Police chief’s report of trespass not made in good faith under Whistleblower Act says 7th Court of Appeals

 

City of Fritch v. Kirk Coker, 07-13-00287-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, February 27, 2014)

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction in a Whistleblower Act case in which the Amarillo Court of Appeals reversed, dismissing all claims.

Coker was the Chief of Police for the City of Fritch, Texas. The City received complaints about the status of property within the City owned by Alana Gariepy. After obtaining an administrative search warrant, the City began abatement procedures. However, when Coker arrived with personnel to begin abating the nuisance, he spoke with Gariepy, believed the City had not followed the proper procedures and withdrew personnel from the property. He then contacted the Texas Rangers, the local DA, Attorney General’s office and TDPS informing them he believed the City trespassed on Gariepy’s property violating her civil rights since it did not follow the proper abatement procedures. The City terminated Fritch and he filed suit. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court granted the plea as to Coker’s Sabine Pilot claims but denied it as to the Whistleblower claims. The City appealed.

The Amarillo Court of Appeals first analyzed Coker’s affidavit in response to the City’s plea and held that certain statements were conclusory. Coker claims he was informed that the correct procedures had not been followed regarding the appeal of the Gariepy abatement. Yet, nowhere in the record is there provided either information about what the defect was, what the proper procedures were, or even why Gariepy makes such a claim. Further, there is no support for why the police were on the property illegally. Next the court analyzed the administrative search warrant issued by the municipal court judge and the official minutes of the City Council meeting declaring a nuisance and ordering abatement. Both supported lawful presence on the property.  As a result, Coker could not have believed he was reporting a violation of law in good faith. The City therefore negated an essential jurisdictional element and the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel Justices Quinn, Campell, and Hancock. Opinion by Justice Hancock. The attorneys listed for the City are Alex Yarbrough  and Lee Ann Reno.  The attorneys listed for Coker are James L. Killion and Samantha Peabody Estrello.