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Court of Appeals Holds that MPD Officers Above Rank of Captain May Be Demoted Without Cause

In Burton v. Office of Employee Appeals, Nos. 09-CV-1493 & 10-CV-963, slip op. (D.C. Nov. 3, 2011), the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided two cases in which officers of the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) sought reinstatement and back-pay after being demoted without cause from the rank of Commander. Id. at 2-4. By way of background, D.C. Code § 1-608.01 (d-1) (2001) states that, “notwithstanding . . . any other law or regulation, the Assistant and Deputy Chiefs of Police and inspectors shall be selected from among the captains of the force and shall be returned to the rank of captain when the Mayor so determines.” Career Service employees in the District of Columbia, however, are subject to the protections of the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act and generally cannot be fired, suspended, or demoted without cause. Burton, slip op. at 6. The principal issue on appeal was “whether D.C. Code § 1-608.01 (d-1) provides the Chief of Police with specific statutory authority to return [high-ranking] Career Service employees to the rank of Captain [or higher] without cause.” Id. at 17 n.15. The Court of Appeals held that — notwithstanding the protections of the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act — the Mayor (or his delegee, i.e., the Chief of Police) is authorized by D.C. Code § 1-608.01 (d-1) to demote without cause Inspectors, Commanders, and Assistant Chiefs of Police to the rank of Captain or higher. Id. at 7-8, 22. In reaching that conclusion, the Court of Appeals found that the term “Deputy Chiefs,” as used in D.C. Code § 1-608.01 (d-1), means “Commanders.” Id. at 18-20. The only other issue on appeal was whether the two officers were deprived of a constitutionally protected property interest as a result of being demoted. Id. at 20-22. The Court of Appeals held that the officers did not have a constitutionally protected property interest in their former positions as Commanders because their demotions were authorized by statute. Id. To view the Court of Appeals’ opinion, click here.