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Trenier v. City of Prichard

Supreme Court of Alabama

November 21, 2014

Mark Trenier
v.
City of Prichard and Troy Ephriam, Mayor

Released for Publication July 22, 2015.

Page 23

Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court. (CV-13-901796). Robert H. Smith, Trial Judge.

AFFIRMED.

For Appellant: Donald M. Briskman and Charles J. Potts of Briskman & Binion, P.C., Mobile.

For Appellees: Lisa Bradford Hansen and H. Finn Cox, Jr., of Vickers, Riis, Murray & Curran, L.L.C., Mobile.

BOLIN, Justice. Murdock, Main, and Bryan, JJ., concur. Moore, C.J., concurs in the result.

OPINION

Page 24

BOLIN, Justice.

Mark Trenier appeals from the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the City of Prichard and its mayor, Troy Ephriam. We affirm.

I. Facts and Procedural History

The facts in this case are undisputed. This appeal involves a dispute over the interpretation of § 11-43C-38(a), Ala. Code 1975, which governs the appointment and removal from office of fire chiefs and police chiefs in Class 5 municipalities such as the City of Prichard. Section 11-43C-38(a) provides:

" There are hereby created three divisions of city government: Public works, finance, and public safety. The mayor shall appoint department heads to the above divisions. Upon the first vacancy, of any nature whatsoever, in the office of police chief or fire chief, the mayor may appoint the police chief and fire chief, respectively, from outside the said merit system, with the approval of four members of the council who shall serve at the pleasure of the mayor; provided, however, such officers shall be removed from office only upon recommendation of the mayor with the approval of four council members."

(Emphasis added.)

On April 19, 2007, Trenier and Ronald K. Davis, then the mayor of the City of Prichard, executed a proposed employment agreement in which Trenier agreed to provide services as the Prichard Fire Chief for a term of five years, commencing April 19, 2007. On this same date, the five-member Prichard City Council unanimously approved the agreement, and Trenier became the duly appointed fire chief for the City of Prichard in accordance with § 11-43C-38(a). The " Time of Performance" section of the employment agreement expressly states that Trenier would provide services for five years:

" The CHIEF shall commence performance of this Agreement and the rendering of services required hereunder for a period of five (5) years commencing upon the execution of the Agreement by the CITY. The services shall be undertaken in such sequence as to assure the proper and expedient achievement of the objectives of this Agreement for the period of time stated herein. In no event shall the completion dates of times stated herein, if any, be extended, except in accordance with the provisions of the Amendments Section."

(Capitalization in original.)

The " Compensation" section of the employment agreement contains language confirming that the agreement was for a limited term, subject to expiration, termination, or renewal:

" The CITY agrees to provide the CHIEF fifteen (15) sick days per year for the duration of this Agreement. ...
" All unused sick time and vacation time will be paid by the City to the CHIEF at the expiration and/or termination of this Agreement. In the event that this Agreement is renewed or extended pursuant to the mutual agreements of the parties, the CHIEF, at his sole option, may continue to accumulate sick and vacation time until such renewal period expires."

(Capitalization in original; emphasis added.)

The mayoral election for the City of Prichard was held in October 2012, at which time Troy Ephriam, who had served on the city council, was elected mayor of the City of Prichard, defeating Mayor Davis. Before the conclusion of his mayoral term in 2012, Mayor Davis on two separate occasions attempted to have the city council approve subsequent employment agreements for Trenier and to have

Page 25

him reappointed as the fire chief; both attempts, however, were unsuccessful. Although Trenier's employment agreement expired on April 19, 2012, he continued to serve as fire chief until April 8, 2013, at which time newly elected Mayor Ephriam notified him that his employment was officially terminated.

On July 16, 2013, Trenier filed a complaint against Mayor Ephriam in his official capacity, as well as against the City of Prichard, alleging a violation of his employment rights under § 11-43C-38(a) and seeking damages as a result thereof. Specifically, Trenier alleged that Mayor Ephriam had unilaterally terminated Trenier's employment without any " recommendation" and without the approval of four city-council members pursuant to § 11-43C-38(a). Mayor Ephriam and the City of Prichard filed a joint motion for a summary judgment supported by, among other things, the affidavit of Mayor Ephriam, who testified as follows regarding the events leading up to Trenier's discharge:

" 1. My name is Troy Ephriam, the duly elected Mayor of the City of Prichard, and I am familiar with the facts and circumstances surrounding the former employment of Mark Joseph Trenier as the Fire Chief of the City of Prichard, as well as the events giving rise to [Trenier's] Complaint in this matter.
" 2. Prior to being elected Mayor of the City of Prichard, I was duly elected and served as a Prichard City Councilman, representing District Four, from 2001 until my election as Mayor in October 2012.
" 3. Under Alabama Code ยง 11-43C-38(a) (1975), the Prichard City Council is required to approve any appointment made by the Mayor of the City of ...

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