By: Reuters, 08/19/2022
A divided U.S. appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit by five former Oakland, California, police officers who were fired over their involvement in the fatal shooting of a homeless man.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision said the case belongs in state court because the officers' lawsuit against the city only alleges violations of state and city laws, and the federal judge who dismissed it should never have taken it up.
The officers in 2018 shot and killed a homeless man who they claimed had pointed a gun at them. The chief of police and city police commission cleared the officers of a wrongdoing, but a disciplinary committee found that their use of force was unreasonable and fired them.
The officers claim the committee, which was created by a 2003 settlement of a class-action lawsuit alleging widespread misconduct by Oakland police, had no authority to fire them because its procedures clashed with a separate disciplinary process established by the city in 2016.
Oakland in the 2003 settlement agreed to about 50 police reforms, including changes in the way officers are investigated and disciplined and measures designed to stop racial profiling.
Both the officers and the city had argued that the case belonged in federal court because it implicated the settlement of a federal lawsuit.
The 9th Circuit disagreed, saying the officers had challenged the way the settlement was implemented and not the terms of the settlement itself.
The officers and their union had filed a separate lawsuit against the city in state court in 2019 claiming the firings violated the union's collective bargaining agreement with the city. A state judge in April agreed and ordered that they be reinstated. The city is appealing that decision.
Harry Stern, a lawyer for the officers, said he was reviewing his options and was not sure whether the two lawsuits would be consolidated in state court or handled separately.
The Oakland City Attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In dissent on Friday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said only a federal judge could review the officers' challenge to the disciplinary committee's authority because the class-action settlement required the establishment of the panel. Rakoff, of the Southern District of New York, sat by designation.
The majority included Circuit Judges J. Clifford Wallace and Daniel Collins.
The case is Negrete v. City of Oakland, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-16244.
For the officers: Zachery Lopes and Harry Stern of Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver
For the city: Barbara Parker of the Oakland City Attorney's Office; Gina Roccanova of Jackson Lewis