A three-judge Minnesota appeals court panel ruled unanimously Monday in support of Richfield's decision to fire a police officer.
Richfield fired officer Nathan Kinsey in 2016 after he slapped a teenage boy during a 2015 traffic stop and failed to report his use of force.
After an arbitrator reinstated Kinsey, Richfield unsuccessfully tried to have the decision vacated and filed an appeal.
Richfield's attorney Marylee Abrams hailed the panel's reversal of the lower court decision. "I think that this case really did a nice job of balancing the interests of the parties and really came out in favor of the paramount importance of the citizens and our communities," she said.
The city maintained that the arbitrator's award for Kinsey violated the "public policy" exception to state labor law. Essentially, Richfield argued that since its public policy was to ensure public safety, the arbitrator's decision violated that policy by reinstating someone who threatened public safety.
Abrams argued in front of the panel in January that Kinsey had a history of using force and not reporting it and so returning Kinsey to the police department posed a threat to public safety, although she noted that Kinsey never returned to the force after the city appealed the court's decision.
Kinsey's attorney Isaac Kaufman argued to the panel that Richfield's concerns about Kinsey posing a threat to public safety were hyperbole. He also denied that Kinsey's past problems with report writing would paint him as a dishonest or untrustworthy cop.
"Officer Kinsey was entitled to due process under the collective bargaining agreement that we negotiated in good faith with the City of Richfield. The Court of Appeals' decision deprives him of that right," wrote Sean Gormley, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, a Minnesota group specializing in representing law enforcement across the state.
With more than 10 years on the force, Kinsey was a veteran held in high regard by his fellow officers, said Gormley, who called the appeals decision "an unprecedented blow" to the idea of binding arbitration.
The court's decision is only the second time in the state's history that an arbitrator award for a fired police officer has been reversed based on the public policy exception.
In 2001, the appeals court granted the exception in the case of Brooklyn Center police officer John Barlow who, according to court documents, was fired by the city for a "pattern of offensive and predatory conduct toward women" for more than a decade.
Brooklyn Center argued that Barlow might undermine public confidence in the department and "impair the city's efforts to prosecute crimes in which Barlow testifies" if he remained on the force.
Labor attorney Gregg Corwin, who represented Barlow then, said he fears the ruling in the Richfield case sets a troubling precedent. Arbitration was established under state law to offer an efficient way to resolve labor disputes, he said, but cities like Richfield will be emboldened to challenge decisions they don't like and slow the dispute resolution process.
More than a dozen police and labor unions filed amicus briefs in support of the lower court decision which supports the arbitrator's award to Kinsey.
Abrams, Richfield's attorney countered that supporters of Barlow's 2001 award warned that a reversal in that case would lead to a torrent of public-policy exception challenges to arbitrator decisions, but "it didn't open up any flood gates."
The Richfield case may not be over. Corwin said he expects there will be an appeal filed to the state's supreme court and he said he'll support that effort. Gormley said his group is "carefully analyzing our options" including a possible appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.