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Civil Service Court Decisions and AG Opinions

This page highlights key court decisions and legal interpretations regarding Washington State civil service laws listed by topic. For a general overview of the state regulations, see Civil Service.

When Is Civil Service Required?


Exclusion of noncommissioned city police personnel from a city police department civil service system does not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of the police civil service statute (Ch. 41.12 RCW).

See Teamsters v. Moses Lake, 70 Wn. App. 404 (1993)


If the size of the police force does not exceed two officers, the city need not provide for civil service and its police officers are terminable at will.

See Jordan v. Oakville, 106 Wn.2d 122 (1986)


A fire district is free to adopt its own system which "substantially accomplishes" the purposes of the firefighter civil service statute (Ch. 41.08 RCW).

See Roberts v. Fire Protection Dist., 44 Wn. App. 744 (1986) – Former RCW 52.36.060 permitted, but did not require, a fire district to adopt a civil service system identical to that provided in chapter 41.08 RCW.


Civil service commission lacks authority to place warrant server, part of municipal court, under control of commission.

See Massie v. Brown, 9 Wn. App. 601 (1973)


Addresses questions pertaining to civil service commissions in certain fire protection districts.

See AGO 1968 No. 16

  1. A fire protection district which has both full time, paid firemen and volunteer firemen in its fire service may provide civil service coverage for its full time, paid firemen under the provisions of RCW 52.36.060.
  2. A fire protection district which determines to provide civil service coverage for its full time, paid firemen under RCW 52.36.060, is thereby governed by all the provisions of chapter 41.08 RCW to the same extent as a city or town.
  3. Members of a board of fire commissioners of a fire protection district which establishes a civil service system for its full time paid firemen under RCW 52.36.060 may not simultaneously serve as members of the civil service commission.

Local Rules must "Substantially Accomplish" State Regulations


"Rule of Five" "substantially accomplishes" purpose of state civil service laws.

See Seattle Police Officers' Guild v. City of Seattle, 151 Wn.2d 823 (2004) – The case upholds a Seattle civil service rule allowing the appointing authority (the chief of police) to fill a position by selecting a candidate from the top five applicants by the civil service commission. The court found that this "Rule of Five" had historical roots, was similar to the "Rule of Three" previously upheld by the court, and "substantially accomplished" the purposes of the state civil service laws. Another aspect of the Seattle rules, however, one that allowed the chief to select from either the top five candidates or the top 25% of the applicants, whichever number was greater, was held to give the chief too much discretion and thus was inconsistent with state law.


Exclusion of noncommissioned city police personnel from a city police department civil service system does not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of the police civil service statute (Ch. 41.12 RCW).

See Teamsters v. Moses Lake, 70 Wn. App. 404 (1993) – The exclusion of noncommissioned city police personnel from a city police department civil service system does not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of chapter 41.12 RCW, the police civil service statute.


The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of the civil service statute for city police (chapter 41.12 RCW).

See Samuels v. Lake Stevens, 50 Wn. App. 475 (1988) – A town may enact its own civil service system (RCW 41.12.010). However, if such local regulations or ordinances are adopted after 1937 and do not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of chapter 41.12 RCW, then the state law applies automatically. Even if a portion of the local regulations do not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of the state act, the remainder of the ordinance can be enforced as written, including the rule mandating a one-year probationary period. The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of chapter 41.12 RCW. Although it is somewhat longer than the probationary period in RCW 41.12.100, it nevertheless "substantially accomplishes" the purpose of having a probationary period.


A fire district is free to adopt its own system which "substantially accomplishes" the purposes of the civil service statutes for city firefighters.

See Roberts v. Fire Protection Dist., 44 Wn. App. 744 (1986) – Former RCW 52.36.060 permitted, but did not require, a fire district to adopt a civil service system identical to that provided in chapter 41.08 RCW. The district is free to adopt its own system which "substantially accomplishes" the purposes of chapter 41.08 RCW.


If a city civil service system for police provided by charter does not provide for any appeal in the case of an employee suspended for less than five days, it does not "substantially accomplish" civil service statutes (chapter 41.12 RCW).

See AGO 1986 No. 13


A local existing civil service commission only "substantially accomplishes" state civil service requirements, if it empowers the commission with powers granted by state law.

See Yakima v. Yakima Police, 29 Wn. App. 756 (1981)


Certification of a single name for a vacancy is not essential to "substantially accomplishing" the same purpose as the state act (allows use of the "Rule of Three").

