Officer Not Entitled To Defense In Suit Arising From Off-Duty Job

Written on 09/11/2021
Will Aitchison

Eric Reetz is a police officer with the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Reetz also worked part time as a private security guard at the Dorothy Day Center – a homeless shelter in Saint Paul – that is operated by Catholic Charities. Under Reetz’s agree­ment with Catholic Charities, he was described as an independent contractor and his duties included assisting staff in examining clients’ bags to ensure that “no weapons, alcohol, drugs, or other banned items are brought into the facility.” Catholic Charities paid Reetz $40 per hour.

Under Saint Paul Police Department Policy 231.00, Reetz was required to have off-duty work approved by the Depart­ment. The policy also required Reetz to wear his uniform while working off duty and permitted him to use his patrol car with prior approval. The Department approved Reetz’s off-duty work at the Dorothy Day Center, but was not a party to his agreement with Catholic Charities.

On December 30, 2016, Reetz was working at the shelter, in uniform and with his squad car present. That evening, after Reetz’s shift at the shelter ended, a client of the shelter stabbed a woman with a knife that he smuggled in, allegedly during Reetz’s shift. The victim sued Catholic Charities and Reetz for negligence, alleging that Reetz failed to detect the knife.

Reetz asked the City to defend and indemnify him under a Minnesota statute which provides that a municipality “shall defend and indemnify” its employees if they were “acting in the performance of the duties of the position” and are “not guilty of malfeasance in office, willful neglect of duty, or bad faith.” The City rejected the request, concluding that Reetz was not performing any “law enforcement duties” at the time of the events in the victim’s complaint. The dispute then wound its way through the court system to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Court ruled in the City’s favor. The Court began its analysis by framing the question as “what it means for a municipal officer or employee – specifically an off-duty police officer – to act in the performance of the duties of the position of police officer.” The Court’s interpretation of the Minneso­ta statute was that the phrase “acting in the performance of the duties of the position” as applied to a police officer working off duty as a private security guard means that, consistent with the dual-capacity doctrine, the off-duty officer must be effectuating their duties as a police officer, such as by exercising his/her lawful authority to arrest.

The Court then turned to the facts in Reetz’s case. The Court held that “the facts undisputedly show that Reetz was not engaged in such law enforcement duties at the time he allegedly failed to detect the knife. Absent reasonable suspicion, a police officer generally has no authority to search a person’s belongings at a private facility. Reetz, however, was searching persons and belongings for weapons and alcohol that, while not illegal, Catholic Charities prohibited on the premises. Reetz would have had no authority as a police officer to confiscate the knife from the client. He was instead acting in a purely private capacity at that time.

“We therefore conclude that, as a matter of law, Reetz was not acting in the performance of his duties as a police officer when he allegedly failed to detect a knife that was banned only by the shelter’s policies.”

Reetz v. City of Saint Paul, 2021 WL 1009310 (Minn. 2021).

The post Officer Not Entitled To Defense In Suit Arising From Off-Duty Job appeared first on Labor Relations Information System.