Thursday, August 8, 2019

Relying Heavily on Mastagni Holstedt Case Law, PERB Clarifies That Peace Officer Unions Fall Under Its Jurisdiction

In 2016, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (“Association”) filed an unfair practice charge against the County of Orange (“County”) alleging that the County violated their duty to meet and confer in good faith when they unilaterally made changes to the Office of Independent Review (“OIR”).  The County attempted to dismiss the case by arguing that PERB did not have jurisdiction over cases brought by peace officer organizations, citing a 2000 amendment to the MMBA that excluded peace officers from PERB’s jurisdiction.

The ALJ ultimately held that PERB has primary jurisdiction over cases brought by employee organizations that solely represent sworn peace officers, following precedent set in County of Santa Clara (2015) PERB Decision No.  2431-M.  A case Mastagni Holstedt successfully argued. The Board affirmed, relying heavily on Mastagni Holstedt’s arguments, adding that the plain language and legislative intent of the 2000 MMBA amendment could lead to no other conclusion.

It all started in 2016, when the County implemented changes to the OIR that included imposing new staff requirements, granting additional access to confidential records, changing how the County selects OIR’s executive director, and changing how OIR staff advise County personnel.  The County made these changes without meeting and conferring with the Association.  The Association filed an unfair labor practice claim with PERB, alleging that the County violated the MMBA when it changed the ordinance without giving the Association an opportunity to meet and confer over the decision or its effects. 

The County responded by arguing that PERB did not have jurisdiction over the claim because the Association represented peace officers and thus fell within an exception established by Government Code § 3511.  A 2000 amendment to the MMBA, Government Code § 3509, states that PERB has initial jurisdiction over MMBA violations.  (Gov. Code § 3509.)  Government Code § 3511 provided an exception to this rule, stating that § 3509 did not apply to “persons who are peace officers as defined in § 830.1 of the Penal Code.”  (Gov. Code § 3511.)  In Coachella Valley Mosquito & Vector Control Dist. v. California PERB (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1072, the California Supreme Court acknowledged this exception, stating explicitly that peace officers are exempt from PERB’s jurisdiction pursuant to Gov. Code § 3511.  Subsequent cases such as Paulsen v. Local No. 856 of Internat. Bhd. Of Teamsters (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 823 addressed this issue and likewise affirmed that peace officers are exempt from PERB’s jurisdiction. 

The County argued that the above California Supreme Court cases establish that § 3511 deprives PERB of jurisdiction over claims “impacting” peace officers, including claims brought by organizations representing peace officers.  They also pointed out that courts have heard disputes brought by employee organizations that represent peace officers, which demonstrates that courts, and not PERB, have jurisdiction over such cases. 

The ALJ rejected the County’s argument, stating explicitly that PERB has jurisdiction over claims brought by employee organizations, including those representing peace officers.  In doing so, the ALJ followed precedent set in Santa Clara (2015) PERB Decision No. 2431-M.  In Santa Clara, the Board held that PERB has authority to hear charges brought by employee organizations, “including employee organizations representing or seeking to represent units including persons who are peace officers.” 

The Board affirmed the ALJ’s holding, stating again that PERB has primary jurisdiction over claims brought by employee organizations covered by the MMBA, including those that represent bargaining units composed partially or entirely of peace officers.

In its reasoning, the Board conducted a thorough statutory interpretation analysis of Government Code § 3511.  The plain language of § 3511 clearly states that § 3509 “shall not apply to persons who are peace officers.”  The Board emphasized that this reference to “persons” clearly means natural persons rather than associations or organizations, as the MMBA frequently articulates the difference between people and organizations, and thus would have done so here if both were intended to be included.  Further, whether the complainant is a person or an organization is dispositive when it comes to PERB standing, so the Legislature would have mentioned both if that was their intent.  Previous drafts of § 3511 referenced “any recognized employee organization representing persons who are peace officers” instead of “persons who are peace officers,” demonstrating that the Legislature was aware of the difference between the two and intentionally changed it to exclude organizations. 

The Board also pointed out that accepting the County’s argument would lead to absurd results when it comes to the use of factfinding panels to aid in the resolution of bargaining disputes between employee organizations and public agencies.  When public employers and employee organizations are unable to reach agreement, they may request that their differences be submitted to a factfinding panel.  PERB is required to be involved in these factfinding panels by selecting a neutral chairperson.  This process is available to all public employee organizations without regard to whether the employee organization represents peace officers.  Thus, if the County’s interpretation was correct, PERB would be involved in factfinding panels for employee organizations representing peace officers, but would not have the jurisdiction to otherwise be involved.