See Fire Fighters v. Walla Walla, 90 Wn.2d 828 (1978)


The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of the civil service statute for city police (chapter 41.12 RCW).

See Arbogast v. Westport, 18 Wn. App. 4 (1977) – The purpose of having a probationary period in civil service employment is to give appointing officials an opportunity to assess the efficiency and competency of employees. A city's establishment of a one-year probationary period for its police employees in light of widely fluctuating job demands at different times of the year may "substantially accomplish" the same purpose as the shorter probationary period specified by the state statute relating to such employees (RCW 41.12.100) and thus, under RCW 41.12.010, will be given effect in place of the state probationary period.


Court upheld the use of the "Rule of Three" in making appointments (third person on list was appointed).

See Hellum v. Johnson, 51 Wn.2d 326 (1957)


Conflicts with Collective Bargaining or Personnel Policies


That which is bargained during a collective bargaining agreement will prevail over any inconsistent civil service rule.

See Spokane and Spokane Police Guild v. Spokane Civil Service Commission, 98 Wn. App. 541 (1999) – That which is bargained during a collective bargaining agreement will prevail over any inconsistent civil service rule -- unless a local civil service commission is similar in scope, structure, and authority to the state personnel board--- and it would appear that would never be true.


Civil service does not supplant collective bargaining rights. 

See Rose v. Erickson, 106 Wn.2d 420 (1986) – The legislature did not intend the procedures of chapter 41.14 RCW (civil service) to supplant chapter 41.56 RCW (collective bargaining); the legislature intended that chapter 41.56 RCW prevail.


State civil service laws can preempt coverage under county personnel system.

See Deputy Sheriff's Guild v. Commissioners, 92 Wn.2d 844 (1979) –  Chapter 41.14 RCW preempts coverage by county personnel systems of deputy sheriffs' selection, promotion and termination. Under the state supremacy clause, if there is a conflict, RCW 41.14's merit system of employment for deputy sheriffs will preempt the application of an ordinance; however, not every provision of a local ordinance necessarily conflicts with and is preempted by chapter 41.14 RCW.


Rights under Civil Service


Addresses seniority status of city police officer transferring to county sheriff's office.

See AGO 1991 No. 27RCW 41.14.260 provides that a city police officer transferring to a county sheriff's office pursuant to RCW 41.14.250 shall have the same rights, benefits and privileges as the officer would have been entitled to if the officer had been a member of the sheriff's office since the beginning of the officer's employment with the city. Pursuant to this statute, the officer's seniority is determined by the date of the officer's original hire with the city undisturbed when the current versions of RCW 41.08.075 and 41.12.075 were enacted.


Secretary and Chief Examiner Qualifications


Secretary and chief examiner of a civil service commission must be either an existing employee of the city or a city resident.

See AGO 1989 No. 20 – Because of RCW 41.08.040 and RCW 41.12.040, the secretary and chief examiner of a civil service commission created under chapter 41.08 or chapter 41.12 RCW must be either an existing employee of the city or a city resident; these provisions were left undisturbed when the current versions of RCW 41.08.075 and 41.12.075 were enacted.


Residency and Qualifications of Employees


Use of nonresidency as a ground for discharge and layoff of a city or town civil service employee is prohibited.

See Bjorseth v. Seattle, 15 Wn. App. 797 (1976) – RCW 35.21.200 prohibits use of nonresidency as a ground for both discharge and layoff of a city or town civil service employee.


A commission has broad discretion to determine whether examinations shall be open to qualified citizens or limited to persons already in the service.

See O'Brien v. Civil Serv. Commission, 14 Wn. App. 760 (1976) – Civil service commission has broad discretion to determine whether examinations to fill the "eligible lists for the various classes of positions" (RCW 41.14.060(6)) in the Department of Public Safety shall be open to qualified citizens or limited to persons already in the service.


Addresses validity of age requirements for certain civil service employees.

See AGO 1972 No. 12 – A county civil service commission for sheriff's office employees, organized and operating under the provisions of Chapter 41.14 RCW, may not promulgate a blanket regulation excluding persons otherwise qualified under RCW 41.14.100 from making application for any civil service position in a sheriff's department, regardless of its duties, on the basis of their being less than twenty-one years of age and thus not legally able to enter a tavern for law enforcement purposes; however, in those selected classes of positions which require the employee to enter taverns for these purposes, a requirement that the applicant be at least twenty-one years of age, and thus legally able to enter a tavern, would be valid.


A fireman or policeman cannot be required to maintain residence within the city as a condition of employment by city ordinance nor civil service commission rule.

