Session August 20, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Hamilton County No. 18-0163
Jeffrey M. Atherton, Chancellor.
appeal arises from the Chattanooga Police Department's
decision to terminate Appellant's employment as a police
officer. The administrative law judge affirmed the decision
to terminate Appellant's employment. On appeal, the
Hamilton County Chancery Court affirmed the ALJ's ruling.
Finding no error, we affirm the decision of the Chancery
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed and Remanded
Parks Varnell, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Phillip A. Noblett, City Attorney, and Keith J. Riesman,
Assistant City Attorney, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the
appellee, City of Chattanooga.
Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
Campbell ("Appellant") was a police officer with
the Chattanooga Police Department ("CPD"). On May
29, 2016, Mr. Campbell was dispatched to an apartment complex
on report of a fight there. When Mr. Campbell arrived on
scene, there were approximately 20-30 people in the parking
lot. Mr. Campbell and other officers directed the crowd to
clear the parking lot. While Mr. Campbell was giving these
instructions, Hanson Melvin, a resident of the complex,
walked by Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Campbell initiated an
encounter with him. Mr. Melvin was known to Mr. Campbell
because, on several previous occasions, Mr. Campbell had
stopped Mr. Melvin for various alleged offenses, including
driving without a valid driver's license. Mr. Melvin was
walking toward a silver vehicle with his friend, Coheleach
Holmes. During this interaction, Mr. Campbell handcuffed Mr.
Melvin and arrested him for disorderly conduct. Mr. Campbell
placed Mr. Melvin in the back of his police car and took him
5, 2016, Mr. Melvin filed a complaint against Mr. Campbell
with CPD Internal Affairs Department ("IA"). In his
complaint, Mr. Melvin alleged that Mr. Campbell harassed and
falsely arrested him. CPD opened an investigation under case
number 2016-14, with Sergeant Jeff Gaines as the lead
investigator. The scope of the investigation was Mr.
Campbell's alleged violations of: (1) ADM-01 Code of
Conduct- Harassment; and (2) ADM-16 Code of Conduct-False
the investigation, Sergeant Gaines interviewed: (1) Mr.
Melvin; (2) Mr. Campbell; and (3) Officers Jeffrey Rahn and
Dustin Finley, who were on the scene during the May 29, 2016
call. Sergeant Gaines also discovered that Mr. Melvin's
license was revoked. In addition, Sergeant Gaines learned
that Mr. Melvin had several arrests and citations for
violation of the Driver's License law. The investigation
revealed that there were no vehicles registered to Mr.
Melvin; however, Sergeant Gaines discovered that a 2014
silver Chevrolet, which met the description of the vehicle
Messrs. Melvin and Holmes were walking toward on the night of
Mr. Melvin's arrest, was registered to Mr. Holmes.
Sergeant Gaines concluded that it was "probable that the
vehicle in question that Mr. Melvin was [walking] towards
belonged to Mr. Holmes and more likely Mr. Holmes was going
to be the driver." Before submitting his report,
Sergeant Gaines also reviewed dash-camera video footage from
the night of the incident. On August 16, 2016, Sergeant
Gaines submitted his report. On August 30, 2016, Lieutenant
Pedro Bacon, who assisted in the investigation, also
submitted a "Conclusion of Fact" report.
Chief of Staff David Roddy, Captain Zach McCullough, and
Assistant Chief Eric Tucker reviewed Sergeant Gaines'
findings. Deputy Chief of Staff Roddy and Assistant Chief
Tucker recommended sustaining the false arrest charge but not
the charge of harassment. Captain McCullough did not
recommend sustaining either charge. On January 11, 2017, Mr.
Campbell received a letter advising him that a disciplinary
hearing concerning IA case number 2016-14 would be held on
February 10, 2017.
addition to being investigated for the false arrest
violation, Mr. Campbell was also under CPD investigation for
alleged violations of OPS-1-Operation of Motor Vehicle. On
January 26, 2016, under IA case number 2015-24, Mr. Campbell
was found to have violated OPS-1 for "reckless use of
his motor vehicle by driving at excessive speeds . . . and
causing physical contact with a suspect." He was
suspended, without pay, for seven days, and was also removed
from his Field Training Officer ("FTO")
position.Thereafter, CPD periodically monitored Mr.
