Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Martindale-Hubbell Recognizes Mastagni Holstedt Attorney John Bakhit with Highest Honor

Martindale-Hubbell has recognized John Bakhit with its highest honor, an AV Preeminent rating, indicating a peer review for the highest level of professional excellence.  John is the Managing Attorney of Mastagni Holstedt's Ontario office.

Mr. Bakhit's practice centers on labor and employment law, where he handles complex claims arising out of the Public Safety Officers' Procedural Bill of Rights, the Firefighters’ Procedural Bill of Rights, the California Labor Code, the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, complex contract negotiations with City, County, and State agencies, and other statutes protecting the rights of employees.

Prior to  law school, Mr. Bakhit served as an Oakland Police Officer working in Patrol and the Crime Prevention Unit, where he regularly wrote and served search warrants, worked undercover, and testified as an expert witness in court.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Supreme Court Overturns 9th Circuit Anti-Officer Use of Force Rule

In County of Los Angeles v. Mendez et al., the United States Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Circuit to put an end to a rule that let people bring lawsuits against officers even when the officers' use of force was reasonable.  Under the so-called "Provocation Rule," officers whose use of force is deemed reasonable, could still be held liable if they did something else, in violation of the 4th Amendment, to make the suspect respond in a way that required force.  The Supreme Court unanimously rejected this theory.

In the Mendez case, two deputies were looking for a wanted parolee when they entered a shack in the backyard of a home without knocking or announcing.  They did not have a warrant to enter the shack. It turned out Mendez lived in the shack.  Mendez got up with a gun in his hand when the officers entered and the officers reasonably believed their lives were in danger and fired in self-defense.  Mendez, who survived, sued, arguing that even if it was reasonable for the officers to shoot him, they should still be liable since they did not have a warrant to search his shack.  The Ninth Circuit agreed, applying its "Provocation Rule."

The Supreme Court, however, held, "The rule’s fundamental flaw is that it uses another constitutional violation to manufacture an excessive force claim where one would not otherwise exist.”  The Court explained "the provocation rule... instructs courts to look back in time to see if a different Fourth Amendment violation was somehow tied to the eventual use of force, an approach that mistakenly conflates distinct Fourth Amendment claims." As a result, the Court concluded, "the provocation rule is incompatible with this Court's excessive force jurisprudence."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

CalPERS Restoration of Service Credit and Compensation Earnable Upon Reversal of Termination for CalPERS School and Local Agency Members

Assembly Bill (AB) 2028 applies to all active California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) school and local agency members. This recent legislation was introduced by Assembly Member Jim Cooper. AB 2028 allows active CalPERS school and local agency members who were wrongfully terminated to recover service credit and compensation earnable if their termination is reversed. This bill fixes a significant inconsistency in previous law, which treated school and local agency members differently than other state employees.

AB 2028 applies to members who were subject to a wrongful termination effective on or after January 1, 2017. Members who are reinstated by administrative or judicial order following the termination may now receive retirement benefits as though they were never terminated. Restoration of these benefits ensures that such members will be made “whole” following their disciplinary appeal.

Prior to AB 2028, school and local agency members could receive these benefits retroactively if they retired following the wrongful termination, but were later reinstated. This retirement condition was inconsistent with how other state employees were treated in the same situation. AB 2028 eliminates the inconsistency by making school and local agency members eligible to seek these same benefits, regardless of retirement.

AB 2028 provides that reinstatement of benefits will be effective as of the date from which salary is awarded. Employers are required to notify CalPERS within five days once an employee being reinstated after he or she had been wrongfully terminated.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Flores Overtime Ruling Stands: U.S. Supreme Court Denies San Gabriel's Petition for Review

On May 15, 2017, the United States Supreme Court denied the City of San Gabriel's petition for review of the Ninth Circuit decision holding the City of San Gabriel failed to include payments of unused portions of police officers’ benefits allowances when calculating their overtime rate of pay, resulting in an underpayment of overtime compensation. The Supreme Court only grants review in about 1% of petitions for review.  As a result the denial, the holding of the Appellate court now becomes settled law in the Ninth Circuit.

Appellate court also held that payments made on behalf of employees  to third party health care providers for benefits through the City's Flexible Benefits Plan could not be excluded from the overtime rate of pay.  The City's Flexible Benefits Plan was held not to be a “bona fide plan” under 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(4) because over 40% of the City's total contributions were paid directly to employees rather than received as benefits. Additionally, the court ruled that the City’s violation of the Act was willful because it took no affirmative steps to ensure that its initial designation of its benefits payments complied with the Act and failed to establish that it acted in good faith.

Now that all appeals have been exhausted, California agencies that modified their overtime policies to comply with the Flores decision will have stability and certainty relative to their inclusion of waiver payments in overtime compensation.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Disability Retirement to Avoid Termination Qualifies as “Honorably Retired” for CCWs

A Riverside police officer who took disability retirement to avoid termination was “honorably retired,” according to the California Court of Appeal.  In Bonome v. City of Riverside, the court said the City must either grant the officer’s request for his retirement identification badge with a CCW endorsement, or provide a good cause hearing.

In June of 2012 an internal affairs investigation was opened with Officer Bonome as the subject officer.  On October 10, 2012 Officer Bonome suffered an on-duty back injury.  In May of 2013 the internal affairs investigation sustained allegations for failure to investigate and prepare a police report.  The Chief reviewed the report and declared his intention to terminate Officer Bonome.

The officer’s attorney was able to set out the Skelly hearing.  This allowed Officer Bonome to complete his application for industrial disability retirement.  The termination proceedings were suspended when the retirement became official.