See AGO 63-64 No. 36 – Chapter 95, Laws of 1963, does not authorize a city by ordinance, or its civil service commission by rule, to require a fireman or policeman to maintain residence within the city as a condition of employment.


Addresses the civil service status of certain police officers on the Auburn police force.

See AGO 55-57 No. 293 – Officers who were appointed on July 8, 1937, were "blanketed" into civil service as permanent employees in the positions they then presently enjoyed.


A civil servant, otherwise qualified, cannot be discharged for having moved his residence beyond the corporate limits.

See Mosebar v. Moore, 41 Wn.2d 216, 248 P.2d 385 (1952) – The law here in question (RCW 35.21.200), is a general law and applies equally to all persons within a given class.


Examinations and Appointments


"Rule of Five" "substantially accomplishes" purpose of state civil service laws.

See Seattle Police Officers' Guild v. City of Seattle, 151 Wn.2d 823 (2004) – The case upholds a Seattle civil service rule allowing the appointing authority (the chief of police) to fill a position by selecting a candidate from the top five applicants by the civil service commission. The court found that this "Rule of Five" had historical roots, was similar to the "Rule of Three" previously upheld by the court, and "substantially accomplished" the purposes of the state civil service laws. Another aspect of the Seattle rules, however, one that allowed the chief to select from either the top five candidates or the top 25% of the applicants, whichever number was greater, was held to give the chief too much discretion and thus was inconsistent with state law.


A local civil service commission's interpretation of the civil service law is entitled to deference by a court.

See Crippen v. Bellevue, 61 Wn. App. 251 (1991) – Under RCW 41.08.100, which sets forth a procedure for filling a fire fighting position vacancy if the appointing power "desires to fill the vacancy," the appointing authority has discretion not to requisition a list of eligible candidates from the civil service commission.


What is "arbitrary and capricious"?

See Simonds v. Kennewick, 41 Wn. App. 851 (1985) –  Arbitrary and capricious is defined as willful and unreasoning action, without consideration and in disregard of facts and circumstances. Action is not arbitrary and capricious when exercised honestly and upon due consideration of the facts and circumstances and where there is room for two opinions. Evidence establishes the examination was not impartial as mandated by RCW 41.08.050 and also violated the commission's own rules and regulations. Thus, the commission's conduct was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law.


The appearance of fairness doctrine does not apply to the mayor when acting in his appointing capacity. Decision to promote is not a quasi-judicial decision.

See Side v. Cheney, 37 Wn. App. 199 (1984) –  A test for distinguishing between judicial and non-judicial functions is whether the function performed by the agency is one which the judiciary has historically performed prior to creation of the agency. When commission forwarded the names of the top three candidates to the mayor, the commission certified all three were qualified for the position of sergeant. The mayor has the right, within legal limits, to appoint any one of the three candidates.


Court invalidates fire captain's exam, finding that the city had not implemented civil service.

See Higgins v. Salewsky, 17 Wn. App. 207 (1977) – The court invalidated fire captain's exam, finding that the city had not implemented civil service, thus the civil service commissioners could not hold office, and the examination they gave was therefore invalid.


A commission has broad discretion to determine whether examinations shall be open to qualified citizens or limited to persons already in the service.

See O'Brien v. Civil Serv. Commission, 14 Wn. App. 760 (1976) – Civil service commission has broad discretion to determine whether examinations to fill the "eligible lists for the various classes of positions" (RCW 41.14.060(6)) in the Department of Public Safety shall be open to qualified citizens or limited to persons already in the service.


A commission must follow its own rules.

See State ex rel. Mulkey v. Auburn, 60 Wn.2d 728 (1962) – Although the commission may exercise wide discretion when conducting examinations, it may not violate its own regulations formally promulgated. (Rules required examiner to be present during all tests; examiner failed to attend portion of oral exam.)


Court upheld use of the "Rule of Three" in making appointments (third person on list was appointed).

See Hellum v. Johnson, 51 Wn.2d 326 (1957)


A commission has wide discretion in the examination of applicants with regard to the manner of performing its duties and exercising its powers.

See Stoor v. Seattle, 44 Wn.2d 405 (1954)


Employees of a city, eligible to take a promotional civil service examination, are not entitled to maintain an action to enjoin the commission from permitting other city employees, claimed to be ineligible, to take the examination.

See Hall v. Elliott, 15 Wn.2d 518 (1942) – It appears that there was only a contingent possibility that the plaintiffs' rights would be invaded if the employees claimed to be ineligible were permitted to take the examination.


