Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Court of Appeal Upholds Union's Attorney Fees Award After City Failed to Meet and Confer

On September 15, 2014, in Indio Police Command Unit Association v. City of Indio, the California Court of Appeal upheld a $102,900 attorney fees award to a police officer association. The association obtained an injunction against the City of Indio for violating the MMBA meet and confer requirements.

In City of Indio, the City notified the Indio Police Command Unit Association that it planned to implement a "strategic reorganization" of the Department's command structure. The plan eliminated the Captain and four Lieutenant positions. The plan also reduced command staff from five sworn officers to two sworn officers and one unsworn supervisor. The Department's legal counsel claimed the decision to reorganize was not subject to the MMBA meet and confer requirements. The City agreed only to negotiate the impact of the reorganization. The association obtained an injunction preventing the City from implementing the reorganization plan until it met and conferred in good faith. The City finally complied and the parties reached an agreement.

The court awarded attorney fees to the association based on the private attorney general statute. The court found the association enforced important rights affecting the public interest. The court also found the litigation benefited not only the association and its members, but all other employee associations within the City. Awarding attorneys' fees in such cases encourages employee associations to enforce the MMBA, even when the financial burden of filing a lawsuit outweighs any possible recovery.