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BERGERSEN v. CODD

December 20, 1979

JOHN BERGERSEN, Plaintiff, against MICHAEL J. CODD, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEAHER

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff in this action seeking declaratory relief and money damages is a former New York City police officer who claims he was denied his civil rights when he was dismissed from the Department by order of defendant, then Police Commissioner Codd. He brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart 28 U.S.C. § 1343, and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202, alleging that defendant's conduct violated his rights to due process and equal protection. The action is before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.Civ.P.

 On June 7, 1974, plaintiff, who held the rank of detective, submitted his application for retirement by virtue of completion of over fifteen years of alleged satisfactory service. The retirement was to have become effective 30 days later at approximately 12:00 midnight on July 6, 1974. At the time he submitted the application, plaintiff claims there were no disciplinary or criminal charges pending against him.

 On June 11, 1974, the Department instituted disciplinary proceedings charging plaintiff with having received approximately $ 3,500 from three other detectives of the Department which were proceeds of an unlawful seizure by those detectives from an alleged narcotics dealer; having failed to report this to his superiors; and having failed to "voucher" the money in violation of Department rules and regulations. After pleading not guilty to the charges, plaintiff proceeded to trial.

 The departmental trial commenced on July 1, 1974, after a series of adjournments. It continued over plaintiff's objection to a substitution of the trial commissioner and concluded on July 6, 1974, at approximately 3:00 p.m., the date his retirement was to become effective and retirement benefits were to vest. In a "race against the clock" to provide a final determination of the charges before plaintiff's retirement, the trial commissioner rendered an opinion in which he concluded that:

 
"Based upon the entire record, and my analysis thereof, in particular the above analysis of the evidence, I respectfully recommend that the Police Department has failed, by a preponderance of the evidence, to establish that the illegally obtained sum of $ 3,500 was passed to, and received by, Bergersen as alleged in the charges and specifications."

 Although conceding that Codd had the power and authority to reject the findings of the trier of fact in the administrative proceeding, plaintiff claims in his first count that Codd's complete rejection of the trial commissioner's findings and subsequent order of dismissal before the 12:00 o'clock deadline violated plaintiff's right to due process of law because it was unaccompanied by any detailed findings of fact to support such a decision. He further claims, upon information and belief, that defendant's action was taken wilfully and in bad faith to deprive him of his right to continued employment and his pension as retaliation for plaintiff's refusal to withdraw his retirement application. This conduct is alleged to deny plaintiff his property rights and to stigmatize him as a corrupt official in violation of due process of law.

 In a second count, plaintiff contends that after the determination in his case the Department moved on the same evidence against two other officers approximately two years later. In contrast to his case, however, Codd approved a different trial commissioner's finding of lack of guilt. Plaintiff claims that such divergent treatment, both in the consideration given the cases and in the result, deprived him of equal protection of the laws and represents unfair and invidious discrimination against him.

 Defendant moves to dismiss on the ground that this action is barred by the doctrine of Res judicata since the issues raised are identical to those presented in plaintiff's petition in the Appellate Division in a proceeding brought pursuant to Article 78, New York Civil Practice Law and Rules. There he sought to set aside the determination of the Police Commissioner on the ground that the action was

 
"arbitrary, capricious, unlawful and in violation of Petitioner's constitutional right to due process in that there was lacking substantial evidence to support the Police Commissioner's determination and further that the Police Commissioner did not make an informed decision . . . ." Petitioner's Statement Pursuant to Rule 5531 CPLR.

 The following points were raised in plaintiff's brief in that proceeding:

 
"Point I. The action of the Police Commissioner finding Petitioner guilty of departmental charges contrary to the findings of the Trial Commissioner, was arbitrary, capricious, unlawful and in violation of Petitioner's constitutional rights to due process in that there was lacking substantial evidence to support the Respondent's determination and further that the Respondent did not make an informed decision.
 
"Point II. The substitution of the Trial Commissioner after the commencement of the hearing and after character witnesses testified on behalf of the Petitioner was improper, prejudicial to Petitioner's case and was in violation of his constitutional rights to due process of law.
 
"Conclusion. The determination of the Police Commissioner was arbitrary, capricious, illegal and in violation of Petitioner's ...

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