Appointments and promotions are to be made on an examination basis.

See State ex rel. Olson v. Seattle, 7 Wn.2d 379 (1941) – As a general rule, a civil service system provides that appointments are to be made on an examination basis, and that promotions are also to be made on an examination basis; one cannot claim a right to a position simply because he or she is performing the duties which that position entails.


Addresses appointment of police chief in a council-manager form of government.

See AGO 53-55 No. 245 – City manager appoints the police chief under a council-manager form of government, subject to statutory procedure set forth in RCW 41.12.010 et seq.


Probation


The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of the civil service statute for city police (chapter 41.12 RCW).

See Samuels v. Lake Stevens, 50 Wn. App. 475 (1988) – A town may enact its own civil service system (RCW 41.12.010). However, if such local regulations or ordinances are adopted after 1937 and do not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of chapter 41.12 RCW, then the state law applies automatically. Even if a portion of the local regulations do not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of the state act, the remainder of the ordinance can be enforced as written, including the rule mandating a one-year probationary period. The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of chapter 41.12 RCW. Although it is somewhat longer than the probationary period in RCW 41.12.100, it nevertheless "substantially accomplishes" the purpose of having a probationary period.


Employee is entitled to a hearing, if terminated after probation is complete.

See Olson v. Civil Service Commission, 43 Wn. App. 812 (1986) – Probation begins on date of employment and ends (in most instances) six months later.


A right of appeal granted to discharged employees applies only to permanent employees so as to preserve the purpose and intent of the probationary provision.

See State v. Civil Service Commission, 25 Wn. App. 174 (1980) – The purpose of providing a probationary period within a civil service system is to give an appointing official an opportunity to determine whether the probationer is efficient and competent and to discharge unqualified employees before their employment becomes permanent. A general right of appeal granted to discharged employees will be construed to apply only to permanent employees so as to preserve the purpose and intent of the probationary provision. There is no constitutional property interest in public employment.


The one-year probationary period is a valid local variation of the civil service statute for city police (chapter 41.12 RCW).

See Arbogast v. Westport, 18 Wn. App. 4 (1977) – The purpose of having a probationary period in civil service employment is to give appointing officials an opportunity to assess the efficiency and competency of employees. A city's establishment of a one-year probationary period for its police employees in light of widely fluctuating job demands at different times of the year may "substantially accomplish" the same purpose as the shorter probationary period specified by the state statute relating to such employees (RCW 41.12.100) and thus, under RCW 41.12.010, will be given effect in place of the state probationary period.


Any leave time granted during the first six months of an employee's probationary period cannot be included in computing that employee's seniority.

See McCabe v. Spokane Civil Service, 14 Wn. App. 864 (1976)


Addresses dismissal of probationer by appointing authority.

See AGO 59-60 No. 28

  1. The sheriff as appointing authority who dismisses a probationer is not required to notify the civil service commission of the basis for the dismissal.
  2. A probationer who has been dismissed does not have the right to have his dismissal reviewed by the civil service commission.

Investigation


Addresses a police civil service commission's authority to investigate the performance of an individual officer.

See AGO 1986 No. 9 – A police civil service commission does not have statutory authority under chapter 41.12 RCW to investigate allegations of misconduct in the performance of police duties made by a citizen against an individual police officer.


A civil service commission cannot hear appeal of its own investigation.

See State ex rel. Beam v. Fulwiler, 76 Wn.2d 313 (1969) – A commission, which investigated, accused, and recommended a dismissal may not hear civil service person's appeal of dismissal; superior court has inherent jurisdiction to consider appeal.


A citizen cannot require the civil service commission to investigate a complaint that she has against police officers.

See Patton v. Wheelon, 65 Wn.2d 320 (1964)


Failure to follow investigation requirements of state law leads to invalidation of suspension and demotion.

See Reynolds v. Kirkland Police Comm., 62 Wn.2d 720 (1963) – The commission, which both accused chief and sergeant and then investigated their suspension, was not consistent with state law and its actions violated due process.


Pre-termination Hearings


A pre-termination "hearing" need not be elaborate in order to satisfy the requirements of due process.

See Gibson v. Auburn, 50 Wn. App. 661 (1988) – Pre-termination hearings officer has right to a pre-termination hearing on discharge, not on "decision to discharge." A pre-termination "hearing" need not be elaborate in order to satisfy the requirements of due process and can be satisfied by an informal conference. 


Pre-termination hearing required by Loudermill can be applied retroactively.

