Aaron L. Cockfield, Plaintiff and Appellant
City of Fargo, Defendant and Appellee
from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial
District, the Honorable Steven E. McCullough, Judge.
J. Wilking, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.
D. Swanson, Grand Forks, ND, for defendant and appellee.
Aaron Cockfield appeals from a judgment dismissing his
petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the City of
Fargo to reinstate Cockfield as an employee. Cockfield argues
the district court erred in deciding the City did not violate
his constitutional due process rights when it terminated his
employment. We affirm.
Cockfield was employed by the City's Solid Waste
Department. On July 28, 2017, Cockfield was asked to perform
a specific task within the scope of his employment. Cockfield
refused to perform the requested work. Cockfield's acting
route supervisor, Shawn Eckre, approached Cockfield to talk
about the refusal to perform the requested work. Cockfield
was seated when Eckre approached, Cockfield stood up and
pushed Eckre, and the push caused Eckre to fall against a
Terry Ludlum, director of solid waste operations, conducted
an investigation about the incident and obtained written
statements from several employees, including Cockfield. On
August 22, 2017, Ludlum, the human resources director, and
the route supervisor met with Cockfield about the July
incident. Cockfield was informed that the meeting was to
review his conduct during the July incident, and he was
advised that his conduct violated the City's policy,
including the workplace violence policy. Cockfield was
informed that Ludlum had interviewed city employees and
obtained statements from some employees. During the meeting,
Cockfield was not advised which employees had been
interviewed, he was not provided with or shown copies of the
written statements, and he was not informed about the content
of the written statements. Cockfield was given an opportunity
to provide an explanation of the incident. Cockfield did not
deny refusing to perform the requested work, and he admitted
he had pushed Eckre. At the conclusion of the meeting, Ludlum
advised Cockfield the City was terminating his employment.
Cockfield was told the reason for his termination, and he was
provided with written notice of the termination.
Cockfield appealed the termination decision to the Fargo
Civil Service Commission. Prior to the hearing, Cockfield was
provided with the City employees' written statements. He
was also provided with copies of the other documents the City
introduced as evidence at the hearing. The Fargo Civil
Service Commission upheld the termination.
Cockfield appealed the determination of the Civil Service
Commission to the Fargo City Commission. Following a hearing,
the City Commission upheld the termination.
Cockfield filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the
district court, alleging his due process rights had been
violated during the termination process. The petition sought
to compel the City to reinstate him as an employee. The
district court dismissed Cockfield's claims, concluding
Cockfield's due process rights were not violated. The
court determined Cockfield's pre-termination due process
rights were not violated because he received notice, a
hearing, an explanation of the evidence, and an opportunity
to respond. The court also concluded Cockfield's
post-termination due process rights had been satisfied.
Cockfield argues the district court abused its discretion by
denying his request for a writ of mandamus and concluding the
City provided him with adequate due process when his
employment was terminated. Cockfield seeks a writ of mandamus
to compel his reinstatement as an employee as a remedy for
the alleged due process violations.
A writ of mandamus may be issued to "compel the
performance of an act which the law specially enjoins as a
duty resulting from an office, trust, or station, or to
compel the admission of a party to the use and enjoyment of a
right or office to which the party is entitled and from which
the party is precluded unlawfully by such inferior tribunal,
corporation, board, or person." N.D.C.C. §
32-34-01. The district court has discretion in deciding
whether to issue a writ of mandamus, and the court's
decision will not be overturned on appeal absent an abuse of
discretion. Little v. Stark Cty. Sheriff, 2018 ND
22, ¶¶ 8-9, 906 N.W.2d 333. "A district court
abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary,