Jack Nelson Jones Professional Association
May 14-20, 2018
Jones v. Ark. Local Police & Fire Ret. Sys., 2018 Ark. App. 287 (May 3, 2018)
This appeal comes from the Pulaski County Circuit Court, Honorable Timothy Davis Fox presiding. This case concerns whether a police officer working a part-time off-duty security position may, nonetheless, still be working for his or her police department.
Ms. Jones became a police officer for the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) in 2006. Subsequently, with the LRPD’s permission, she obtained part-time employment at Dillard’s providing security. While working at Dillard’s, she wore her full police uniform, and her duties were to deter crime and prevent shoplifting.
Two separate incidents occurred that caused injuries to Jones while discharging her duties at Dillard’s. The first occurred in 2008 when she was investigating a possible theft of store property. On that occasion, the suspect got into an SUV and struck Ms. Jones with the vehicle as the suspect fled the scene. The next incident occurred in 2012 when Jones was trying to apprehend three shoplifters who resisted, resulting in a physical altercation in which Jones was dragged to the floor causing injuries to both her knees and her right ankle. Despite these injuries, she was able to continue her employment as a police officer with the LRPD until July 2015, at which time her injuries had advanced to the point where she could no longer perform her duties.
She applied to the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System (LOPFI) for duty-related disability retirement benefits in November 2015. In support of her claim, she submitted a letter from her physician stating that she was totally and permanently disabled from her job as a police officer as a result of her injuries. The physician went on to opine that he attributed the disability to the injuries she suffered while working part-time at Dillard’s. Jones also submitted copies of the felony information from the 2008 and 2012 incidents, which reflected that the perpetrators in each case had been charged with battery committed against Jones while she was acting as a police officer in the line of duty. Jones described the scope of her part-time employment with Dillard’s. She stated that she worked “off-duty” for Dillard’s, during which time she was in uniform but was paid by Dillard’s. Although her primary responsibilities were to deter crime and prevent shoplifting, Jones had the full authority, as a Little Rock police officer, to make arrests for any criminal acts she observed. She stated that, during the 2012 incident when she was injured, she was attempting to make an arrest. She further stated that she had gotten involved in other law enforcement incidents while working at Dillard’s which did not actually involve Dillard’s but occurred in the same shopping center.
The LRPD has a General Order that covers off-duty employment and has two major parts -- police related work off-duty, such as security services, and then non-police related off-duty, such as an officer’s own private business. For the police related off-duty, the officers that want to work off-duty are required to submit the time they would work quarterly for each individual off-duty job they may have, and they must go through their chain of command to determine if the job is approved prior to being allowed to work. LRPD’s policy is very clear and requires officers that are working off-duty to recognize that the LRPD is their primary employer and that law enforcement is their primary duty even when they are working off-duty. They may not accept off-duty employment if they are asked to do anything that is related only to the business of the off-duty employer. Their job is to enforce the law and, when an officer is working off-duty in a security role, LRPD considers it under their authority as the LRPD. Even off-duty, the police officers are there to keep the peace and serve in a role as a police officer.
There was no dispute that Jones was permanently and totally disabled from performing her duties as a police officer, but LOPFI found that Jones was not entitled to duty-related disability retirement benefits because her disabling injuries occurred while she was an employee of Dillard’s and not the LRPD. LOPFI instead awarded Jones nonduty-related disability retirement benefits. Jones appealed pursuant to the Arkansas Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) to Pulaski County Circuit Court which upheld the decision of LOPFI. Jones then appealed this decision to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
The Court noted that its review of an appeal under the APA is directed toward the decision of the agency, not the circuit court, and that the agency decision may be reversed or modified only if substantial rights of the petitioner have been prejudiced because the decision was not supported by substantial evidence or was arbitrary, capricious, or characterized by an abuse of discretion.
Applying this standard, the Court concluded that there was no substantial evidence to support the LOPFI’s finding that Jones’s injuries did not arise out of and in the course of her performance of her duties as an LRPD police officer. The testimony before the Board demonstrated that, during her part-time employment with Dillard’s, she wore her full police uniform and was acting under her authority as a police officer. She was required to obtain the LRPD’s permission to work at Dillard’s, with the stipulation that her job was to enforce the laws pursuant to LRPD policy, keep the peace, and serve in the role as a police officer under the sole authority of the LRPD. Moreover, if she had failed to respond to criminal activity during her part-time employment, she would have been subject to disciplinary measures by the LRPD. In addition, the LRPD received the benefit a police presence from her working at Dillard’s. Finally, she was performing her duties as an LRPD officer when she sustained her injuries.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court held that the Board’s finding that she was entitled to only nonduty-related disability retirement benefits should be reversed and remanded.