See Bullo v. Fife, 50 Wn. App. 602 (1988) – Held that Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985), requiring pre-termination hearings for civil service employees should be applied retroactively.


A pre-termination hearing allows an employee to respond to charges.

See Nickerson v. Anacortes, 45 Wn. App. 432 (1986) – A public employee, terminable only for cause, is entitled to a pre-termination hearing at which he is given an opportunity to respond to the charges. The hearing may be held before the decision-maker, which in this case was the chief of police.


An employee who has completed probation is entitled to a pre-termination hearing.

See Olson v. Civil Service Commission, 43 Wn. App. 812 (1986) – Employee is entitled to a hearing, if terminated after probation is complete. Probation begins on date of employment and ends (in most instances) six months later.


Pre-termination hearing need not be elaborate. It requires notice and opportunity to be heard.

See Payne v. Mount, 41 Wn. App. 627 (1985) – Civil service rules, in general, provide an adequate administrative remedy that must be pursued or review will be barred. The court held in Loudermill that due process requires that public employees receive a pre-termination "hearing," but that this hearing need not be elaborate. In contrast to a full adversarial evidentiary hearing, all that is required is notice and an opportunity to respond.


Permanent civil service employee has property right in employment and is entitled to a pre-termination hearing.

See Punton v. Seattle Public Safety Commission, 32 Wn. App. 959 (1982) – Permanent civil service employees who can be discharged only for cause possess a property right in continued employment. Due process of law is denied if a police department fails to provide a pre-termination hearing according to its regulations.


Disciplinary Actions and Discharges


A civil service system does not "substantially accomplish" state requirements if it does not allow for appeal of short-term suspension.

See AGO 1986 No. 13 A city civil service system for city police provided by charter does not "substantially accomplish" the purpose of chapter 41.12 RCW if it does not provide for any appeal in the case of an employee suspended for less than five days.


An employee may be demoted for budgetary reasons, a reduction in force, and for other like causes.

See Greig v. Metzler, 33 Wn. App. 223 (1982) In addition to misconduct, an employee may be demoted for budgetary reasons, a reduction in force, and for other like causes.


If rule requires termination by department, termination decision delegated to another is ineffective.

See State ex rel. West v. Seattle, 61 Wn.2d 658 (1963) – Local civil service rule required termination by department head; employee's dismissal by delegated assistant is ineffective as a violation of rule.


What is “for cause”?


Possession of marijuana can constitute “for cause” for employment action.

See Nickerson v. Anacortes, 45 Wn. App. 432 (1986) – The court upheld a decision of the civil service commission that held the possession and use of marijuana constituted "for cause."


Improper use of a credit for allows a determination of “for cause.”

See Danielson v. Seattle, 45 Wn. App. 235 (1986) – The court upheld a determination by the civil service commission that a police officer, who unlawfully used a credit card of another, was properly discharged for incompetency, insubordination, and conduct unbecoming a police officer.


Court adopts definition of “incompetency;” making joke is not incompetency.

See Eiden v. Snohomish Civil Service Commission, 13 Wn. App. 32 (1975) – The court concluded a sheriff deputy who had jokingly answered the phone using another deputy's name was not "incompetent," as he otherwise performed his duties. The court, quoting from a Florida decision, offered the following definition for the term "incompetent:"

Incompetency as a ground for suspension and removal has reference to any physical, moral or intellectual quality, the lack of which incapacitate[s] one to perform the duties of his office. Incompetency may arise from gross ignorance of official duties or gross carelessness in the discharge of them. It may also arise from lack of judgment and discretion or from a serious physical or mental effect not present at the time of election, though we do not imply that all physical and mental defects so arising would give ground for suspension.

Hearing Requirements and Procedures


Commission's failure to follow its own rules does not, per se, violate procedural due process.

See Chase v. Spokane Valley Fire Department Civil Service Commission, 139 Wn. App. 143 (2007) – The commission's failure to follow its own rules does, not per se, violate procedural due process, although it would where the rules represent minimal due process requirements. A full post-termination hearing afforded the officer, who had his employment terminated, an adequate safeguard against erroneous board action.


A discharge notice is adequate if it provides notice of appeal deadline. It need not detail reasons for dismissal if they are already known by employee.

See McConnell v. Seattle, 44 Wn. App. 316 (1986) – A discharge notification to a public employee sufficiently advises him of an appeal deadline if it cites the applicable statute. Such notification need not specifically set forth the reasons for dismissal if the reasons are known by the employee and no prejudice results. A discharged public employee has received constitutional due process when he is given notice of the charge and an explanation of the evidence in support, he is given an adequate opportunity to respond, and he is advised of his right to administrative review.


Civil service commission’s decision must be based upon appointing authority’s grounds. It may not use alternative grounds.

See In re Smith, 30 Wn. App. 943 (1982) – Although the civil service commission is vested with discretionary power to determine whether charges brought by the appointing power are sufficient grounds for dismissal, the exercise of this power is confined to the content of those charges; the commission may not use alternative grounds to support its decisions.


Failure to require witness to take oath before testimony violates due process rights.

See Nirk v. Kent Civil Serv. Commission, 30 Wn. App. 214 (1981) – Failure to swear witnesses appearing before the civil service commission violated the officer's due process rights.


If commission makes a mistake, it can reconsider its decision. Prompt notice should be given to parties.

See Hall v. Seattle, 24 Wn. App. 357 (1979) – The commission, if it determines it may have made a mistake and misperceived facts, may reconsider its decision, provided its actions are not arbitrary and capricious. Prompt notice should be given to all the parties of the new hearing.


Employee who is not qualified for position lacks standing. Examinees have right to have commission to follow statutes, rules, and regulations.

See Casebere v. Civil Service Commission, 21 Wn. App. 73 (1978) – Employee who is not qualified for position sought lacks standing to challenge test results. While citizen may ask commission to investigate problem, appeal to court requires appellant to have standing. Civil service examinees have a fundamental right to have the civil service commission follow its statutes, rules, and regulations. If this fundamental right is not forthcoming, the examinee may invoke the inherent review power of the courts even as to nonjudicial administrative actions. Civil service commission must follow its rules and regulations; failure to so provides grounds for invalidating a civil service examination.


Notice must reasonably inform employee of nature and substance of charges.

See Deering v. Seattle, 10 Wn. App. 832 (1974) – Fundamental right to "notice" requires the commission limit its investigation to the "reasons" given for employment action. To be constitutionally adequate, notice should be reasonably calculated to inform as to the nature and substance of the charges.  


If a person is not qualified for particular position, he or she lacks standing to challenge appointment.

See Fridell v. Seattle Civil Service Commission, 4 Wn. App. 227 (1971) –The court held that persons who are not entitled to or qualified for a particular civil service position do not have standing to contest appointment of a qualified person to fill the vacancy.


Removal of officer requires notice and an opportunity to be heard.

See Luellen v. Aberdeen, 20 Wn.2d 594 (1944) – In cases of tenure under civil service, where the officer shall hold office until removed or retired, it is implied that he can be removed for cause only and then only after due notice and hearing or opportunity given to be heard. Where a police officer under civil service was removed without any statement of the charges made against him having been given him nor any notice of any hearing having been accorded him, his removal was illegal and of no force or effect. The opportunity to be heard has at least three substantial elements: (1) the right to know seasonably the charges or claims preferred; (2) the right to meet the charges with witnesses and evidence; and (3) the right to have the aid of counsel. If any of these rights are denied a party, he does not have a hearing that is conformable to the elementary standards of fairness and reasonableness. When the right of a police officer to receive a pension has become established, the chief of police and the civil service commission have no legal right to remove him from his position and thereby prevent him from becoming eligible to make application for retirement and a pension.


Reason for discharge need not be sufficient to sustain criminal action. Notice must be made in writing with sufficient definitiveness to inform officer.

See State ex rel. Ashing v. Davis, 4 Wn.2d 454 (1940) – Where a city charter provides as a cause for removal of a civil service employee "conduct unbecoming an officer or employee of the city," it is not necessary that a reason be given sufficient to sustain a criminal action; but sufficient notice must be given to enable accused to prepare his defense, and the charges must be made in writing and with sufficient definiteness to inform accused of their character and extent.


Appeals from Disciplinary Actions and Discharges


Suspended officer may appeal suspension to commission as well as seek arbitration under collective bargaining agreement.

See Civil Service Commission v. City of Kelso, 137 Wn.2d 166 (1999) – Suspended officer may seek arbitration. An officer who appeals a suspension to the civil service commission is not precluded from seeking to arbitrate the suspension under his collective bargaining agreement. Where two appeal processes are concerned with different substantive rights, the court will not impose an election of remedies clause where none has been bargained for by the parties.


An involuntary resignation entitles employee to an investigation and hearing and possible reinstatement.

