ILNews

Issue of fact exists in firefighter demotion

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court grant of summary judgment because there is a genuine issue of fact as to why a firefighter was demoted.

In Jeffrey Kochis v. City of Hammond, Indiana, et al., No. 45A03-0709-CV-445, Kochis appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Hammond in his complaint that he had been demoted even though no charges had been filed against him and that he didn't receive due process.

Kochis had been a firefighter with the Hammond Fire Department since 1982 and worked as assistant fire chief/drillmaster at the time a new mayor took office in 2004. When Mayor Thomas McDermott took office, he named a new fire chief and assistant chief on Jan. 1, 2004. The new chief, David Hamm, demoted former Deputy Chief Michael Jakubczyk to assistant fire chief/drillmaster and demoted Kochis to captain. The city's Board of Public Works and Safety approved the changes.

Kochis filed a complaint, asking to be reinstated as assistant fire chief/drillmaster, receive back pay, and obtain other relief. He filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that according to Indiana statute only the positions of chief and deputy chief were upper-level policy-making positions that didn't require due process in order for the holders of those offices to be demoted. Hammond argued Kochis' position as assistant fire chief/drillmaster was an upper-level policy-making position.

The city responded to his complaint saying the demotion was not based on a disciplinary reason, but for economic reasons, yet offered no evidence to explain the demotion further. Hammond also said that it had to reinstate Jakubczyk to the position of assistant fire chief/drillmaster, because that was the position he held before becoming deputy chief and Indiana Code 36-8-3.5-11(d) required the board to return him to the position he held before his appointment to deputy chief. Hammond also filed a motion for summary judgment.

The trial court agreed with Hammond and found the demotion of Jakubczyk was authorized by statute, which required Jakubczyk be returned to the position of assistant fire chief/drillmaster, thus causing a demotion for Kochis because there was no need for two people to perform this position. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Hammond.

Hammond erred in interpreting that I.C. section 36-8-3.5-11(d) required Jakubczyk to hold the same position he had before he was appointed deputy chief. The statute only speaks of the person's previously held rank, not the particular position he or she held, wrote Judge Carr Darden.

By law, Jakubczyk couldn't be reduced in grade to a rank below assistant chief, but evidence doesn't establish how many such positions were in the department or if any assistant chief positions were vacant. Also, there wasn't any evidence to show that Kochis was placed in the next available slot down the ladder, wrote Judge Darden.

Although Kochis' appeal asks the appellate court to grant him summary judgment on his complaint, the Court of Appeals ruled that neither party is entitled to summary judgment because a genuine issue of material fact exists for the basis of Kochis' demotion.

Hammond argued Kochis was demoted for economic reasons, not disciplinary reasons, and so he is not entitled to due process. An exception to the statute that calls for due process for police and fire personnel is if they are dismissed or demoted for economic reasons. However, Hammond's evidence to prove Kochis was demoted for economic reasons is scant, wrote Judge Darden, and because there is a genuine issue of fact, summary judgment shouldn't be granted to either party.

The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
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  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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