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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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