Campbell's driving habits by reviewing his in-car videos.
To this end, on August 17, 2016, Lieutenant (now Captain)
Jerri Sutton reviewed Mr. Campbell's in-car video footage
from July 21, 2016. From the video, Captain Sutton determined
that Mr. Campbell again violated OPS-1 when he operated his
vehicle at speeds up to 92 miles per hour without activating
his emergency equipment. Captain Sutton further found that
"[Mr.] Campbell was going to back up an officer who had
not requested emergency assistance. I[n] the video, [Mr.]
Campbell can be seen driving to the right of traffic that he
was passing then eventually turning left onto a side road
before deactivating his camera." Captain Sutton reported
her findings to Assistant Chief Tucker, who instigated
another investigation led by Lieutenant Craig Joel.
investigation, Lieutenant Joel reviewed portions of
six-to-eight months of randomly chosen video from Mr.
Campbell's assigned police car. Lieutenant Joel found
several policy violations on Mr. Campbell's part.
Lieutenant Joel noted instances where Mr. Campbell drove, in
populated areas, at excessive speeds that, at times, reached
over 100 miles per hour. During some of these instances, Mr.
Campbell did not activate his emergency lights and/or siren.
Mr. Campbell also passed vehicles on the right side, on
curves, and over double-yellow lines. Lieutenant Joel chose
four of the most egregious driving examples to show to Mr.
Campbell at a meeting on September 16, 2016, where Mr.
Campbell's attorney was also present. During this
meeting, Mr. Campbell was given the opportunity to explain
his driving. After the meeting, Lieutenant Joel sent a
memorandum of his findings to Assistant Chief Tucker and
Captain Sutton. Therein, Lieutenant Joel recommended that the
case "be reviewed more in depth up the chain of command
[because Mr. Campbell's] driving behaviors [were] a
pattern unaltered by negative discipline," i.e. Mr.
Campbell's previous unpaid suspension and removal from
his FTO position.
reviewing Lieutenant Joel's report, Captain Sutton found
that Mr. Campbell violated OPS-1. Assistant Chief Tucker
concurred and recommended a hearing to determine appropriate
disciplinary action. This hearing was consolidated with the
disciplinary hearing on the false arrest and harassment
February 10, 2017, Chief Fred Fletcher presided over the
consolidated disciplinary hearing. Mr. Campbell attended with
his attorney. Several police officers, who participated in
the investigations, were also present. At the beginning of
the hearing, Chief Fletcher explained that the hearing was
for Mr. Campbell to clarify his actions and behavior on the
night he arrested Mr. Melvin as well as his reasons for the
reckless driving. As discussed, infra, Chief
Fletcher and other investigating officers questioned Mr.
Campbell concerning both his interactions with Mr. Melvin,
and the video footage of his driving. Mr. Campbell was given
the opportunity to refute the charges.
the hearing, on February 16, 2017, Chief Fletcher announced
his decision to sustain the charges against Mr. Campbell,
i.e. violation of: (1) ADM-01 Code of Conduct-Harassment; (2)
ADM-16 Code of Conduct-False Arrest; and (3) OPS-1 Operation
of Motor Vehicle. Based on these charges and CPD's
previous disciplinary action against Mr. Campbell, by letter
of February 20, 2017, Chief Fletcher notified Mr. Campbell of
CPD's decision to terminate his employment, effective
February 16, 2017.
