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District of Columbia v. Fremeau

March 10, 2005

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES R. FREMEAU, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (MPA20-01). (Hon. Franklin A. Burgess, Jr., Trial Judge).

Before Terry, Reid and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued February 1, 2005

This case involves an action by the District of Columbia Fire Department ("Fire Department") terminating the services of appellee James R. Fremeau as Fire Communications Operator. The Office of Employee Appeals ("OEA") sustained the agency's decision, but the Superior Court of the District of Columbia reversed that decision and remanded the case to the agency for a new evidentiary hearing. The District of Columbia and Mr. Fremeau filed cross-appeals. The District contends that the trial court erred in reversing OEA's decision, and Mr. Fremeau primarily argues that the agency did not sustain the charges against him. We reverse the decision of the Superior Court in so far as it requires a remand to the agency for a credibility determination, and instead remand this matter to the Superior Court with instructions to affirm OEA's decision to remove Mr. Fremeau from his position as a Fire Communications Operator.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

On June 12, 1990, the Deputy Fire Chief, Communications Division, sent a letter to Mr. Fremeau proposing to remove him from his position as a Fire Communications Operator. The specified charge was: "Inefficiency; to wit: Negligent or careless work performance." The proposed removal letter summarized the agency's rationale as follows:

Specifically, on April 12, 1990, you received a request for an ambulance from a concerned citizen who had observed a man in distress. The caller never reported any symptoms of intoxication, however, you assumed that the man was inebriated. In fact, based on that assumption, your first request was for the MPD detox unit rather than medical units. You sarcastically and unprofessionally requested from MPD, "The same thing we picked up at 1024 9th Street, N.W. . . . detox. She's waiting there with his bags." In addition, you did not expeditiously que[ue] this call for proper attention.

Your presumptuous and careless attitude resulted in an incorrect assessment of the situation. In reality, this sixty-eight year old man was suffering from, and indeed, did die from cardiac arrest. Your lackadaisical manner influenced the entire operation; delaying expedient patient care. Lastly, your assumption in this incident reflects an unprofessional disregard and a total lack of compassion for the citizens of this metropolitan vicinity.

A hearing on Mr. Fremeau's proposed removal took place before a hearing examiner, George Williams, on March 27, 1991, during which the agency presented testimony from the Assistant Fire Chief, Maurice D. Kilby, the Director of the Communications Division, Philip Matthews, and another communications operator, Jeffrey T. Williams. The agency also introduced exhibits which were admitted into evidence, including government exhibit 4 -- a tape containing three conversations regarding the incident in question. Mr. Fremeau testified and, in addition, presented testimony from Ronald Hutchinson, a call-taker at the Fire Department.

The first conversation on government exhibit 4 was that between the person calling to report the illness of the elderly man and Mr. Fremeau. The caller stated that she had been asked by a woman standing with a man to call for an ambulance because he was ill, but that she did not know any symptoms. Mr. Fremeau ascertained that the man was outside standing on the corner with a woman, and that the man was awake and breathing. There was no mention of drinking or inebriation or detox. The next conversation on the tape was that between Mr. Fremeau and a police dispatcher. Following is the conversation:

Police Dispatcher: Police.

Mr. Fremeau: Yes ma'am.

Police Dispatcher: You need us?

Mr. Fremeau: Yes we do.

Police Dispatcher: Where?

Mr. Fremeau: 31st and Fort Lincoln Drive, N.E. The same thing we picked up at 1024 ...


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