McMahon v. City of Middletown
An "acting," or temporary, chief of police may not be entitled to the protections in Connecticut General Statutes §7-278 that apply to an "active" chief of police. In July 2009, the plaintiff, Patrick McMahon, received a temporary appointment to serve as the "acting" chief of police of the City of Middletown. In October 2010, McMahon was returned to his former position as deputy chief. McMahon sued the City of Middletown, alleging it required "just cause" to discharge McMahon from his position as "acting" chief of police and violated C.G.S. §7-278. The defendant municipality moved for summary judgment and argued that the statute does not apply to an "acting" chief of police. The statute provides, "No active head of any police department of any town, city or borough shall be dismissed unless there is a showing of just cause by the authority having the power of dismissal and such person has been given notice in writing of the specific grounds for such dismissal and an opportunity to be heard in his own defense, personally or by counsel, at a public hearing before such authority." In Kohn v. Wilton, a 1994 decision, Superior Court Judge William Lewis construed a similar statute and concluded that an "acting" fire chief is not identical to an "active" fire chief and that "acting" connotes an individual who is a temporary or an interim appointee. Here, the court found that Kohn v. Wilton provided persuasive authority. If the legislature had intended to apply the protections in C.G.S. §7-278 to "acting" chiefs of police, it had that authority. "The statute," wrote the court, "does not refer to an `acting' head of a police department, although the legislature could easily have included a reference to that position." Unlike a duly appointed police chief, McMahon did not require the protections in C.G.S. §7-278, because when he was removed as "acting" chief, he returned to his position as deputy chief. The court granted the municipality's motion for summary judgment.