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Roberts v. Winder

United States District Court, D. Utah

August 21, 2018

NICHOLAS J. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES M. WINDER, individually; ROSIE RIVERA, in her official capacities as the Salt Lake County Sheriff and CEO of the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DALE A. KIMBALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Defendants James M. Winder, Rosie Rivera, and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake's (collectively “Defendants”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Plaintiff Nicholas Roberts' Motion to Continue Hearing. On August 16, 2018, the court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the Plaintiff was represented by Jesse Trentadue and Robert Hughes. Defendants were represented by Scott Young and Harry Souvall. The court took the motions under advisement. Based on the briefing filed by the parties and the law and facts relevant to the pending motion, the court issues the following Memorandum Decision and Order GRANTING in part and DENYING in part Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and GRANTING in part and DENYING in part Roberts' Motion to Continue.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         Nicholas Roberts (Roberts) filed suit alleging that he was unlawfully demoted from his position as Range Master-Firearms Instructor (Range Master). The parties agreed in oral argument that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment hinges on whether the Range Master position was classified as “Merit” or “Specialist.” If the position was classified as “Merit” then Roberts has a property interest in his former position. Rather, if the position was classified as “Specialist” then Roberts does not have a property interest in his position and may be reassigned pursuant to his merit rank. Determining the classification of the Range Master position requires analyzing how the position was created, and whether the position's classification changed over time.

         On March 18, 1996, Sheriff Aaron Kennard wrote to the Deputy Sheriff's Merit Commission (“Merit Commission”) requesting “the Merit Commission to reestablish a specialist position, for the Firearms Range Instructor/Supervisor, as allowed by Deputy Sheriff's Merit Commission Policy #4140.” Kennard's March 18th, 1996 Letter, Ex. G., (Dkt. No. 39-8).

         On April 11, 1996, Notice of a Public Hearing on the “Proposed Specialist Position” was posted. The notice stated, “Sheriff Kennard has requested that the Merit Commission approve the creation of a specialist position Range Master (See Policy #4140 Specialist Positions).” Specialist Position Notice Ex. G, (Dkt. 39-8). On April 18, 1996, the Merit Commission held a public hearing addressing Sheriff Kennard's request for the new position. At the hearing, Salt Lake County Human Resources Director Susan Biesele advised that pursuant to Policy #4140 relating to Specialist appointments:

If an officer appointed to a specialist position receives a grade increase, the following applies: the officer will maintain two classifications: his merit rank and the appointed grade. The merit rank is attained through appointment from a merit register based on a competitive merit examination, while the grade appointment is based on the provisions of the policy. Subsection 5.2 states that, “the grade appointment does not change or alter the merit status of the officer.” She stated that in other words, Sergeant and Lieutenant ranks are separate from the specialist appointments.

April 18, 1996 Merit Comm. Mtg. Minutes, Def. 85, Ex. H (Dkt. No. 39-9).

         On May 1, 1996, Richard Rieke, Chair of the Merit Commission, wrote Sheriff Kennard and notified him:

In a public hearing, April 18, 1996, the Merit Commission received evidence and heard testimony regarding your request (letter dated March 18, 1996 and related documents) to establish the “specialist position” of Range Master. The hearing was conducted pursuant to the merit system statute 30-17-12(1) and Merit Commission Policy #4140 SPECIALIST POSITIONS, which allows the Sheriff to appoint a qualified person to such a position after a public hearing and upon approval of the Merit Commission.

May 1, 1996 letter to Sheriff Kennard from Richard Rieke, Chair of Deputy Sheriff's Merit Service Commission, Def. 88-89 Ex. E (Dkt. No. 39-6).

         The Merit Commission approved the creation of the Range Master position at two levels: Level I P-17 (rank and pay grade equivalent to that of sergeant) and Level II P-21 (rank and pay grade equivalent to that of a lieutenant). On May 3, 1996, the Merit Commission posted a job notice that listed the Range Master as a Specialist Position. Specialist Position Job Notice, Ex. G (Dkt. No. 39-8).

         On July 1, 1996, Roberts applied for the Range Master position. In the opening line of his application, Roberts wrote that he is applying for the “specialist position of Range Master.” Roberts' Application, Ex. G (Dkt. No. 39-8). On August 14, 1996, Sheriff Kennard wrote a letter to Roberts appointing him “to the position of Specialist Range Master Level I.” Sheriff Aaron D. Kennard August 14, 1996 letter to Deputy Nick Roberts, Ex. N (Dkt. No. 39-8).

         On August 17, 1998, Captain George Nelson wrote a memo to Sheriff Kennard requesting that “Range Master Nick Roberts be advanced in rank from Specialist Level 1 to Specialist Level 2 as provided under the specialist provision for the Range Master.” Aug. 17, 1998 Memo, Ex. G (Dkt. 39-8). On September 16, 1998, Roberts received a Certificate of Commission that labels his ...


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