Thursday, February 24, 2022

Cop’s lawsuit against city dismissed by court

A federal court has dismissed the lawsuit filed by Wayne Police Sgt. Abraham Hughes against the city, City Manager Lisa Nocerini, Mayor John Rhaesa and Personnel Director Alyse Leslie.

Hughes' lawsuit claimed that Nocerini unfairly interfered in the agreed-upon testing and evaluation procedure in naming a new police chief in 2018. He claimed in his filing that he had video evidence confirming that he obtained the highest score on testing performed by EMCO, the outside company employed by the city. He also asserted that both he and the other candidate for the job, current Chief Ryan Strong, were assured by Nocerini and EMCO officials that the promotion would be based on those independent test scores. He claimed in his filings that despite his higher test score, Nocerini exerted undue influence on EMCO officials to ensure that Strong was promoted.

The court, however, found that Nocerini was within her authority as prescribed in the Wayne City Charter to arbitrarily name the new chief. The charter, as quoted in the court decision, states, “all administrative officers of the City…shall be appointed by the City Manager for indefinite terms of office, subject to the confirmation by the Council.” And “such officers shall be responsible to the City Manager and shall serve at his pleasure.” The court ruling also states that based on the city charter, the city manager may remove the chief of police so long as the council agrees, “Thus, both the police chief appointment and removal are discretionary acts, rather than contractual promises.”

The court found in favor of the city motion to dismiss Hughes' claims based on the city claim of “qualified immunity” and stated that Hughes' complaint failed to state or prove a constitutional violation of his rights.

“Qualified Immunity shields public officials from money-damages liability if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” the court decision stated.

The decision also said that Hughes' claims that Rhesea's, Nocerini's and Leslie's use of favoritism or self-serving criteria to hire and promote within city government was “irrelevant” based on Hughes' failure to prove he had a property interest in the promotion or that he had any due process protection under the city charter.

United States District Court Judge Stephen J. Murphy dismissed the constitutional violation claims in Hughes' lawsuit with prejudice and the claims of state law violations without prejudice.

“Because the court is declining to resolve the state law claims on the merits, the Court will deny the motion to dismiss the state law claims,” Murphy said in his verdict dismissing the federal claims.

“We always knew that once all of the facts of the case were presented, the city's position would be vindicated and the claims made against city officials would be proven frivolous,” Rhaesa said in a prepared statement. “As the city has always maintained, our position that the lawsuit was completely without factual or legal merit.”

Rhaesa added that he was pleased with the ruling and exoneration of the city and “its hard-working employees.”