Campbell appealed CPD's decision to Administrative Law
Judge ("ALJ") Michael Begley, who heard the appeal
on June 29 and 30, 2017. The following individuals testified
at the hearing: (1) Chief Fletcher; (2) Deputy Chief of Staff
Roddy; (3) Sergeant Gaines; (4) Lieutenant Joel; (5) Captain
Sutton; (6) Assistant Chief Tucker; (7) Officer Finley; (8)
Officer Rahn; and (9) Mr. Campbell. In addition, twenty-three
exhibits were entered into evidence. By order of January 26,
2018, ALJ Begley concluded that Chief Fletcher did not have a
reasonable basis to sustain the harassment allegation,
see footnote 1. However, the ALJ sustained the
termination of Mr. Campbell's employment on his finding
that CPD had a reasonable basis to sustain both the false
arrest allegation and the OPS-1 violations.
Campbell appealed the ALJ's order to the Chancery Court
of Hamilton County ("trial court"). By order of
October 12, 2018, the trial court found substantial and
material evidence to uphold the ALJ's decision to sustain
the false arrest and OPS-1 allegations and thus, affirmed the
termination of Mr. Campbell's employment. Mr. Campbell
Campbell raises several issues for review. However, we
perceive the dispositive issues are:
1. Whether the trial court erred in affirming the ALJ's
ruling that CPD had a reasonable basis to sustain Mr.
Campbell's false arrest and OPS-1 violations.
2. If so, whether the trial court erred in upholding the
ALJ's ruling that CPD had a reasonable basis to terminate
Mr. Campbell's employment.
Standard of Review
review of the ALJ's decision is governed by the Uniform
Administrative Procedures Act ("UAPA"). Tenn. Code
Ann. § 27-9-114(b)(1); City of Memphis v. Civil
Serv. Comm'n of Memphis, 238 S.W.3d 238, 242 (Tenn.
Ct. App. 2007). The UAPA provides, in pertinent part:
(a)(1) A person who is aggrieved by a final decision in a
contested case is entitled to judicial review under this
chapter, which shall be the only available method of judicial
review. . . .
(h) The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand
the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or
modify the decision if the rights of the petitioner have been
prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences,
conclusions, or decisions are:
(1) In violation of the of constitutional or statutory
(2) In excess of the statutory authority of the agency;
(3) Made upon unlawful procedure;
(4) Arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of
discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion; or
(5)(A) Unsupported by evidence that is both substantial and
material in the light of the entire record.
(B) In determining the substantiality of evidence, the court
shall take into account whatever in the record fairly
detracts from its weight, but the court shall not substitute
its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the
evidence on questions of fact.
(i) No agency decision pursuant to a hearing in a contested
case shall be reversed, remanded or modified by the reviewing
court unless for errors that affect the merits of such
Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322. In City of Memphis,
this Court explained that
[u]pon confirming that an agency has employed the proper
legal principles in the case under review, this Court must
then consider the disputed factual findings and address
whether the agency had a reasonably sound basis for making
those findings. See McEwen v. Tenn. Dept. of Safety,
173 S.W.3d 815, 820 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). Like the trial
court, this Court applies the substantial and material
evidence standard in reviewing the agency's findings of
fact. Bobbitt v. Shell, 115 S.W.3d 506, 509-10
(Tenn. Ct. App. 2003). Substantial and material evidence is
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept to support a rational conclusion" and to furnish
a reasonably sound basis for the decision under
consideration. City of Memphis v. Civil Serv.
Comm'n, 216 S.W.3d 311, 316 (Tenn. 2007) (quoting
Jackson Mobilphone Co. v. Tenn. Pub. Serv.
Comm'n, 876 S.W.2d 106, 110-11 (Tenn. Ct. App.
1993)); Dickson v. City of Memphis Civil Serv.
Comm'n, 194 S.W.3d 457, 464 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005);
Pruitt v. City of Memphis, No.
W2004-01771-COA-R3-CV, 2005 WL 2043542, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App.
Aug. 24, 2005); Bobbitt, 115 S.W.3d at 510.
