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Lewis v. Arizona State Personnel Board

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

July 7, 2016

BENNETT LEWIS, Plaintiff/Appellant,

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. LC2014-000282-001 The Honorable Crane McClennen, Judge

          Yen Pilch & Landeen, P.C., Phoenix By Neil Landeen, Michael Pang Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant

          Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Phoenix By Robert J. Sokol Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Arizona Department of Corrections

          Jackson Lewis, P.C., Phoenix By Jeffrey A. Bernick Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Arizona State Personnel Board

          Judge Randall M. Howe delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Diane M. Johnsen and Judge Andrew W. Gould joined.


          HOWE, Judge

         ¶1 Bennett Lewis appeals the order of the Arizona Department of Corrections ("the Department") dismissing him from his position and rejecting the recommendation of the Arizona State Personnel Board ("the Board") to adopt the hearing officer's recommendation to overturn the dismissal. Lewis argues that the Department's order is contrary to law, not supported by substantial evidence, arbitrary and capricious, and based on a violation of federal and state constitutional provisions. But because the Department's order was legally sufficient and supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.


         ¶2 The Department employed Lewis as a community corrections and parole officer. His duties included supervising released offenders in the community. According to the Department Order Manual and Employee Handbook, Lewis was expected to conduct himself in a respectful, professional, and ethical manner at all times and to refrain from behavior that would discredit or embarrass the Department or the State of Arizona.

         ¶3 An offender who is released is required to report to the parole office by 3:00 p.m. that day. If the offender does not arrive by that time, the Department's office supervisor has the discretion to issue an arrest warrant. On October 17, 2013, the Department's transport unit released an offender-who suffered from mental health problems and needed close supervision- at a mall at 2:30 p.m. Because the offender did not have a ride to the parole office, his visually impaired mother and mentally impaired sister took a bus to meet him at the mall. The offender called the parole office and spoke to Lewis, but he and his family did not arrive at the office until 4:30 p.m.

         ¶4 When the offender and his family arrived at the parole office, they were escorted into Lewis' supervisor's office. Lewis came in and told the offender that he was supposed to have arrived by 3:00 p.m. and because he did not, the Department would issue a warrant for his arrest. The offender explained to the supervisor that the transport unit dropped him off late and that he arrived at the office as soon as he could. The supervisor found the offender's explanation reasonable.

         ¶5 Lewis, however, repeatedly threatened to send the offender back to prison, agitating the offender. The offender's mother and sister became concerned, repeatedly saying, "Oh, no, no, no. Please don't send him back." The supervisor reassured the offender's family that he was the supervisor and that he was not going to send the offender back to prison. As a result of Lewis' threats, the supervisor had to direct the offender's attention away from Lewis and towards him on several occasions, reassuring the offender that he would not be sent back to prison.

         ¶6 The supervisor asked the offender where he wanted to live during his parole. The offender said he wanted to live with his mother, and his mother told the supervisor that she was willing to have him live with her. Although the Department had previously rejected the offender's request to live with his mother, the offender's mother had moved after that decision and her new housing allowed her son to live with her. Using his discretion, the supervisor agreed to let the offender live with his mother because he concluded it "was a better opportunity for that offender."

         ¶7 Lewis told the supervisor that he disagreed and that the offender should be sent to a half-way house. The supervisor nonetheless instructed Lewis to prepare the offender to stay with his mother for the evening and to tell him to report to the parole office in the morning, and Lewis refused to comply. The supervisor instructed Lewis three times to do as he was told; Lewis refused each time. Moreover, Lewis told the offender that he would go where the Department told him to go and that he should "ignore what the supervisor [was] saying." When the supervisor told Lewis to leave, Lewis said, "You're making bad decisions" and "You don't know what you're doing." The supervisor again told Lewis to leave, but he refused. After several more orders to leave, Lewis left. After the supervisor finished the intake process, he walked by Lewis' cubicle and Lewis said, without prompting, "I suppose you're going to write me up. If you do, make it good."

         ¶8 On November 18, 2013, Lewis received an 80-hour suspension for a separate incident of discourteous treatment of the public. He filed a grievance challenging the suspension on December 23. That same day, the community corrections manager issued Lewis a notice of charges for the October 17 incident. The manager stated in the notice that Lewis' actions constituted incompetence by failing to perform required duties; neglect of duty by disregarding orders or ...

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