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Wallace v. City of Memphis

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 6, 2019

ALLEN K. WALLACE
v.
CITY OF MEMPHIS

          Session January 15, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Shelby County No. CH-16-1782-1 Walter L. Evans, Judge.

         A City of Memphis firefighter was terminated based on alleged off-duty misconduct. The firefighter appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission. After a hearing, the Civil Service Commission issued a decision recommending that the firefighter be restored to his previous position with full back pay and benefits. The City restored the firefighter to his previous rank and position but refused to pay the back pay and benefits owed. As a consequence, the firefighter filed a verified petition in chancery court to enforce the Civil Service Commission's decision to which the City filed an answer without raising any affirmative defenses. Thereafter, the firefighter filed a properly-supported motion for summary judgment along with a statement of undisputed facts. Because the City did not file a response to the motion or the statement of undisputed facts as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56, and the undisputed facts established that the firefighter was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment. The trial court also awarded post-judgment interest from the date of the trial court's order granting summary judgment but not from the date of the Civil Service Commission's decision as requested by the firefighter. Both parties appealed. We affirm the grant of summary judgment but reverse and remand for a calculation of post-judgment interest from the date of the Civil Service Commission's decision.

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

          Barbaralette G. Davis, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, City of Memphis.

          John F. Canale, III, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Allen K. Wallace.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S. and William B. Acree, Senior Judge, joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

         Allen K. Wallace was employed by the City of Memphis ("the City") for thirteen years as a firefighter. While off duty on October 18, 2014, Mr. Wallace was arrested for various offenses, including a DUI, in Greenwood, Mississippi. After a disciplinary hearing on November 17, 2014, Mr. Wallace was terminated from his position with the Division of Fire Services with the City. The sole basis for his termination was the October 2014 arrest. Mr. Wallace timely appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission. In the interim, all charges brought by the City of Greenwood were dismissed, and the records of Mr. Wallace's arrest were expunged from the public record by Order of the County Court of Leflore County, Mississippi.

         A hearing was held before the Civil Service Commission on May 10, 2016, and the Commission issued its final decision on September 2, 2016. The Commission found that because the City based its decision to terminate Mr. Wallace solely on the arrest that was later dismissed and expunged, the City did not establish by a preponderance of the evidence that its termination of Mr. Wallace's thirteen-year employment was reasonable, under all the circumstances. The Commission ordered that Mr. Wallace be restored to his previous position with full back pay and benefits.

         Shortly thereafter, the City restored Mr. Wallace to his previous rank of firefighter/paramedic but refused to pay Mr. Wallace the back pay and benefits owed to him per the Commission's order, stating that Mr. Wallace failed to mitigate his damages by seeking other employment/income while he was terminated.

         On October 12, 2016, Mr. Wallace moved for the Commission to enforce the judgment awarding full back pay and benefits; however, the Commission denied the motion, finding that it lacked the statutory authority to enforce the order.

         As a result, on November 21, 2016, Mr. Wallace filed a Verified Petition to Enforce the City of Memphis Civil Service Commission Judgment and for Injunctive Relief in the Chancery Court of Shelby County. The City filed its response on December 22, 2016, in which it raised for the first time the defense of Mr. Wallace's failure to mitigate his damages.

         On June 17, 2017, Mr. Wallace filed a motion for summary judgment, memorandum of law in support, and a statement of undisputed facts. He attached as exhibits the hearing transcript from the Civil Service Commission and a copy of the Commissioner's decision. In relevant part, the statement of undisputed facts asserted the following:

8. At no time during the [Civil Service Commission] hearing, neither before, during or after proof was taken, did [the City] even raise the issue of mitigation of damages before the Civil Service Commission.
9. On September 2, 2016, the Civil Service Commission issued its decision.
10.The Civil Service Commission held, in part, "The City's November 17, 2014 disciplinary action terminating Mr. Wallace's 13 year [Memphis Fire Department] employment must therefore be reversed, and he should be restored to his previous position of employment with full back pay and benefits."
11.On September 19, 2016, counsel for [the City], via email communication, informed counsel for [Mr. Wallace] that [the City] would not comply with the Civil Service Commission's Decision relating to the award of back pay. Specifically, counsel for [the City] stated, "However, given that your client has failed to mitigate damages, the City's position has to be that he is not entitled to a back pay award."
12.[The City] failed to file a timely petition for appeal or reconsideration of the Civil Service Commission's Decision pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. ยงยง 4-5-315 and 317, respectively. Consequently, the Civil Service Commission's Decision ...

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