Finally, in addressing the County’s arguments, the Board soundly rejected the idea that § 3511 meant to exclude all cases “impacting” peace officers.  The Board held that the County had placed too much weight on a footnote in Association v. County of El Dorado (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 950, which cited § 3511 as authority for the statement that “labor disputes relating to peace officers… are not subject to PERB jurisdiction.”  The Board argued that this footnote was an unnecessary explanatory comment not related to the issue of that case, and thus was merely dicta with no binding authority. 

After making the determination that PERB indeed had jurisdiction over the case, the Board turned to examine whether the County had committed an unfair labor practice.  Ultimately, both the ALJ and Board dismissed the Association’s claim on its merits, stating that the changes the County made to OIR policy fell outside the scope of representation and was inadequate to support a claim that the County made an unlawful unilateral change. 

This case serves an important reminder that while Government Code § 3511 excludes from PERB’s jurisdiction claims brought by Penal Code § 830.1 peace officers, PERB has primary jurisdiction over claims brought by employee organizations covered by the MMBA, including those that represent peace officers. This includes organizations that represent or seek to represent bargaining units composed partially or entirely of § 830.1 peace officers.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

ACLU Opposes SB 230 Arguing Officers Should Be Mandated to Subject Themselves to Additional Risk to Avoid Using Force

While AB 392 reaches the Governor's desk, the ACLU is seeking to prevent SB 230 from also becoming state law.

Law Enforcement stakeholders dropped their opposition to AB 392 when it was amended to eliminate the provisions that would have denied officers' the right of self-defense if any alternative tactics could be conjured up after the fact.  Instead the bill authorizes deadly force where necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person or toapprehend a fleeing felon who poses imminent threat unless immediately apprehended.

SB 230, which mandates minimum standards and training beyond the requirements of the Penal Code, was unanimously approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety over the objections of the ACLU.  Tellingly, the ACLU's opposition to SB 230 directly contradicts one of the purported objectives of AB 392--making officers safer.  Dr. Weber agreed, stating “I kept saying this bill will make it safe behind and in front of the badge.”  ACLU attorney Peter Bibring argues that SB 230 conflicts with AB 392 because the SB 230 defines alternatives to force as being "feasible" only when such tactics do not increase the risks to officers, who are already subjected to a dangerous situation.

Despite the fact that SB 230 has long contained this definition (AB 392 has never defined feasible), the ACLU raised last-minute demands to amend SB 230 to require officers to accept additional risks to their own safety in order to avoid using force against the suspect who is placing them and/or citizens in danger. Bebring claims, “Both bills direct officers to de-escalate or use other tactics besides deadly force when it’s feasible to do so. But the definition of ‘feasible’ in this bill is so strict, by requiring no increase in risk to officers — even a reasonable increase — that it makes that requirement in this bill very weak and would undermine the requirement in AB 392.” 

PORAC and Cal Chief's, as well as Senator Caballero have refused these ACLU amendments.  At the Public Safety Committee hearing, Chair Reggie Jones-Sawyer conveyed his displeasure with the ACLU's untimely, last-minute objections and urged unanimous support from the Committee--which he received.

WATCH the Committee hearing here.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Governor Newsom Eliminates Critical Ambiguity for Public Records Requests

Last week, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 94 as part of the new State Budget. SB 94 cleans up ambiguity found in amendments to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”) which are set to go into effect today.

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Starting today (July 1, 2019) government agencies must begin disclosing audio and video recordings from use of forces and officer involved shootings. Under the original amendments to the CPRA, an agency may withhold a recording if the disclosure would violate the privacy interest of a person depicted in the recording. However, the agency must disclose the recording to the person whose privacy is being protected.

At the same time, the original amendments allowed disclosure of the recordings to be delayed for up to a year if such a disclosure would undermine an active criminal or administrative investigation. This created an obvious ambiguity. For example, if a certain public records request was made an agency would could have been required to disclose the video to a person whose privacy is being protected even if that agency wished to delay disclosure due to a criminal or administrative investigation. SB 94 corrects this ambiguity. Due to SB 94 being signed into law, the agency must now only provide an estimated date for the disclosure of the video or audio recording to the person whose privacy is being implicated if it would interfere with a criminal or administrative investigation.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Court of Appeals Clarifies that Denial of Promotion Based on Behavior Occurring Prior to a Probationary Promotion Does Not Trigger Appeal Rights Under POBRA.

A recently published case from the Second District Court of Appeals, clarifies when a probationary employees is entitled to appeal rights under the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights (“POBRA”). In Conger v. County of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department rescinded Thomas Conger’s probationary promotion to lieutenant based on investigatory findings that he had failed to report a use of force occurring several months before his probationary promotion.

