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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Before taking office on Jan. 1, 2001, newly-elected Dallas County Constable Mike Dupree sent letters to deputy constables Stanley Gaines, Jimmie Gilliand and Sonia Avina, notifying them that their services would not be required in his administration. Dupree did not say why. After taking the oath of office, Dupree refused to administer the oath to the three deputies and collected their badges and weapons. In Texas, absent a specific agreement to the contrary, employers and employees may terminate employment at will for good cause, bad cause or no cause at all. This rule applies by statute to deputy sheriffs, leading some courts to conclude that a deputy sheriff’s term of employment automatically expires when the sheriff’s term of office does. While there is no similar statutory provision for deputy constables, they are at-will employees generally, and the Texas Supreme Court noted that the 3rd Court of Appeals has stated that “”[t]he term of deputy constables, as that of deputy sheriffs, expires when the principal’s term expires.’” But at-will employment may be modified. For public employees, this may be done by agreement with the employer and through civil service systems. Since 1971, certain counties have been authorized to create civil service systems for certain employees. Since 1981, certain counties have been authorized to create sheriff’s department civil service systems for department employees, including deputies. In 1989, the Legislature expanded the group of employees that a county could include in its general civil service system to include deputy constables. Dallas County has had a civil service system since 1975. Until the codification of the system on July 17, 2001 and therefore for purposes of this case, because the three deputies were fired before the codification of the system the system was set out in the Dallas County Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual (the manual). From 1990 to 2003, the county’s civil service system covered deputy constables. The manual’s rules governing dismissal state in pertinent part that a Dallas County employee may be dismissed from the county without prior notice for just cause including, but not limited to, incompetence; offensive conduct; insubordination; conviction of a felony; conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; failure to report for work without reporting the reason for absence to his immediate supervisor within 24 hours of his normal working shift; gross or repeated neglect of duty; or other conduct inconsistent with the interest of the county. The manual further states that an employee shall be furnished a written notice of termination at the time of termination, or the earliest possible time after the date of dismissal, which must specify the cause for termination. Complaining that they had been wrongfully terminated, Gaines, Gilliand and Avina timely filed grievances. The civil service personnel director rejected them, explaining that “the Constable-elect did not terminate [the deputies]. However, it is the opinion of Dallas County that the newly elected Constable is not obligated to swear-in previous Deputy Constable employees. This conclusion was based on the premise that the Deputy Constable serves at the discretion of the Constable and the Constable has the authority and responsibility to select his own staff.” The three deputies did not appeal the commission’s decision. Instead, they sued the county under 42 U.S.C. �1983, alleging that, by terminating them without just cause and without a hearing, the county had denied them substantive and procedural due process in violation of the 14th Amendment. The deputies did not ask the trial court to order the commission to give them a hearing on the merits of their grievances. The deputies moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that they had been denied procedural and substantive due process, resulting in their loss of employment. The county, in its response, contended that the deputies’ employment ended automatically when the previous constable’s term expired and that the refusal to reappoint was not a dismissal. The trial court granted the deputies’ motion, stating in its order that Dupree effectively dismissed the deputies and the manual’s procedures and protections covering employee dismissals applied to the deputies. The jury then found a combined $2,118,514.85 in damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and costs. The 5th Court of Appeals affirmed. It agreed with the trial court that Dupree’s failure to swear in the deputies was “tantamount to dismissal” and therefore covered by the manual. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The Texas Supreme Court held that covered employees in the county’s civil service system cannot be discharged without just cause; thus, covered employees have a property interest in continued employment. The court then held that the county discharged the deputies and denied them a hearing before the civil service commission to determine whether just cause existed; thus, the county denied them procedural due process. For denial of procedural due process, the court stated, the deputies could recover damages for injuries resulting from the loss of their employment only if just cause did not exist for their termination. The court then found that the trial court erred in holding that the deputies’ established an absence of just cause as a matter of law. The trial court never established that there was cause to dismiss the deputies, the court stated, because the county took the position that the deputies were never dismissed at all. As a result, the court held that the deputies’ claims for denial of procedural due process must be remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court held that a government employee’s interest in continued employment is not protected by substantive due process. Even if it were, the court stated, the county’s decision to discharge the constables was not arbitrary and capricious so as to violate substantive due process. The county erred about the legal effect of the expiration of a constable’s term of office, the court stated, but its decisions were nevertheless reasoned and reasonable. They were certainly not arbitrary, the court stated, nor did they remotely approach the conscience-shocking required for a substantive due process violation. OPINION:Hecht, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Wainwright, Green, Johnson, and Willett, J.J. CONCURRENCE/DISSENT:Brister, J., joined by Jefferson, C.J., and O’Neill, and Medina, J.J., concurred in part and dissented in part. “After a Dallas district court held that Dallas County deputy constables were at-will employees, Dallas legislators obtained passage of a state law and Dallas County officials adopted a new code extending civil-service protection to them. But when three deputies were discharged in 2001, the County insisted they were still at-will employees, despite all its efforts to the contrary. “Dallas County should be held to its word. If the County wants deputy constables to be terminable-at-will, it must say so, as it did by amending its civil service code to drop them again in 2003. But we cannot amend that code as it stood in 2001, and should not allow the County to pretend that changing the code one way and then back again meant nothing in the interim. “Because the deputies sought and obtained damages far beyond their wages, I agree we must remand for a new trial. But it should be only on that issue; I disagree that the County should have a second chance to deny them everything. To the extent the Court does so, I respectfully dissent.”

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