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Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission v. Grimmett

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 5, 2017

Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission
v.
Bryan Mark Grimmett

         Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court (CV-16-900003)

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         The Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission ("the commission") appeals from the judgment of the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") reversing the commission's December 2015 order affirming its revocation of Bryan Mark Grimmett's law-enforcement certification. The commission's decision to revoke relied solely on a provision in a plea agreement filed in the Cullman Circuit Court in 2001 in which Grimmett had agreed not to work in law enforcement. The Cullman Circuit Court, however, had entered an order in May 2015 removing that provision in the plea agreement. Although the commission may base a decision regarding law-enforcement certification on an evaluation of an applicant's character, the commission did not conduct a character evaluation on Grimmett. Instead, the commission based its revocation of Grimmett's law-enforcement certification exclusively on the rescinded portion of the plea agreement. We therefore affirm the portion of the trial court's judgment reversing the commission's revocation of Grimmett's law-enforcement certification. In the judgment, the trial court also directed the commission to reinstate Grimmett's law-enforcement certification to work in a law enforcement agency. Because Grimmett had not completed the requirements necessary for a full reinstatement at the time his law-enforcement certification was revoked, we reverse that portion of the trial court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The commission is an agency of the State of Alabama. Ex parte Alabama Peace Officers' Standards & Training Comm'n, 34 So.3d 1248, 1251 (Ala. 2009) ("Section 36-21-41, Ala. Code 1975, creates the Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission. It is undisputed that the statutorily created commission is an agency of the State of Alabama."). The following facts in the administrative record before the commission are not in dispute.

         Before 2001, Grimmett was employed as a state trooper and was certified by the commission to work as a law-enforcement officer. In 2001, Grimmett was indicted by a Cullman grand jury on felony charges of theft of property and of altering computer equipment with intent to defraud. The State was represented in the criminal case by the Alabama Attorney General's Office. Grimmett entered into a plea agreement ("the plea agreement") in the Cullman Circuit Court in which he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of violating § 13A-8-103(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975.[1] As a part of the plea agreement, Grimmett agreed to the following condition, among others: "Bryan Grimmett agrees that he will not seek future employment in any capacity with any law enforcement agency." Grimmett also agreed to pay $1, 740 in restitution. On June 25, 2001, based on the plea agreement, the Cullman Circuit Court dismissed the felony charges, adjudicated Grimmett guilty of the misdemeanor offense, and sentenced Grimmett to 12 months hard labor. The sentence was suspended, and Grimmett was placed on unsupervised probation for 24 months. The commission was not notified of the conviction or of the terms of the plea agreement at that time.

         Effective December 11, 2006, the Alabama Board of Pardon and Paroles granted Grimmett a pardon of his conviction in the criminal case in the Cullman Circuit Court.[2] In December 2014, Grimmett applied to work as a state trooper with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency ("ALEA"). ALEA hired Grimmett. A law-enforcement officer hired by ALEA must be certified by the commission to work in that capacity. See § 36-21-50, Ala. Code 1975. Apparently, Grimmett's certification to work as a law-enforcement officer had never been revoked following the 2001 plea agreement. Although the record is not clear, it appears that Grimmett's hiring by ALEA triggered an examination into his certification status. Grimmett was later discharged from his employment with ALEA. According to both parties, the discharge occurred in February 2015.

         On May 11, 2015, Grimmett and an assistant district attorney in Cullman County ("the Cullman County assistant district attorney") filed a joint motion in the Cullman Circuit Court seeking an order deleting the provision in the plea agreement regarding Grimmett's agreement not to seek employment with any law-enforcement agency. On that same day, the Cullman Circuit Court entered an order granting the joint motion and removing the provision from the plea agreement. That action was taken without the knowledge or participation of the Attorney General's Office. At the time the Cullman Circuit Court entered that order, Grimmett had been discharged from probation.

