Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Court Holds FFBOR Applies to Charter Cities

In International Association of Firefighters, Local 230 v. City of San Jose (May 24, 2011), the Court of Appeal ruled the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights Act (FFBOR) applies to charter cities, even if it conflicts with a city’s charter.

After FFBOR was enacted in 2008, Local 230 requested the City meet and confer over how it would be implemented. However, the City refused, claiming it was exempt from FFBOR because it is a charter city. The City claimed the “home rule” provisions of the California Constitution meant the city charter trumped conflicting state laws, including FFBOR.

The California Constitution gives charter cities special powers to “make and enforce all ordinances and regulations in respect to municipal affairs, subject only to restrictions and limitations provided in their several charters…” (Cal. Const. art. XI, § 5.) Charter cities have claimed this provision means they do not have to follow the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBR). Courts, however, have rejected these claims. The Court of Appeal looked to those cases to decide whether charter cities have to comply with FFBOR.

In Baggett v. Gates (1982) 32 Cal.3d 128, the California Supreme Court decided the “home rule” provision of the state Constitution applies to issues that are “strictly municipal affairs,” but not “matters of statewide concern.” The Court of Appeal used the same analysis in Baggett and applied it to FFBOR. The Court noted stable labor relations with public employers, including firefighters, are a matter of statewide concern. It also gave “great weight” to the Legislature’s finding FFBOR addresses a matter of statewide concern.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Supreme Court Upholds California Prison Inmate Cap

The United States Supreme Court upheld a three-judge court's prison population cap, "gambling with the safety of the people of California." In Brown v. Plata (May 23, 2011), ---S.Ct. ---, the Court upheld a special three-judge court's order California reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years. As a result, the State must reduce the prison population by approximately 37,000 inmates.

Justice Kennedy wrote for the five member majority, arguing the State failed to provide prisoners with basic sustenance, including medical care, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  The Court affirmed the three-judge court's conclusion clear and convincing evidence showed only a population cap addressed the violations. Justices Scalia and Alito wrote separate dissents, arguing the three-judge court exceeded its authority under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and gave too little weight to the risks to public safety.

Justice Scalia described the cap as “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.”  He questioned why releasing “fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym” would help “prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness.”  Scalia further criticized the three-judge court for "relying largely on their own beliefs about penology and recidivism" and characterizing their opinions as factual findings subject to deference on review.  In Scalia's view, the Court's decision permits "the policy preferences of three District Judges [to] govern the operation of California’s penal system."

Justice Alito echoed Scalia's concerns, noting the "Constitution does not give federal judges the authority to run state penal systems."  Alito cautioned releasing "the equivalent of three Army divisions" from California prisons may "lead to a grim roster of victims." He noted in an 18-month period following similar inmate release in the 1990s, "the Philadelphia police rearrested thousands [] for committing 9,732 new crimes [including] 79 murders, 90 rapes, 1,113 assaults, 959 robberies, 701 burglaries, and 2,748 thefts, not to mention thousands of drug offenses."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Court of Appeals: Individuals' Pension Benefits Public Record

The Third District Court of Appeals ruled today that the California Public Records Act requires county retirement boards to disclose the names and corresponding pension amounts of its members.  The case arose from a newspaper's public record request to a county retirement board organized under the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937.

Government Code Section 31532 provides “Sworn statements and individual records of members shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed to anyone except insofar as may be necessary for the administration of this chapter or upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction, or upon written authorization by the member.” The court held pension amounts are not construed as part of the phrase “individual records of members.” The court construed the “phrase narrowly to mean data filed with SCERS by a member or on a member’s behalf, not broadly to encompass all data held by SCERS that pertains to a member” and rejected arguments that the privacy interests served by non-disclosure outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure. Retirement system members’ address, phone number, and social security numbers remain confidential.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Court Holds LAPD Failed to Accommodate Disabled Police Officer

In Cuiellette v. City of Los Angeles (April 22, 2011) --- Cal.App.4th ---, the Second District of the Court of Appeal held the Los Angeles Police Department liable for disability discrimination after it terminated a disabled police officer.

LAPD police officer Rory Cuiellette worked for the Department for several years before he was injured on the job and placed on disability leave. He was found 100% disabled on his workers’ compensation claim and remained on leave for several months before contacting the Department about coming back to work.   His doctor said he could do administrative work only.  The Department assigned him to the Fugitive Warrant Unit in a “purely administrative assignment requiring no field work other than occasionally driving to a nearby courthouse.”  However, after just a couple of days, the Department sent him home because he was found 100% disabled.

The Court held the LAPD’s actions constituted disability discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act because the City failed to accommodate Officer Cuiellette’s disability.  A jury decided the LAPD failed to accommodate Cuiellette and awarded $1,571,500 in damages.  On appeal the City argued Cuiellette’s disability meant he could not perform all of the “essential duties” of police officers and therefore the City had no choice but to let him go.  The Court disagreed, noting the LAPD had several permanent “‘light duty’ assignments…for the specific purpose of accommodating disabled officers who wanted to continue to work.”

In reaching its decision, the Court relied heavily on a similar case involving a firefighter.  In Stone v. City of Mount Vernon (2nd Cir. 1997) 118 F.3d 92, a firefighter was injured in an off-duty accident.  After rehabilitation, he asked to work light duty in the Department’s Fire Alarm Bureau.  The Fire Department refused, claiming firefighters had to be able to do fire suppression even if it was not their primary job.  However, the Court decided the real question was whether a firefighter could do a particular assignment, noting other people spent their career in the Fire Alarm Bureau without doing fire suppression.   In both cases, the Court stressed permanent light duty work was available.  The Court noted the outcome might be different if the LAPD only had temporary light duty positions for police officers.