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Crawford v. City of Los Angeles

June 24, 2009

JAMES CRAWFORD, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, David P. Yaffe, Judge. Reversed and remanded. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS109253).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kriegler, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

This appeal concerns application of the one-year statute of limitations contained in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (Gov. Code, § 3300 et seq.).*fn1 James Crawford was a detective in the Los Angeles City Police Department. Having been accused of nine counts of misconduct, Crawford‟s employment was terminated after an administrative hearing and an adverse decision by the Department‟s Board of Rights, which found him guilty of six counts of misconduct. Crawford brought a petition for peremptory writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 against the City of Los Angeles and the chief of police (collectively the City), challenging the guilty findings and seeking reinstatement and back pay. The trial court granted the petition in part, finding Crawford could not be punished for five of the six acts of misconduct because the City did not complete its investigation of wrongdoing and notify Crawford within a year, as required by POBRA (§ 3304, subd. (d)). The court did not have occasion to consider Crawford‟s claim that the Department‟s misconduct findings were not supported by the administrative record.

In its timely appeal, the City contends the uncontested evidence at the administrative hearing shows the trial court erred in ruling that counts 4-6 of the administrative charges were barred by the statute of limitations. We agree with the City that as to counts 4 and 5 the court made a mathematical error and those charges were not time barred. We also hold that count 6 (alleging a false statement during an investigation) is not time barred, as the factual scenario in this case differs from that in Alameida v. State Personnel Bd. (2004) 120 Cal.App.4th 46, 63 (Alameida), which held that "dishonesty in denying an underlying charge does not start a new limitations period for discipline of peace officers under [POBRA]." Accordingly, the court‟s decision as to counts 4-6 is reversed and the matter is remanded for the court to consider those counts on their merits.

BACKGROUND

According to Crawford‟s verified writ petition, on May 3, 2006, the Department served him with a complaint that charged him with six counts of misconduct, pending a hearing by the Board of Rights. Count 1 alleged that on September 14, 2004, he inappropriately identified himself as a Los Angeles Police detective while he was off duty. Count 2 alleged that between September 14 and October 12, 2004, he engaged in outside employment without a valid work permit. Counts 3 through 5 alleged that on October 23, 2003, July 14, 2004,*fn2 and January 13, 2005, Crawford accessed the Department‟s computer system for non-duty related activities while on duty. Count 6 alleged that on November 17, 2005, he made false statements to Sergeants M. von Korff and D. DiMeglio, who were conducting an official investigation. After a multi-day hearing in which evidence was presented by both parties, the Board of Rights found Crawford guilty of counts 1, 2, and 4 through 6,*fn3 and fixed his penalty as termination of employment with full loss of pay. The police chief executed an order to that effect on March 14, 2007.

Crawford‟s writ petition was filed in the superior court on June 4, 2007. In support of his petition, Crawford argued (as he did to the Board of Rights) that all of the charges were barred by the one-year limitations period set forth in section 3304, subdivision (d), and the parallel provision of the City Charter. He also contended the Board of Rights‟ findings of guilt were not supported by the evidence adduced at the administrative hearing. The trial court admitted in evidence all nine volumes of the administrative record made in connection with Crawford‟s Board of Rights‟ hearing. It found the Department failed to comply with POBRA‟s one-year limitations period (§ 3304, subd. (d))*fn4 with regard to five (1, 2, and 4-6) of the six counts of misconduct.

Based upon its independent review of the administrative record, the trial court found Crawford‟s misconduct was first reported to a Department supervisor on October 4, 2004. Crawford received notice of the charges against him on May 4, 2006. As such, 576 days elapsed between the two events. The court also found the statutory period was tolled from May 17, 2005, until November 16, 2005, while the charges were the subject of a pending criminal investigation, which resulted in a period of 183 days-leaving the Department one month outside the one-year limitations period. In so finding, the court rejected as unsupported by the weight of evidence the City‟s argument that the statutory tolling began on January 12, 2005. The court found only one action of misconduct was brought within the limitations period-count 7 (directing a civilian employee to access the Department‟s computer system to conduct non-duty related activities). Accordingly, the court granted the petition as to all counts except count 7 and ordered the Department to determine the appropriate discipline to be imposed on Crawford with regard to the guilty finding on that count.

DISCUSSION

"The trial court applies its independent judgment to the department‟s administrative decision, but with a strong presumption the department acted properly. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1094.5, subd. (c); Fukuda v. City of Angels (1999) 20 Cal.4th 805, 812, 817.) We review the trial court‟s factual findings for substantial evidence. [Citation.] We independently review the court‟s legal findings." (Chrisman v. City of Los Angeles (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 29, 33 (Chrisman).) "Section 3304 provides a number of procedural rights for public safety officers who may be accused of misconduct in the course of their employment. Subdivision (d), providing for a limitations period, states in pertinent part: "Except [as otherwise provided,] no punitive action, nor denial of promotion on grounds other than merit, shall be undertaken for any act, omission or other allegation of misconduct if the investigation of the allegation is not completed within one year of the public agency‟s discovery . . . of an act, omission, or other misconduct. . . .‟"*fn5 (Mays v.City of Los Angeles (2008) 43 Cal.4th 313, 320, quoting § 3304, subd. (d)).)

The City contends that under the trial court‟s finding as to the appropriate amount of tolling-183 days from May 17, 2005, to November 16, 2005-the court erred in finding counts 4 through 6 time-barred because it was undisputed that the discovery date for counts 4 and 5 was March 1, 2005, and the discovery date for court 6 was November 17, 2005. That is, the court‟s determination that those counts were barred by the one-year limitations period was a mere oversight or computational error. Our independent review of the trial court‟s findings and the administrative record confirms the City‟s contention. The facts supporting the misconduct charges in counts 4 and 5 (misuse of the Department‟s computer system) were discovered during a March 1, 2005 internal audit. Crawford does not argue otherwise. The factual basis for count 6 (alleged false statements during an internal departmental investigation) was discovered during the course of the November 17, 2005 interview. As it is undisputed that Crawford received notice of all charges against him on May 4, 2006, application of the court‟s 183 days of tolling brings counts 4 and 5 within POBRA‟s one-year period. Count 6 is within the statutory period without tolling.

Crawford does not dispute the discovery dates or the merits of the City‟s argument. Rather, he asserts the City forfeited its contention by failing to properly designate the transcript of the administrative record as part of the appellate record in accord with rule 8.123(b) of the California Rules of Court. We disagree.

The complete administrative record was admitted in evidence below. At the hearing‟s conclusion, the trial court ordered it returned forthwith to Crawford "to be forwarded to the Court of Appeal in the event of appeal." The City gave notice to Crawford and lodged a certified copy of the complete administrative record with this court on April 3, 2009. Crawford filed an objection to the lodging, asserting the City violated rules 8.120 and 8.123 of the California Rules of Court*fn6 by failing to designate the administrative record as part of the record on appeal so that the superior court could transmit the original administrative record to this court. In response, the City argued that rule 8.123 does not set forth the exclusive manner in which an administrative record may be made part of the record on appeal, and that the manner in which it proceeded was in keeping with commonly accepted practice.

While it is true that the City did not designate the administrative record as part of the record on appeal as contemplated by rules 8.120 and 8.123 of the California Rules of Court, such a technical defalcation under the facts of this case is hardly the equivalent of failing to provide this court with a complete record, as Crawford asserts. The City followed the accepted local practice in this district and lodged the administrative record in a reasonable, cost effective manner, and Crawford certainly suffered no prejudice. He does not assert the lodged records are incomplete or inaccurate. The portions of the record on which the City relies on appeal were portions cited by the ...


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