         On June 24, 2015, the commission sent Grimmett an "Official Notice of Revocation." The notice stated:

"As a result of your conviction of Altering Computer Equipment in violation of Ala. Code § l3A-8-103(a)(1), specifically the conditions of your plea agreement, which states that you 'would not seek future employment in any capacity with any law enforcement agency.' THE ALABAMA PEACE OFFICERS STANDARDS AND TRAINING COMMISSION HAS REVOKED YOUR CERTIFICATION as a law enforcement officer in Alabama. The revocation is effective immediately.
"Should your conviction be reversed or set aside, you may, at that time, request a hearing before the Commission."

         The commission also sent a letter to Grimmett dated August 11, 2015, again stating that the sole basis of the revocation was Grimmett's plea agreement in which he had agreed not to seek future employment with a law-enforcement agency.

         Grimmett administratively appealed the revocation and requested a hearing. The commission conducted a hearing on December 2, 2015. At the commencement of the hearing, one of the members of the commission announced that the subject of the hearing was Grimmett's law-enforcement certification. The member also stated that the commission first learned of the work restriction in Grimmett's plea agreement when Grimmett applied to become a state trooper again in December 2014. At the hearing, the commission received documents related to Grimmett's criminal case, including an arrest record, the indictment against him, the plea agreement, the case-action summary, and the Cullman Circuit Court's order modifying the plea agreement. One of the members of the commission stated: "We are here on [the Cullman Circuit Court's order to modify the plea agreement] and [the plea agreement] ... which was [Grimmett's] agreement."

         The commission received testimony from the assistant attorney general who had prosecuted Grimmett in 2001 ("the assistant attorney general") regarding the circumstances of the plea agreement and the allegations against Grimmett that led to the indictment. The assistant attorney general testified that the Alabama Attorney General's Office was not consulted or notified regarding the 2015 joint motion to remove the work-restriction provision in the plea agreement that had been filed by Grimmett and the Cullman County assistant district attorney.

         Grimmett submitted character evidence on his behalf; however, Grimmett did not testify at the hearing.

         On December 8, 2015, the commission entered an order denying Grimmett's appeal, stating:

"The Commission finds based upon the uncontradicted documentary evidence, that Mr. Grimmett was indicted on felony charges in April 2001 by the Cullman County Grand Jury, including Count 1, a felony charge of altering computer equipment with intent to defraud pursuant to Section 13A-8-103(a)(1), and Count II, a felony charge of first degree Theft of Property pursuant to Section 13A-8-3 of the Code of Alabama. ... A felony conviction would have resulted in mandatory revocation of Mr. Grimmett's law enforcement certification pursuant to Section 36-21-52 of the Code Alabama.
"Pursuant to [the plea agreement], on June 18, 2001, Mr. Grimmett plead guilty to a Class A misdemeanor, altering computer equipment in violation of Section 13A-8-103(a)(1) Code of Alabama. The State's consent to the plea agreement was subject to a number of conditions precedent including that 'Bryan Grimmett agrees he will not seek future employment in any capacity with any law enforcement agency. Further, Grimmett agrees that a copy of this agreement and of his guilty plea will be filed with the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission.' ... The Case Action Summary in [Grimmett's criminal case] reflects that the felony charges were dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement, and that Mr. Grimmett was sentenced on the misdemeanor charge under Section 13-8A-103 to twelve months hard labor suspended for twenty-four months on unsupervised probation. ... Mr. Grimmett was ordered to pay $1, 740.00 in restitution. ...
"The Alabama Attorney General's Office prosecuted Mr. Grimmett in 2001, and agreed to the plea agreement. [The assistant attorney general], who testified before the Commission in this matter, handled the prosecution of Mr. Grimmett for the Attorney General's Office. [The assistant attorney general] testified that the Attorney General's Office had not been consulted concerning any recent motion in the Cullman County Circuit Court to remove the agreement not to work in law enforcement condition to the plea agreement, and had not joined in any motion to delete or alter this condition precedent to the plea agreement or the order entered by the Court in 2001 pursuant to the plea agreement.
"In the documents before the Commission, there is a Joint Motion to Amend Order which appears to have been filed in the Cullman County Circuit Court on May 11, 2015 by [the Cullman County assistant district attorney] with the Cullman County District Attorney's Office, and attorney Brandon C. Little on behalf of Mr. Grimmett. This order states '[b]oth parties waive any time limits that would prevent this amendment.' ... However, [the assistant attorney general] testified that the Alabama Attorney General's Office had not waived any time limits preventing amendment of the plea agreement and order. Furthermore, the Commission concludes that the parties cannot confer jurisdiction on the Circuit Court to modify an order entered over a decade ago. The Commission concludes that the order entered May 11, 2015 removing the restriction from Bryan Mark Grimmett being employed as a police officer in the State of Alabama, entered almost 14 years after the plea agreement was accepted, does not support the setting aside of the Commission's order of revocation.
"Accordingly, the Commission, by unanimous decision, hereby ORDERS that the appeal of BRYAN MARK GRIMMETT is DENIED, and the revocation of his law enforcement certification stands."