Shortly after, the Assistant Chief sent notice to Officer Bonome’s attorney saying the Department would not issue a CCW endorsement.  Additionally, the Department would not offer a good cause hearing.  According to the Chief, Officer Bonome was not “honorably retired.”  The officer brought suit seeking to compel the Chief to issue the retirement badge with a CCW endorsement, or provide a good cause hearing.

The case centered on the correct definition of an honorably retired peace officer.  Penal Code §16690 says an honorably retired peace officer is any officer who has qualified for, and had accepted a service or disability retirement.  However, this does not include officers who agreed to a service retirement in lieu of termination.  According to the City, the Legislature must have meant to exclude all officers who retired to avoid termination.  The Court was not persuaded.

Officer Bonome argued, and the Court agreed, he was an honorably retired peace officer.  The statute only excludes peace officers who take a service retirement in lieu of termination.  According to the Court, an officer cannot choose to take a disability retirement to avoid termination.  Either an officer is disabled, and unable to perform his or her duties, or not.  Officer Bonome was evaluated after sustaining an on-duty injury to his back, and the evaluation recommended a disability retirement.  The Chief’s intent to terminate was irrelevant.

The Court noted, the City does not have to grant the CCW endorsement.  Penal Code §25920 says CCW permits for honorably retired officers can be denied or revoked.  However, to do this the City must show good cause as to why. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Court of Appeal: No Requirement to Meet and Confer on Citizen Sponsored Initiatives

In City of San Diego v. PERBan appellate court said a citizen sponsored initiative to end pensions for new government employees did not require the city of San Diego (City) to meet and confer with the unions whose members would be affected.  

In November of 2010 then Mayor of San Diego Jerry Sanders announced his plan to place a citizen sponsored initiative on the June 2012 ballot.  The initiative was called the Citizens Pension Reform Iniative (CPRI).  CPRI, if passed, would amend San Diego’s city charter.  The main effect of this amendment was eliminating the pension program for specified future employees, and replacing the program with a 401(k) plan.  

Mayor Sanders, along with many prominent city employees, spent significant time and used considerable resources to gain support for the initiative.  Eventually, enough signatures were collected to place the matter on the June 2012 ballot.  Several unions demanded to meet and confer with City Council before CPRI was placed on the ballot.  If CPRI passed Mayor Sanders would have effectively ended future pensions for city employees without any discussion with union representatives. 

City Council declined to meet with the union representatives, citing a law which requires a citizen sponsored initiative to be placed on the ballot if procedural requirements were met.  Here, the requirements were met, so CPRI was placed on the ballot and passed by the voters.

Several affected unions filed an unfair labor practice charge with PERB.  The City claimed it had no discretion to keep CPRI off the ballot.  According to the City, Mayor Sanders was acting in his capacity as a private citizen.  Since this was was not a government action, they argued, there was no requirement to meet and confer.

PERB found Mayor Sanders was acting as an agent of the City.  Essentially, the City used one of its stronger political figures to create, support, and pass a citizen sponsored initiative.  By doing so the City bypassed the MMBA’s requirement to meet and confer, and ended the pension program for most of the City's future employees.  PERB found this to be a violation of the MMBA, and ordered the City to repay employees for lost compensation, including pension benefits.  The City appealed.

On appeal one of the main argument was over a 1984 case commonly referred to as Seal BeachSeal Beach declared, before a governing body can place a charter amendment on the ballot it must satisfy the meet-and-confer obligations under the MMBA.  The unions argued Seal Beach was applicable in the present case.  In other words, 33 years of precedent said governing bodies cannot bypass unions by placing charter amendments on the ballot which will impact the terms and conditions of employment.  The Appellate Court disagreed.

First, the decision dismissed any argument that mayor Sanders was acting as an agent of the City. Concluding CPRI was neither ratified by the City, nor an action of its agent, the court next addressed whether Seal Beach applied.  

The decision said, what took place in San Diego was different from Seal Beach.  CPRI was a citizen sponsored initiative.  In Seal Beach, the city council was using its own authority to place matters on the ballot without an initiative.  Thus, CPRI was not a proposal by a governing body.  Accordingly, there was no obligation to meet and confer.

PERB's decisions are given significant deference on appeal.  Their factual findings are considered final if there is any substantial evidence to support them.  Despite this strong presumption, the court overturned PERB's decision.

Stay tuned as the unions are likely to seek review in the Supreme Court of California.

Kathleen N. Mastagni Storm Testifies at Capitol on Peace Officer PERB Jurisdiction

On April 19, 2017, Mastagni Holstedt partner Kathleen N. Mastagni Storm testified before the Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security on AB 530, a proposal to allow peace officers to file unfair practice charges at PERB.  The bill is sponsored by Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a retired sheriff's captain.

In her remarks, Storm explained, "AB 530 is important because it affects my clients' ability to enforce their collective bargaining rights and resolves serious uncertainty about the law."  She said, "superior court is too costly and results in justice being denied because unions can't afford to sue [but] there is a high rate of resolution [at PERB] because the agency is adept at analyzing labor disputes."

She also addressed "the uncertainty in section 3511 [of the MMBA]."  She explained the law is vague because it exempts from PERB's jurisdiction "persons who are peace officers" but does not define that term.  "As things stand now, if a peace officer labor leader experiences retaliation, there would be parts of the case that the union has to bring at PERB and other parts the labor leader would have to bring separately in superior court.  This legislation solves these problems."

Kathleen N. Mastagni Storm manages the Labor Department at Mastagni Holstedt, APC.  Her practice focuses on unfair practice litigation, officer-involved shootings, and trial litigation in state and federal courts.