Improperly Terminated Police Officer In California Case Law

In Knickerbocker v. City of Stockton (1988) 199 Cal. App. 3d 235, 244 Cal. Rptr. 764 (Knickerbocker), plaintiff, a police officer who was fired by the city from the position of lieutenant, challenged his firing before the City of Stockton Civil Service Commission, which ordered him reinstated at the lower rank of sergeant, with back pay. Plaintiff did not seek review of the commission's determination that there were grounds for disciplining him, but filed a claim for damages, alleging violation of an implied-in-fact covenant not to fire him without good cause, among other things, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Third District recognized that judicial exhaustion "is a species of res judicata" and "governs what may be litigated." (Knickerbocker, supra, 199 Cal. App. 3d at p. 241.) Administrative exhaustion, on the other hand is a rule of procedure, and jurisdiction. (Ibid.) The court stated: "Res judicata . . . deals with the preclusive effects of judgments in civil proceedings. It has a dual aspect. In its primary aspect the doctrine operates as a bar to the maintenance of a second suit between the same parties on the same cause of action. Its secondary aspect comes into play in situations involving a suit, not necessarily between the same parties, based upon a different cause of action. There the prior judgment is not a complete bar but it operates against the party against whom it was obtained as an estoppel or conclusive adjudication as to those issues in the second action which were actually litigated and determined in the first action. The secondary aspect is commonly referred to as collateral estoppel and is called issue preclusion by the Restatement Second of Judgments. The doctrine of collateral estoppel bars the relitigating of issues which were previously resolved in an administrative hearing by an agency acting in a judicial capacity." (Id. at p. 242.) That is, "unless the administrative decision is challenged, it binds the parties on the issues litigated . . . ." ( Id. at p. 243.) In that case, the Third District found that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust judicial remedies as to the commission's order reinstating him at the demoted level of sergeant because he did not bring a writ proceeding based on that order. However, the court held that since the commission had ruled that the city had improperly terminated the plaintiff, he could seek damages for "'severe anxiety, worry, mental, physical and emotional distress'" for his improper firing by the County. (Knickerbocker, supra, 199 Cal. App. 3d at p. 245.)