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Nixon v. City & County of Denver

Court of Appeals of Colorado, First Division

December 18, 2014

Ricky Nixon, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
City and County of Denver and Manager of Safety, Respondents-Appellees

Page 1052

City and County of Denver District Court No. 12CV6760. Honorable Elizabeth A. Starrs, Judge.

Reynolds Law, LLC, Brian R. Reynolds, Denver, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Scott Martinez, City Attorney, Karla J. Pierce, Assistant City Attorney, Jennifer L. Jacobson, Assistant City Attorney, Kristen A. Merrick, Assistant City Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Respondents-Appellees.

Opinion by JUDGE TERRY. Taubman and Richman, JJ., concur.

OPINION

TERRY, JUDGE

Page 1053

[¶1] Petitioner, Ricky Nixon, a former police officer with the Denver Police Department, appeals the district court's order that effectively upheld his discharge. For the reasons explained below, we reverse that part of the district court's order pertaining to Nixon, and remand the case to the Civil Service Commission (Commission) for reconsideration of its decision.

I. Background

[¶2] This case arises from a complex set of administrative actions and appeals. Respondents, the City and County of Denver (the City) and its Manager of Safety, discharged Nixon and his fellow officer Kevin Devine for their involvement in an incident involving the arrest of citizens outside a Denver restaurant. Devine's discharge is not at issue in this appeal.

[¶3] Nixon was discharged for violating departmental rule RR-112.2 (Commission of a Deceptive Act) in connection with his report of the arrest incident. After Nixon submitted his report, the City discovered that the events had been captured on a video surveillance camera. The Manager of Safety discharged Nixon in part because of perceived discrepancies between his report and the video footage.

[¶4] Nixon appealed the Manager of Safety's decision to the Commission, and, as part of that appeal, a hearing was held before a hearing panel (Panel). The Panel reversed the Manager of Safety's decision as to Nixon. The City and the Manager of Safety then appealed to the full Commission, which upheld the Panel's decision, concluding that it was bound by the Panel's factual determination that Nixon had not intentionally lied about the pertinent events.

[¶5] The City and the Manager of Safety next appealed the Commission's decision to the Denver District Court under C.R.C.P 106(a)(4), which allows review of agency actions such as this one. The district court determined that the Commission had applied the wrong legal standard. The court went on to make its own findings, which conflicted with those of the Commission, and reversed the Commission's decision, thereby upholding Nixon's discharge. Nixon appeals from the district court's order.

II. Summary of Our Holding

[¶6] The Court of Appeals serves an important function in assuring the right of appeal to Colorado litigants. Many members of the public are unfamiliar with the role of the appellate court. We do not retry cases or rehear evidence. Instead, the way we

Page 1054

review appeals is constrained by certain legal requirements, known as " standards of review." In this instance, the standard of review is dictated by a rule of procedure adopted by the Colorado Supreme Court, known as C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4), and by case law. We are also bound in this case by section 24-4-105(15)(b), C.R.S. 2014, of the State Administrative Procedure Act.

[¶7] Applying these legal principles, we are required to ignore the district court's application of the law, and instead determine whether the Commission erred in its application of the law. As more fully explained below, we conclude that the Commission made an error in applying the law. However, we also conclude that the district court imposed the wrong remedy for the Commission's error.

[¶8] Simply put, the Commission made a legal error in determining that it was required to defer to certain findings made by the Panel. But the district court also erred because it did not send the case back to the Commission to have the Commission apply ...


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