This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Sandra J. Hanson,
Filed July 25, 2006
Beverley L. Adams, Timothy G. Richard, Serkland Law Firm, 10 Roberts Street, P.O. Box 6017, Fargo, ND 58108-6017 (for relator)
Michael T. Rengel, Chad R. Felstul, Pemberton, Sorlie, Rufer & Kershner, P.L.L.P., 110 North Mill Street, P.O. Box 866, Fergus Falls, MN 56538-0866 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Relator challenges respondents’ termination of her employment as a chemical-dependency counselor. Because substantial evidence supports respondents’ conclusion that relator violated a clear county policy, we affirm.
July 19, 2005, the Clay County Board of Commissioners terminated relator Sandra
J. Hanson from her employment by
Hanson contends that she did not violate any policy applicable to her, that there was no just cause for her termination, and that substantial evidence does not support a history of exercising poor judgment.
The principal incident that resulted in Hanson’s termination occurred on June 2, 2005, the salient facts of which Hanson does not dispute. On that day, a child-protection social worker notified Hanson that one of Hanson’s clients had tested positive for a controlled substance. The client’s terms of probation required that she be admitted to the county detoxification (detox) unit, and Hanson accompanied her there. During the intake process at detox, Hanson searched her client, as required by detox policy, and found a syringe in her purse. The client told Hanson that the syringe contained methamphetamine.
Under detox policy, when a person to be admitted to the unit is found to have drugs, law enforcement is to be notified. Hanson did not notify law enforcement but rather left the detox unit and placed the syringe in an unlocked desk drawer in her office. She commented to other employees that her client did not need any more trouble with the law and that she would notify the probation officer about the situation.
After Hanson had left the detox unit, staff members searched the client and found additional drugs. A staff member notified Hanson and reminded her that law enforcement had to be called. Hanson then retrieved the syringe, returned to the detox unit, and eventually surrendered the syringe and other drugs to law enforcement.
The county thereafter placed Hanson on administrative leave, conducted an investigation, and held a “Loudermill hearing,” at which Hanson was present.
On the basis of the investigation and hearing, the board of commissioners concluded that Hanson violated county policy by failing to notify law enforcement of the syringe and the methamphetamine and that “had it not been for the discovery of the additional drugs by detox, you would not have informed law enforcement of the syringe of methamphetamine originally taken from your client.” The board further concluded that Hanson’s conduct was “a substantial violation of Clay County Policy and Procedure and significantly affected the rights, interests, and safety of the public as well as other County employees.” The board noted that Hanson said that she took the syringe because of confidentiality concerns, but the board indicated that “[t]his statement was in contrast to earlier statements you made in which you admitted you took the methamphetamine to protect your client from any more trouble with the law.” Finding that Hanson’s actions and judgment demonstrated her unsuitability for her employment, the board terminated her from her job. She seeks certiorari review of this decision.
D E C I S I O N
terminating Hanson’s employment, the board of commissioners acted in a
quasi-judicial capacity, and our review of a quasi-judicial decision is limited
to determining whether it was unreasonable, arbitrary, fraudulent, oppressive,
an error of law, or unsupported by substantial evidence. Willis
v. County of Sherburne, 555 N.W.2d 277, 281 n.2 (
contends that there was no just cause for her termination and that there was no
substantial evidence to support the board’s decision.
review of an agency decision, the appellate court is to give deference to the
agency’s decision and presume that it is correct.
Hanson argues that she was not a detox employee and was not trained as such and that there was no specific written policy as to what she as a chemical-dependency counselor was to do if she found drugs during a detox intake. She admits that she was “generally familiar with Detox admission procedures.” Her statement to detox employees that she was taking the syringe because her client did not need further trouble with the law supports the inference that she was familiar with the specific policy requiring notification of law enforcement and that she had decided to ignore that policy to protect her client. She also acknowledged in an interview during the investigation that she had in the past turned over items “like pipes” to law enforcement when a client was being admitted to detox. This acknowledgment further supports the inference that she knew that law enforcement was to be notified.
Hanson contends that the board improperly based its decision on her failure to disclose her client’s drug possession. The board did not suggest that Hanson’s violation was her failure to reveal her client’s drug possession but rather it was her “intentional and blatant concealment of the drugs from law enforcement” that became part of the basis of the board’s action. There is no evidence that anyone suggested that Hanson had to disclose the identity of the possessor of the syringe when she gave it to law enforcement. In fact, the policy clearly and expressly protects the identity of the possessor.
Finally, Hanson argues that there was no substantial evidence that her conduct endangered co-workers or the public. But the board could reasonably infer from undisputed facts that a syringe containing methamphetamine left in an unlocked desk drawer, even if in Hanson’s own office, posed potential dangers of further illegal possession, or misuse, or even an accidental puncture. Moreover, there is a general danger to the public when unauthorized possession of controlled substances occurs. Although Hanson appears to assert a privilege as a chemical-dependency counselor to control the disposition of a drug found in a client’s possession, she fails to show that the law gives her the discretion as to what disposition to make of such a drug. She stated to one of the interviewers that she was going to report the matter to her client’s probation officer who would have more leeway than law enforcement as to how to proceed. But county policy did not give her that discretion.
Substantial evidence supports the board’s conclusion that Hanson violated clear policy in a substantial way respecting the disposition of the syringe and methamphetamine. And, although the board also based its decision on past performance appraisals, we have not considered that basis because the board did not identify the particular issues that it had in mind.