As directed by the statute, we take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from the weight of the evidence,
but we may not substitute our own judgment on questions of
fact by re-weighing the evidence. See Tenn. Code
Ann. § 4-5-322(h)(5)(B). When the agency conducts a
hearing and can evaluate the witnesses as they testify, this
Court gives the tribunal's credibility determinations
great weight. Pruitt, 2005 WL 2043542, at *7.
Moreover, the substantial and material evidence standard does
not justify reversal of an administrative decision only
because the evidence could also support another result.
Martin v. Sizemore, 78 S.W.3d 249, 276 (Tenn. Ct.
App. 2001). Rather, we may reject an administrative
determination only if a reasonable person would necessarily
arrive at a different conclusion based on the evidence.
Likewise, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 4-5-322(h)(4)
permits a reviewing court to modify or reverse an
administrative decision if it is "[a]rbitrary or
capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly
unwarranted exercise of discretion." Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 4-5-322(h)(4). A decision unsupported by substantial
and material evidence is arbitrary and capricious. City
of Memphis, 216 S.W.3d at 315. Yet, a clear error of
judgment can also render a decision arbitrary and capricious
notwithstanding adequate evidentiary support. Id. at
316. A decision is arbitrary or capricious if it "is not
based on any course of reasoning or exercise of judgment, or
. . . disregards the facts or circumstances of the case
without some basis that would lead a reasonable person to
reach the same conclusion." Id. (quoting
Jackson Mobilphone, 876 S.W.2d at 110-11).
City of Memphis, 238 S.W.3d at 243. With the
foregoing in mind, we turn to address the issues.
ADM-16 Violation: False Arrest
Campbell argues that the ALJ's decision to sustain the
false arrest charge is not supported by substantial and
material evidence. The charge against Mr. Campbell arises
from his alleged violation of CPD policy ADM-16, which
provides, in pertinent part:
A. All employees-whether on or off duty-shall be governed by
reasonable rules of good conduct and behavior and shall not
commit any wrongful, malicious, or criminal act which may
bring reproach or discredit upon themselves, their fellow
employees, the Chattanooga Police
Department, or the City of Chattanooga.
C. Nothing in this order or in any other general order shall
be interpreted to preclude or prohibit the Chief of Police
from tailoring appropriate disciplinary action to fit the
circumstances of any violation of policy, rule or order of
the Department or any violation of policy, rule or order of
the City. The Chief of Police may impose any level of
disciplinary action authorized by the Chattanooga City Code.
Conduct in General
A. Submitting false reports
Written and oral reports submitted by employees shall be
truthful and complete, and no employee shall knowingly enter
or cause to be entered inaccurate, false, misleading or
improper information, or submit reports containing material
B. Employee Conduct During Internal Investigation
Employees shall answer questions truthfully, submit written
statements and participate in recorded interviews during
internal investigations related to the employee's duties
or fitness for duty. Failure to answer such questions and
cooperate with the investigation may form the basis for
disciplinary action and may result in dismissal from the
department. The intentional misrepresentation of a material
fact during an internal investigation may result in the
dismissal of the employee from the Department.
S. Unbecoming Conduct
1. Employees shall conduct themselves at all times-both on
and off duty-in such a manner as to reflect favorably on the
Department. Conduct unbecoming a public employee includes
conduct that is unlawful and/or brings the Department into
disrepute, reflects discredit upon the employee as a member
of the Department, or impairs the operation or efficiency of
the Department or officer.
Concerning the false arrest charge, the ALJ found, in
9. [Mr. Campbell] . . . stated to Mr. Melvin in a casual
tone, "Hey man, you got your license back yet? You
working on it?" Mr. Melvin responded that it was none of
[Mr. Campbell]'s business. Mr. Melvin had committed no
violation at this point.
10. After a brief pause, [Mr. Campbell]'s tone became
angry. He became highly agitated, demanding that Mr. Melvin
come back and show his identification because they were on
government property and [Mr. Campbell] was a government
official. Mr. Melvin stated that all [Mr. Campbell] did was
harass him and pick on him and that he was leaving.
