fire Division or City of Memphis.
Section 103.01, Page 3, General Provision 11 (Major Violations)
g) Disruption of work.
r) Arrest, incarceration or conviction of a criminal offense whether misdemeanor or felony.
s) Conduct unbecoming a member of the Memphis Fire Department or City of Memphis.
City of Memphis Personnel Manual
PM 62-12, Section 62-00, Page 1, Paragraph 1
City employees, as integral members of City of Memphis Government, shall adhere to acceptable business principles in matters of personal conduct and behavior and exhibit a high degree of personal integrity. This not only involves respect for the rights and feelings of other City employees, but demands that City employees refrain from any conduct or behavior that is criminal or illegal, or that might be personally harmful to coworkers and City of Memphis Government, or that could be viewed unfavorably by the public at large.
PM 62-12, Section 62-00, Page 1, Paragraph 4
City of Memphis Government employees are required to accept assigned job responsibilities, adhere to rules of conduct at all times, and shall not commit criminal or illegal acts against the City of Memphis, other City employees, or the public at large. Violation of this policy shall subject City employees to disciplinary action up to and including ...

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