Tuesday, May 24, 2016

POBRA's One-Year Limitation Tolled By Internal Criminal Investigations

On May 24, 2016, the Third District Court of Appeal held the one-year statute of limitations under the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act (“POBRA”) is tolled when a law enforcement agency conducts its own criminal investigation. (Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation v. State Personnel Board (Shiekh Iqbal)(May 24, 2016, No. C073865.)

Under POBRA, employers cannot take punitive action for investigations not completed within one year, except under certain circumstances. One such circumstance is that the statute of limitations is tolled while a criminal investigation into the same conduct by the same employee is ongoing. The question before the court was whether the statutory tolling of the limitations for “criminal investigations” applied when the agency conducts its own investigation, rather than having it done by an independent agency.

The court determined the language of the statute was clear and placed no restriction on who conducts the criminal investigation. The court dismissed a State Personnel Board decision that reached the opposite conclusion, finding the Board has misapplied prior case law. Looking to Legislative intent, the court reasoned that the Legislature knew there could be abuses by law enforcement employers who were conducting criminal and internal affairs investigations of their employees which is why it qualified the criminal investigation exemption provision with the language that the investigation had to be “concerned solely and directly with alleged criminal activities.”

            Ultimately, the court held the defendant was arguing a factual issue on whether the employer was conducting a criminal investigation only to toll the statute of limitations. The court found the allegation of delay had no traction because the Notice of Adverse Action (“NAA”) was served only three days past the one-year limitations period expired. Regardless, the court stated the limitations period had been tolled for the entire criminal investigation, and thus, the NAA was timely.