11. Further escalating the situation, [Mr. Campbell] then
asked Mr. Melvin to put his hands on the vehicle, eventually
grabbing one of Mr. Melvin's arms and placing it on the
vehicle. As a result of [Mr. Campbell]'s escalating
actions, Mr. Melvin became irate and began yelling. Two other
officers walked over to assist [Mr. Campbell] in handcuffing
12. Once in handcuffs, Mr. Melvin was arrested for disorderly
conduct, was led to [Mr. Campbell]'s patrol car, and was
placed in the back seat.
Gaines' internal investigation report for IA case number
2016-14 was admitted as Exhibit 7 to the ALJ hearing was.
Therein, Sergeant Gaines summarized his interview with Mr.
Campbell concerning Mr. Campbell's position on the false
arrest incident, to-wit:
While clearing the area, [Mr. Campbell] observed Mr. Melvin
walking by him heading towards a vehicle with another person.
Knowing that he didn't have a license, he asked him if he
had gotten his license back. Mr. Melvin responded back with
"that's none of your business." [Mr. Campbell]
did not know if Mr. Melvin had been involved in the call but
did see him approach a vehicle and knew he didn't have a
license. When [Mr. Campbell] asked Mr. Melvin for his ID, he
patted his pants and stated he did not have it on him. When
he asked Mr. Melvin for his SSN, he stated that he was
harassing him. Mr. Melvin was getting louder when speaking
and was becoming agitated. . . . Mr. Melvin continued to
argue with [Mr. Campbell] and had something in his hands.
After ordering him 4 times to show what was in his hands,
[Mr. Campbell] grabbed Mr. Melvin's hand that had the
object in it, put his hand on Mr. Melvin's back and
placed him on the car. . . . At this time, Mr. Melvin was
being detained for failing to show what he had in his hands
and if he possessed a valid DL. After handcuffing Mr. Melvin,
he began hollering and screaming. Mr. Melvin was taken to a
police car where he was searched and an ID was not found.
[Mr.] Melvin continuously yelled that they didn't have
the right to do what they are doing to him. He was told at
this time he was being arrested for disorderly conduct due to
the people being out there and him causing a scene.
Bacon's Conclusion of Fact was admitted as Exhibit 20 to
the ALJ hearing. Therein, Lieutenant Bacon stated that
[o]n the night in question [Mr.] Melvin was merely walking
down the sidewalk when he was asked a question by [Mr.]
Campbell about his license. He replied none of [Mr.]
Campbell's business since he was not driving a vehicle
and [Mr.] Campbell was only casually inquiring (not
lawfully). The situation went from this question to [Mr.]
Campbell demanding to see [Mr.] Melvin's identification
for some reason not really known even though he had a prior
knowledge of [Mr.] Melvin's identity. The situation
further heightens with [Mr.] Campbell impeding [Mr.]
Melvin's ability to go on his way[, ] which eventually
lead to [Mr.] Melvin's arrest for Disorderly Conduct. It
is clear in the audio of the ICVAR system that Hanson Melvin
was quite calm for most of this encounter until the
realization of the impending arrest. [Mr.] Campbell[, ]
however, goes from being friendly, to being authoritative and
finally the arrest of [Mr.] Melvin after the 'none of
your business' statement[, ] which drew more attention
than [Mr.] Melvin's actions. This case was True Billed in
Grand Jury; however[, ] it was dismissed from Criminal Court
(Judge Pool) on August 26th, 2016.
12 to the ALJ hearing was the audio recording from Mr.
Campbell's disciplinary hearing on February 10, 2017. In
response to the question of when Mr. Melvin exhibited the
behavior necessary to develop probable cause for a disorderly
conduct arrest, Mr. Campbell stated:
A: Right as I was placing cuffs on him.
Q: So it was as you were placing cuffs on
him or after you placed cuffs on him?
A: Pretty much the same time.
Q: So why were you placing cuffs on him if
he hadn't become disorderly yet?
A: To detain him because he was attempting
to leave the scene in a ...