See Micone v. Civil Service Commission, 44 Wn. App. 636 (1986) – A public employee has no vested property right in public employment and possesses no due process rights apart from the protections afforded by statute. A discharge effected by a coerced or involuntary resignation would, per se, not comply with the procedural requirements of RCW 41.12.090 and would be an improper discharge. A finding of involuntary resignation would then entitle the employee to reinstatement and, possibly, back pay. Therefore, the question is also one of the merits. The court held that, because it is also a question of the merits, the determination of the voluntariness of a resignation must be made pursuant to an investigation and hearing as provided for in RCW 41.12.090. "Constructive discharge" occurs where an employer deliberately makes an employee's working conditions intolerable thereby forcing the employee to resign.


Commission may reduce or increase penalty imposed for disciplinary purposes.

See Erickson v. Civil Service Commission, 39 Wn. App. 271 (1984)


Commission has authority to alter discipline. Stricter penalty is not in itself arbitrary.

See Pool v. Omak, 36 Wn. App. 844 (1984) – Commission has authority to alter discipline. RCW 41.12.090, which permits a civil service commission to modify the discipline imposed upon a city police officer, empowers the commission to increase the punishment by imposing a stricter penalty. Such an increase is not, per se, arbitrary and capricious.


Agency decision can be overturned if it is contrary to law or cannot be sustained.

See Helland v. King County Civil Service, 84 Wn.2d 858 (1980) – An administrative agency's conclusion will be reversed where it is contrary to law, or where it is so unsupportable that it can only be designated as arbitrary and capricious.


Appeals of Commission’s Decision to the Courts


Employee fired for cause is not required to seek civil service review before appealing claim to court.

See Allstot v. Edwards, 116 Wn. App. 424 (2003) – A public employee who is fired for cause is not required to seek a civil service remedy before seeking redress in court for the claim of wrongful "constructive discharge."


Court of appeals is not bound to superior court’s finding of facts if evidentiary hearing had been held.

See Danielson v. Seattle, 45 Wn. App. 235 (1986) – A court of appeals is not bound by a superior court's findings of fact when an administrative agency has conducted all of the evidentiary hearings. In such a situation, the administrative agency is the exclusive fact-finding body. In addition, a court of appeals is not bound by a superior court's findings of fact that are based on documentary, non-testimonial evidence. In such a situation, the court of appeals is as competent as the superior court to weigh and consider the evidence. Washington courts give "great weight" to an administrative agency's construction of a regulation promulgated by that agency.


Appellate court review examines administrative record; court must uphold commission unless if finds willful, unreasoned disregard.

See Butner v. Pasco, 39 Wn. App. 408 (1985) – Appellate review under RCW 41.12.090 is de novo only in the sense the court independently examines the administrative record, exclusive of the trial court's findings. The court must uphold the commission unless it finds willful and unreasoning action in disregard of the facts and circumstances.


There are three potential avenues of appeal from a commission decision.

See Pierce County Sheriff v. Civil Service Comm., 98 Wn.2d 690 (1983) – First, a specific statute may authorize appeal. For example, RCW 41.14.120 specifically permits an "employee" to appeal an adverse civil service commission decision. Second, any party may obtain review by a statutory writ of certiorari if the agency is "exercising judicial functions" (RCW 7.16.040). Finally, the courts have inherent constitutional power to review "illegal or manifestly arbitrary and capricious action violative of fundamental rights." On appeal the issue is whether the commission's decision was arbitrary and capricious, which requires an evaluation of the evidence produced at the hearing. The scope of court review should be very narrow, and the one who seeks to demonstrate that action is arbitrary and capricious must carry a heavy burden. Arbitrary and capricious action has been defined as willful and unreasoning action, without consideration and in disregard of facts and circumstances. Where there is room for two opinions, action is not arbitrary and capricious even though one may believe an erroneous conclusion has been reached.


Court will review commission decision if commission acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or contrary to law.

See Benavides v. Civil Serv. Commission, 26 Wn. App. 531 (1980)

See Dulmage v. Seattle, 19 Wn. App. 932 (1978)


Court will review commission decision if commission acted arbitrarily, capriciously or contrary to law, but it will not substitute its judgment.

See Helland v. King County Civil Service, 10 Wn. App. 683 (1974) – Appeal of commission's decision to superior court is limited to determining whether or not commission's actions were, as a matter of law, arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law; the court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the commission.


Failure to timely file an appeal precludes court review.

See Pleuss v. Seattle, 8 Wn. App. 133 (1972) – Failure to seek appeal within required limit precludes appeal to superior court. Resignation after discussion with attorney was voluntary.