Conger argued that rescinding his promotion based on alleged conduct occurring before he was elevated to his probationary position constituted a demotion or a “denial of promotion on grounds other than merit,” thus entitling him to an administrative appeal under POBRA.  However, the appellate court disagreed. It held that the Department’s decision to deny him a promotion was in fact “merit-based.” Specifically, the court noted that Conger did not dispute that the Department concluded he had failed to document a use of force. For that reason, the Court found that the reason was in fact “merit-based.” Thus, under the language of the statute, Conger was not entitled to an administrative appeal even if the Department deliberately chose to deny his promotion as a substitute for punitive action. Here it is also important to note that the Court clarified that Conger did not yet have a “vested property interest” in his promoted position, thus POBRA’s appeal rights would also not apply.

Lastly, the Court made a specific finding that Conger has failed to show that the written evaluation detailing his unreported use of force would impact his career adversely in the future apart from the loss of his probationary position.

The entire case can be read here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

CalPERS Board of Administration Cracks Down on Employers and Third-Party Independent Contractor Agreements.

In a recent published decision by the CalPERS Board of Administration, a warning shot was fired to third party contractors attempting to skirt CalPERS contributions.  The case, Fuller v. Cambria Services began in early 2014 after Cambria Community Services District’s (“CCSD”) long-time Finance Manager gave a 30-day notice that he was retiring.

The notice came at a time when CCSD was starting an emergency water project requiring the immediate assistance of another skilled financial manager. Tracy Fuller was hired CCSD to fill that role. However, she was hired through Regional Government Services (RGS) as an interim replacement. RGS provides individuals, mostly professionals, to small and midsize public agencies to perform work.

RGS itself is not a CalPERS covered agency. RGS classifies individuals as employees of RGS and itself as an independent contractor of the CalPERS covered agencies, thereby seeking to avoid the application of CalPERS pension laws to the individuals' work assignments. RGS currently provides individuals to about 100 public agencies, and has served about 225 public agencies since it started operating in January 2002.

CCSD treated her as an employee of RGS and did not offer her membership in CalPERS or any other retirement or health benefits. CCSD also did not require Fuller to complete its standard new employee documentation or give her a typical new employee orientation. She was given an office, phone, access to some CCSD computer systems, and a CCSD email address, but no laptop computer unlike other CCSD management personnel.

In July 2015, CalPERS sent CCSD a draft audit report stating that Fuller should have been enrolled in CalPERS as an eligible employee under the "common law test of employment." CCSD responded that Fuller was not an employee of CCSD, but of RGS.

After examining all the evidence, the CalPERS Review Board determined Fuller was an employee of CCSD who should have been enrolled into CalPERS membership when she worked as CCSD's Interim Finance Manager. In a well drafted 14-page decision, the Board clearly established that Fuller was CCSD's employee for purposes of membership in CalPERS and should have been enrolled.

Specifically, the evidence established that CCSD had the right to control the manner and means by which Fuller accomplished the result desired, which is the principal test of an employment relationship. In fact, CCSD explicitly chose Fuller for the assignment, and RGS lacked the authority to reassign Fuller without CCSD's consent. At the same time, CCSD could end Fuller's services at any time by requesting a reassignment or terminating its agreement with RGS.

Finally, CCSD should have reasonably been expected to have known of the enrollment requirement since it was filling a longtime employee position, albeit on an interim basis. Accordingly, CCSD was ordered to pay arrears costs for member contributions and administrative costs of $500 due to the error.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Probable Cause Will Generally Defeat A Claim of Retaliatory Arrest

On May 28th, the U.S Supreme Court released it much anticipated ruling in the case of Nieves v. Bartlett. The case arrived before the Supreme Court after Bartlett was arrested in 2014 by police Officers Luis Nieves and Bryce Weight. He was arrested based on probable cause for harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The arrest came after Bartlett allegedly interfered with officers investigating a case of suspected underage drinking. The details are disputed, including whether, after handcuffing Bartlett, Officer Nieves said: “Bet you wish you would have talked to me now.”

Although the charges against Bartlett were eventually dropped, he filed suit against both officers. He claimed his free speech rights were violated. The 9th Circuit in San Francisco ruled that the lawsuit could go forward despite the fact that there was probable cause to make an arrest. Specifically, the lower court ruled that based on Sergeant Nieves’s alleged statement to of “bet you wish you would have talked to me now,” a reasonable jury could find both officers arrested Bartlett in retaliation for his refusal to answer Sergeant Nieves’s questions earlier in the evening. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that “if there was probable cause to make the arrest, that generally will be enough to keep a lawsuit from moving forward...otherwise...policing certain events like an unruly protest would pose overwhelming litigation risks…any in artful turn of phrase or perceived slight during a legitimate arrest could land an officer in years of litigation.”