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Hilton Burton v. Office of Employee Appeals

November 3, 2011

HILTON BURTON, APPELLANT,
v.
OFFICE OF EMPLOYEE APPEALS, ET AL., APPELLEES, ROBIN HOEY, APPELLANT,
v.
OFFICE OF EMPLOYEE APPEALS, ET AL., APPELLEES.



(Hon. Judith E. Retchin, Trial Judge) (Hon. John Ramsey Johnson, Trial Judge) Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAP6371-08 and CAP5322-08)

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

Argued September 29, 2011

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and GLICKMAN and FISHER, Associate Judges.

Appellants, each of whom had worked for the Metropolitan Police Department for more than fifteen years, were reduced in rank from the position of Commander. They appealed to the Office of Employee Appeals (OEA), claiming that, as Career Service employees, they could not be demoted without cause. In separate decisions, the OEA held that even though appellants were Career Service employees, the Chief of Police had specific statutory authority to reduce their rank, even without cause. Judges of the Superior Court affirmed both decisions, as do we.*fn1

I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. Appellant Hoey

Robin Hoey joined the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in 1985.Over the next nineteen years, he was progressively promoted to the positions of Lieutenant, Captain, Inspector, and, in 2004, to Commander of the Sixth District.There is no dispute that Mr. Hoey was hired as a Career Service employee and that he remains a Career Service employee.*fn2

On April 19, 2007, newly-appointed Chief of Police Cathy Lanier informed Commander Hoey that she was returning him to the rank of Captain and reassigning him to other duties.At no point has Chief Lanier suggested that Commander Hoey's work was inadequate; to the contrary, his most recent performance evaluations document that his work was highly regarded. However, the MPD claims that the Chief of Police has statutory authority to return any officer above the rank of Captain to that position, without cause.

Mr. Hoey appealed Chief Lanier's decision to the OEA, claiming that his demotion violated the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act (CMPA) and, by extension, his property interest in his continued employment as a Commander. Senior Administrative Law Judge Joseph Lim held that, as a Career Service employee, Mr. Hoey could not be demoted to Captain without cause, and he ordered the MPD to reinstate Mr. Hoey to his former rank of Commander. On appeal by the MPD, the Board of the OEA vacated Judge Lim's decision, concluding that even though Mr. Hoey was a Career Service employee, the Chief of Police had authority under D.C. Code § 1-608.01 (d-1) to return him to the position of Captain.*fn3

Mr. Hoey appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the Board's decision, and this appeal followed.

B. Appellant Burton

The facts in Burton v. OEA are similar to those in Hoey v. OEA and we summarize them only briefly. Hilton Burton joined the MPD in 1990, attained the rank of Inspector in 2000, and was promoted to Commander in 2003.On January 22, 2008, Chief Lanier returned Mr. Burton to the rank of Inspector. Mr. Burton appealed his demotion to the OEA, claiming, like Mr. Hoey, that as a Career Service employee he could not be demoted without cause.Relying on the OEA Board's decision in Hoey v. District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Dep't, OEA Matter No. 1601-0074-07 (2008), Judge Lim granted the MPD's motion for summary judgment. The Superior Court affirmed.

II. Legal Framework and Background

"Although th[ese] appeal[s] come[] to us from the Superior Court, our scope of review is precisely the same as in administrative appeals that come to us directly." Johnson v. District of Columbia Office of Employee Appeals, 912 A.2d 1181, 1183 (D.C. 2006) (quoting Murchison v. District of Columbia Dep't of Public Works, 813 A.2d 203, 205 (D.C. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[W]e must affirm the OEA's decision so long as it is supported by substantial evidence in the record and otherwise in accordance with law." Settlemire v. District of Columbia Office of Employee Appeals, 898 A.2d 902, 905 n.4 (D.C. 2006).

Nevertheless, "[t]he construction of a statute raises a question of law which this court reviews de novo." Leonard v. District of Columbia, 794 A.2d 618, 625 (D.C. 2002). In interpreting a statute, the judicial task is to discern, and give effect to, the legislature's intent. Grayson v. AT&T Corp., 15 A.3d 219, 237 (D.C. 2011) (en banc). "The primary and general rule of statutory construction is that the intent of the lawmaker is to be found in the language that he has used." Tippett v. Daly, 10 A.3d 1123, 1126 (D.C. 2010) (en banc) (quoting Peoples Drug Stores v. District of Columbia, 470 A.2d 751, 753 (D.C.1983) (en banc)).

"The literal words of a statute, however, are not the sole index to legislative intent, but rather, are to be read in the light of the statute taken as a whole, and are to be given a sensible construction and one that would not work an obvious injustice." Jeffrey v. United States, 892 A.2d 1122, 1128 (D.C. 2006)(quoting Columbia Plaza Tenants' Ass'n v. Columbia Plaza L.P., 869 A.2d 329, 332 (D.C. 2005)) (internal editing and quotation marks omitted). "The statutory meaning of a term must be derived from a consideration of the entire enactment against the backdrop of its policies ...


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