Administrative Hearing Regarding Police Officer Misconduct

In Fukuda v. City of Angels (1999) 20 Cal.4th 805, a hearing officer determined after a seven-day administrative hearing that a police officer had engaged in misconduct and recommended the officer's employment be terminated. (Id. at pp. 809-810.) After the city council adopted the hearing officer's recommendation, the police officer sought an administrative writ of mandamus. (Id. at p. 810.) The trial court erroneously believed the city had the burden of establishing the weight of the evidence supported the hearing officer's findings and concluded the city had failed to meet that burden. (Ibid.) The Court of Appeal affirmed. (Ibid.) The California Supreme Court, reversing the Court of Appeal, concluded the administrative findings are presumed correct and the party seeking an administrative writ of mandate bears the burden of proving those findings are incorrect. (Id. at p. 808.) The Fukuda court confirmed the substantial evidence test usually is the standard of review on appeal of a trial court's review of an administrative decision. (Fukuda, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 824.) But, the court stated: "In the present case, however, we cannot properly review the trial court's findings and decision for substantial evidence, because that court's findings are themselves infected by fundamental error: The trial court erred by placing the burden of proof on the City, and by failing to accord a presumption of correctness to the administrative findings." (Ibid.) The trial court's comment that the evidence was "'evenly balanced, and the party having the burden of proof loses'" demonstrated the misallocation of the burden of proof affected the outcome. (Ibid.) Thus, rather than apply the substantial evidence test, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. (Id. at p. 825.)