Bad Advice From Employer’s Lawyer Can Violate Due Process

Written on 08/03/2022
Will Aitchison

Dan Bodle was an officer in the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department in Indiana. In August 2018, Bodle suffered an injury to his knees and shoulders in the line of duty, leaving him permanently disabled. He was placed on light duty during rehabilitation. His doctor later said he would not clear Bodle to return to full duty.

In October 2020, Bodle met with a county attorney to discuss his options. During this meeting, the attorney informed Bodle that there was no per­manent light duty position or further disability leave available, so retiring would be his best and only option. Based on this advice, Bodle retired from the Department on October 30, 2020.

Bodle later determined that the attorney’s advice was incorrect. Accord­ing to the Merit Rules of the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department, officers injured in the line of duty were allowed up to 12 months of full-pay leave and an additional 12 months of half-pay rate. Bodle’s decision, based on the erroneous advice, diminished his pension because early retirement prevented him from accruing an additional year of service. Bodle would not have retired if the at­torney had advised him correctly.

Bodle filed a federal court lawsuit against the County, alleging that the attorney’s improper advice violated his due process rights. The Court rejected the County’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and allowed Bodle’s claim to proceed.

The Court began with the principle that “to state a procedural due process claim for the deprivation of a property interest, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he had a constitutionally pro­tected property interest; (2) he suffered a loss of that interest amounting to a deprivation; and (3) the deprivation occurred without due process of law. The Supreme Court has distinguished between claims based on established state procedures and claims based on random, unauthorized acts by state employees.

“Though the vehicle of a proce­dural due process seems applicable, the defendants have not replied to explain why not. Bodle alleges his resignation was involuntary due to the erroneous information he received about disability and retirement benefits depriving him of the procedure afforded in the Indiana Code. Under the Code, the sheriff may dismiss, demote, or temporarily suspend a county police officer for cause after preferring charges in writing and after a fair public hearing before the board.

“Bodle has a constitutionally protected property interest in his em­ployment. He alleges facts showing a plausible deprivation of this interest, and says he was not afforded the procedures in the Indiana Code. If a resignation was involuntarily given, then a plaintiff’s separation from government employ­ment constituted a discharge, and he would be entitled to certain procedural rights. Without a cogent reply why this procedural due process claim fails on this pleading, the court must deny the motion to dismiss and permit the case to proceed on this claim.”

Bodle v. Redman, 2022 WL 1166705 (N.D. Ind. 2022).

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