may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
City of Clearwater,
Filed September 1, 1998
Clearwater City Council
Eric D. Satre, Patrick M. Connor, Connor, Satre, & Schaff L.L.P., 580 Lumber Exchange Bldg., 10 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for relator)
Julie Fleming-Wolfe, 1654 Grand Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Relator, a member of respondent city's fire department, challenges his termination, alleging that he was deprived of due process by the adoption of a quota system requiring department members to attend at least 20% of fire/rescue calls (runs). Because we conclude there was no denial of due process, we affirm.
The bylaws of respondent City of Clearwater's fire department provide at article 4, section 1, that:
It shall be the duty of the Chief to have full control of the department and apparatus at all times. He/she shall make rules and regulations as he/she deems necessary to attain efficiency of the work of all members with council approval.
The fire department chief, with the assistant chief, established a run quota policy for firefighters in June 1997. The policy provided that department members who failed to make 20% of the runs in a three-month quarter would be placed on probation for three months and those who failed to meet the 20% quota during the probation period would be terminated. The policy also provided that:
Any firefighter who can not respond to calls because of a medical condition or doctors orders will not be required to meet the 20% run count for that quarter. The following quarter, they will be placed on probation and required to make the 20%. If the firefighter cannot make the 20% during the probation period, the condition shall be considered chronic and that firefighter will resign or their membership will be terminated. That firefighter may reapply for membership on the department when a medical release is presented to the chief or asst. chief.
Any firefighter may request a leave-of-absence in writing to the chief or asst. chief. That request will be granted for one quarter and the firefighter will be placed on probation the following quarter. Failure to meet the 20% during the probation period will result in termination from the department.
Relator Marshall Rinkenberger, who joined the department in 1983, failed to meet the quota for July-September 1997 and was placed on probation; he then failed to meet the quota for October-December 1997 and was terminated. Relator did not ask for a leave of absence or indicate that he suffered from a medical disability. Termination deprived him of the pension right that would have vested at 20 years.
Relator requested a hearing. At the hearing, he ascribed his failure to meet the quota to a February 1997 back injury and to depression. The city council requested that relator provide proof that he was disabled during the first two quarters of 1997, because a disability during the second quarter would have excused him from the 20% requirement during the third quarter.
After having both a general physical exam and a mental health evaluation, relator provided the city council with three documents: reports on the physical exam and the mental health evaluation, and a letter from a chiropractor. The physical exam report stated that (1) an earlier exam in June 1997 had revealed evidence of stress and depression; (2) relator had taken a "self-directed medical leave" from July 1997 through December 1997; and (3) relator was physically and mentally fit to perform the duties of a volunteer fireman as of the date of the report, February 1998. The mental health evaluation report stated that (1) relator said he had been depressed and had suffered from insomnia, fatigue, weight loss, and anxiety in spring 1997; (2) he declined to follow his medical doctor's June 1997 recommendation to take Prozac and have a psychiatric follow-up; (3) his symptoms remitted in fall 1997; and (4) while the symptoms relator described prior to fall 1997 indicated a major depressive disorder at that time, relator was not experiencing symptoms of a depressive disorder in February 1998. The letter from the chiropractor said that she had treated relator and placed him on medical leave from firefighting activities from October 23, 1997, to December 5, 1997, and that he was able to return to full activity as of January 1998.
The city council concluded that the three documents did not provide evidence that relator was unable to engage in firefighting duties during the first half of 1997 and upheld his termination.
Relator petitioned this court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that he had been denied due process.
There is a strong presumption favoring action by a city. If the reasonableness of the city's actions is doubtful or fairly debatable, a court will not interject its own conclusions as to more preferable actions. Arcadia Dev. Corp. v. City of Bloomington, 267 Minn. 221, 226, 125 N.W.2d 846, 850 (1964). On appeal, relator must demonstrate not merely that the city erred, but that the error caused him prejudice. See Bloom v. Hydrotherm, Inc., 499 N.W.2d 842, 845 (Minn. App. 1993) (upholding liberal application of the harmless error doctrine and stating that appellants must demonstrate that a trial court's error caused them prejudice), review denied (Minn. June 28, 1993).
Relator does not dispute that regulating firefighters' attendance is necessary or that the quota system will achieve that objective. He argues, however, that the quota requirement is not a rule or regulation within the meaning of article 4, section 1, of the bylaws, empowering the chief to make rules and regulations necessary "for the efficient work of all members," but rather an amendment of the bylaws made without following the proper procedure, i.e., being read and voted on at fire department meetings and requiring a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting for adoption. Respondent argues that the quota requirement, like all other rules and regulations made by the chief and his predecessors, was a standard operating guideline for firefighters that the chief was both empowered and mandated to make. We find respondent's argument more persuasive.
The goal of ensuring firefighters' response to calls is more reasonably attained by empowering an elected chief to regulate attendance than by leaving regulation up to the firefighters themselves (a result that would ensue from amendment of the bylaws). The language of article 4 of the bylaws providing that the chief "shall make rules and regulations as he/she deems necessary to attain efficiency of the work of all members" includes, we believe, the quota system challenged here. Given the presumption favoring a city's actions, we see no basis for overturning the city's implied decision that the quota system was a rule or regulation appropriately made by the chief.
Relator raises two other arguments, neither of which is persuasive. He argues that the city council never explicitly approved the quota rule and that the bylaws empower the chief to make rules only "with council approval." However, the council implied its approval of the quota rule when it took action to enforce that rule. Relator's argument fails because, even if there was a procedural error, there is no showing of any prejudice to him. See Bloom, 499 N.W.2d at 845 (appellants must demonstrate that a trial court's error caused them prejudice). The argument that relator was denied due process because the quota system was adopted without his having an opportunity to be heard similarly fails. Absent a showing that relator had a property interest in the regulation of firefighters' attendance, there can be no due process violation.
Relator's reliance on Johnson v. City of Isle, No. C5-96-2101 (Minn. App. Apr. 8, 1997), review denied (Minn. June 11, 1997), is misplaced for two reasons. First, as an unpublished decision of this court, Johnson is without precedential value. See Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996). Second, Johnson is distinguishable on its facts. In Johnson, a relator was held to have a property interest in her job because she had worked more than six months, was no longer on probation, and could be terminated only for violation of a rule. Id. Because she received no notice of the hearing at which evidence against her was presented and she was demoted, she was held to have been deprived of a property interest without due process, and the matter was remanded to provide due process. Id. The Johnson holding is irrelevant because relator here does not allege deprivation of either notice or a hearing, does not allege a property interest in his job as a volunteer firefighter, and if there had been a property interest, the quota system did not deprive him of that interest without due process.
There was no deprivation of due process in relator's termination.
 In his petition, relator also claimed disability discrimination. He withdrew this claim after this court requested briefing on the issue of whether a disability discrimination claim could be heard on a petition for writ of certiorari; this court subsequently dismissed the claim.