Court is limited to determining if termination was in good faith, for cause, and without abuse of discretion.

See Wenatchee v. Berg, 1 Wn. App. 354 (1969) – Holds that court reviewing decision of civil service commission is limited to determining whether removal of officer was made in good faith and for cause and without an abuse of discretion.


Court will not substitute its judgment for judgment of civil service commission.

See Vancouver v. Jarvis, 76 Wn.2d 110 (1969) – In reviewing a civil service commission proceeding, the courts cannot substitute their judgment for the independent judgment of the commission.


Review by court is limited to determining whether an employee was given an opportunity to be heard and whether competent evidence supported the charge.

See State ex rel. Perry v. Seattle, 69 Wn.2d 816 (1966)  When, in a case of removal from office or position within the classified civil service, it appears that the appointing power has filed with the civil service commission a written statement of the reasons for the removal, upon charges that cannot be said to be utterly frivolous, and when it further appears that the commission has awarded the party charged a full opportunity to be heard, and that competent evidence has been produced tending, in some measure at least, to prove the charges made, the court may not inquire into the weight or sufficiency of the evidence. Its power is confined to the inquiry whether the officers entrusted with the authority to effect removals and discharges have acted within the prescribed rules. A decision by an administrative commission is not arbitrary and capricious simply because a trial court and this court conclude, after reading the record, that they would have decided otherwise had they been the administrative commission. Where a tribunal has been established to hold inquiries and make decisions as to whether an employee shall be dismissed, review by the judiciary is limited to determining whether an opportunity was given to be heard and whether competent evidence supported the charge.


If written reasons for discharge were given, if charges are not frivolous and competent evidence supports charges, court will not inquire about weight or sufficiency of evidence.

See State ex rel. Price v. Seattle, 20 Wn.2d 17 (1944) – Upon removal of an officer within the classified civil service, in which the appointing power has filed a written statement of the reasons for the removal, upon charges that cannot be said to be utterly frivolous, after full opportunity to be heard, and in which there was competent evidence tending to prove the charges, the courts will not inquire into the weight or sufficiency of the evidence.


Ability to Abolish Civil Service Positions


The city council, in the interest of economy and efficiency, may abolish and consolidate civil service positions as long as exercised in good faith.

See State ex rel. Morris v. Seattle, 5 Wn.2d 267 (1940) – The city council, in the interest of economy and efficiency, may abolish and consolidate civil service positions; to impose duties on an employee, which may embrace not only services of the position for which he holds a civil service rating, but services which, if considered alone, might come within the purview of duties of positions under other civil service classifications. The only limitation upon this power is that it be exercised in good faith.


A civil service employee is entitled to recover compensation for the period of his wrongful separation from his position.

See Watkins v. Seattle, 2 Wn.2d 695 (1940) – Where city truck drivers with a civil service rating, as such, were laid off for "lack of funds and lack of work," and the trucks, which they had been driving, were thereafter operated by men classified as "laborers," the layoffs were wrongful, as the truck drivers were entitled to their positions, as long as the trucks were being operated by the city.


Miscellaneous


Civil service commission is not exempt from its duty to collectively bargain.

See Yakima v. Fire Fighters, 117 Wn.2d 655 (1991) –  A city's civil service commission is not sufficiently similar to the state personnel board to qualify for the RCW 41.56.100 exemption from its duty to collectively bargain with its public employees as to matters the city had delegated to its civil service commission.


The factual findings of the civil service commission have a preclusive effect in a federal civil rights.

See Shoemaker v. Bremerton, 109 Wn.2d 504 (1987) –  The administrative determination of fact is entitled to collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent civil suit.


Reclassification of civil service positions by a municipal civil service commission is a discretionary function which may be reviewed by the courts to determine if the action taken was legal, as well as not arbitrary, or capricious.

See Leonard v. Civil Service Commission, 25 Wn. App. 699 (1980)


Case involving (and upholding) use of selective certification.

See Maehren v. Seattle, 92 Wn.2d 480 (1979) – Issue likely moot now in view of the passage of Initiative 200.


Civil service commission has no authority over pensions.

See State ex rel. Johnson v. Funkhouser, 52 Wn.2d 370 (1958) – Pensions granted because of disability can be terminated only by a pension board, as provided by RCW 41.20.060 and RCW 41.20.110. The statutory jurisdictions of the civil service board and the pension board are separate and distinct. Action by a civil service board terminating employment does not affect a vested right to disability benefits, over which the pension board has exclusive jurisdiction.


Last Modified: October 11, 2017