(Capitalization in original.)

         On January 4, 2016, Grimmett petitioned the trial court for judicial review of the commission's decision. See Ala. Code 1975, § 41-22-20. Grimmett filed a brief arguing that the work-restriction provision in the plea agreement was invalid and unenforceable; that the Cullman Circuit Court removed that provision on May 11, 2015, and had the jurisdiction to do so; that testimony from the assistant attorney general should not have been allowed at the hearing before the commission; and that § 36-21-52, Ala. Code 1975, cited in the commission's order as the basis for the action, concerns only felony convictions and not misdemeanor convictions or felony charges. The commission filed a responsive brief, stating that "[t]he Commission revoked Grimmett's certification based on his voluntary guilty plea." The commission argued in part that the plea agreement restricted Grimmett from seeking employment with a law-enforcement agency; that the work restriction from the plea agreement was valid; that the Cullman Circuit Court lacked the jurisdiction to enter the May 11, 2015, order removing the work restriction in the plea agreement; and that testimony from the assistant attorney general was either admissible or at least not prejudicial to Grimmett. Grimmett filed a reply brief arguing that the commission did not have the authority to disregard the Cullman Circuit Court's May 11, 2015, order.

         The trial court conducted a hearing during which it heard oral arguments from the parties. On June 30, 2016, the trial court entered a judgment reversing the commission's decision and ordering the commission to certify Grimmett. On July 13, 2016, the commission filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment. The commission asserted that "[t]he commission's revocation order is based on the commission's finding that [Grimmett], then a State Trooper, agreed never to work in law enforcement as part of a Plea Agreement executed on June 18, 2001, and merged into the final order of the Circuit Court of Cullman County dated June 25, 2001, dismissing felony charges against [Grimmett] pursuant to the Plea Agreement." The commission reiterated its argument that the work-restriction provision of the plea agreement was valid and that the Cullman Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction to enter the May 11, 2015, order removing that provision. The commission also sought to remove the portion of the judgment referring to the trial court having received testimony because the assistant attorney general's testimony before the commission was the only testimony in the case. The commission also argued to remove the portion of the judgment ordering the reinstatement of Grimmett's certification. The commission asserted that Grimmett must pass a character review and complete an 80-hour "refresher" course before his certification can be reinstated. Grimmett filed an objection to the commission's postjudgment motion, arguing that the commission's order was based solely on the plea agreement and not on any character-review requirement. Grimmett conceded, however, that he will have to take the 80-hour refresher course, but he argued that the requirement was not a ground to amend the judgment.

         On July 27, 2016, the trial court entered an order denying the commission's motion to alter, amend, or vacate. On July 29, 2016, the commission filed a notice of appeal to this court. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to § 12-3-10, Ala. Code 1975.

         Upon the commission's motion, this court remanded the case to the trial court for it to enter a judgment compliant with § 41-22-20(l), Ala. Code 1975.[3] On September 7, 2016, the trial court entered an amended judgment, that stated, in relevant part:

"The Court having considered [Grimmett's] Petition for Judicial Review, and for cause shown it is hereby ORDERED that [the commission's] final decision refusing to reinstate Bryan Grimmett's law enforcement certification is at the very least, a violation of constitutional or statutory provisions, in excess of the statutory authority of [the commission], affected by other error of law, clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record, and unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious, or characterized by an abuse of discretion or a clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion. Therefore, it is Hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that ...

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