The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF
This case came on for a hearing on the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint or in the alternative for summary judgment.
The suit is brought by a member of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., against the Board of Commissioners for the District of Columbia and the Chief of Police. The complaint consists of two counts. The first count alleges that the plaintiff has been suspended from duty and that the Chief of Police has refused to grant his request to be removed from suspension. It seeks a mandatory injunction directing the defendants to restore him to duty. The second count alleges that the plaintiff has become eligible for voluntary retirement by virtue of having served as a member of the Metropolitan Police Department for more than twenty-five years and having attained the age of fifty-five years; that he has requested retirement; but that the defendants have failed and refused to act on his request. Accordingly, the plaintiff prays for a mandatory injunction directing the defendants to effect his retirement, and to allow him the retirement annuity provided by law.
At the conclusion of the argument, the Court dismissed the first count of the complaint. The Chief of Police is clothed with broad powers to administer the Metropolitan Police Department, to assign its personnel, and to discipline its members. The courts may not interfere with the internal management of the Department. Any other rule would be intolerable. It might be ruinous to the efficiency and morale of the police force and adversely affect the police protection of the community.
The validity of these principles is demonstrated by the record before the court in the case at bar. The defendant, Robert V. Murray, the Chief of Police, states in an affidavit that the plaintiff was suspended from duty because of his failure to explain and reveal the sources of his income to a subcommittee of a Senate Committee investigating crime and law enforcement in the District of Columbia, and further because of his failure to explain the sources of his income to the Chief of Police. Formal charges have been filed against the plaintiff embodying these specifications as well as accusing him of a failure to file District of Columbia income tax returns for the years 1946, 1947 and 1948. He has been ordered to report before a Police Trial Board for trial.
There remains for consideration the second count of the complaint, which involves the right of the plaintiff to retire and to receive the retirement annuity provided by law. The solution of this problem depends, in turn, on the statutory provisions relating to retirement annuities for members of the Metropolitan Police Department. The fund out of which the payments are made is created by statute, D.C. Code 1951, Title 4, Secs. 503, 504. Five percent is deducted from the monthly salary of every member of the Police and Fire Departments and is paid into the fund.
To these accumulations there are added all fines imposed on members of either Department by way of discipline, as well as rewards, proceeds of gifts, and emoluments that may be received by any member of either department for extraordinary services, except such part thereof as the Commissioners may allow to be retained by the member. Finally the net proceeds of sales of unclaimed property in the custody of the property clerk of the Police Department, also find their way into the fund. If at any time it is insufficient to defray expenditures, the Commissioners of the District of Columbia are required to direct the Collector of Taxes to pay into the fund such sums as may be necessary to meet the deficiencies. It is clear, therefore, that the fund is maintained in connection with a contributory retirement system, and that one of its principal sources consists of monthly deductions taken from the salaries of policemen and firemen.
The statute provides for retirement of two types. The first is retirement for total disability, Sec. 507, and the second is retirement on a longevity basis, Sec. 508. In addition, an allowance for temporary disability incurred in the actual discharge of duty may be paid from the fund, Sec. 506. We are concerned here with retirement on the basis of longevity.
The law provides, Sec. 508, that any member of the Metropolitan Police Department who 'has served twenty-five years or more as a member of such department * * * and having reached the age of fifty-five years * * * may, at his election, be retired from the service * * * and shall be entitled to receive retirement compensation from the said * * * fund * * * in an amount equal to 50 per centum per annum of the salary received by him at the date of retirement'.
In other words, a police officer who has served twenty-five years as a member of the police department and who has reached the age of fifty-five, is accorded the option of retiring, and receiving an annuity equal to 50 per cent of the salary received by him at that time. The election to retire for longevity is granted to the police officer. No choice is extended to the Department. It is claimed by the defendants, however, that the right to retire is not absolute, but that the District of Columbia Government has discretion to grant to deny an application to retire for longevity. Two arguments are advanced in support of this contention. The first is that the word 'may' rather than 'shall' is used in the statute. Obviously, however, the word 'may' is used in order to grant to the police officer eligible to retire the privilege of doing so. He has the choice whether to exercise the right of retiring for longevity. He 'may retire at his election.' Moreover, the words 'may' and 'shall' are frequently used interchangeably without too great an effort to be precise.
The principal basis for the position advanced by the District of Columbia Government is that Section 510 creates a Board to be known as the Police and Firemen's Retiring and Relief Board, and that the statute further provides that 'The said board shall consider all cases for the retirement and relief of members of the police department and the fire department'. It is argued that this provision implies that the Board is vested with discretion to grant or deny applications for retirement predicated on longevity. This conclusion by no means follows. It must be borne in mind that some agency is needed to adjudicate applications for retirement for disability, because at times such applications involve a determination of close and difficult questions of fact. Likewise it is necessary to establish some agency to pass on applications for temporary relief. Doubtless the Board was organized with these considerations in mind. It was also granted jurisdiction over applications for retirement for longevity. In these cases its function is limited and restricted. It is confined to deciding whether the applicant has had the required length of service and has reached the requisite age.
The mere fact that a Board is established to pass on applications does not give rise to an inference that the Board has discretion to grant or deny applications for reasons not specified in the statute. Its function is to determine whether the applicant for retirement is within the pertinent statutory provisions. If the Board had broad powers not conferred by statute a question would arise how far its discretion could be carried. For example, could it deny an application for retirement for longevity because of shortage of policemen? Could it deny an application for retirement because the police officer was guilty of some minor infraction of discipline? If the argument of the defendants' counsel is correct, then the Board would have a right to deny any application for any reason whatsoever so long as it did not act arbitrarily and capriciously. To endow the Board with such authority requires express statutory provisions. None, however, exist. The Congress has not seen fit to include in the statute the terms that the defendants' counsel would read into it by implication.
A similar question was presented in Rudolph v. Mosheuvel, 37 App.D.C. 76, 82. A fireman, who sustained severe injuries in the performance of his duties, applied for retirement for disability. Subsequently charges were filed against him and he was dismissed from the force. The court held that he was nevertheless entitled to retirement pay. Mr. Chief Justice Shepard said:
'* * * the right of the relator to retirement on a pension under the terms of the law were fixed at the time that he received his injuries. * * * The commissioners could not, by dismissing him on charges made thereafter, deprive him of the bounty provided by law, which they had no power to suspend. Having come within the terms of the statute, no power less than that of Congress could repeal or suspend its benefits.'
Applying this doctrine to the instant case, the plaintiff's right to a retirement annuity became fixed when he completed twenty-five years of service and reached the age of fifty-five.