Thursday, January 4, 2007

Prince George's County v. Fraternal Order of Police (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed January 4, 2007--Opinion by Judge Timothy Meredith.

In 2004, the P.G. County Chief of Police established a new promotion policy, based on the "Rule of 3," wherein promotions would be an officer selected by the Chief from among the top three eligible candidates, rather than promoting the top scoring candidate as had been the previous practice. The local FOP chapter ("FOP 89") filed a grievance, claiming a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. The appeal was denied by the Labor Commissioner. FOP 89 then filed a request for arbitration of the denial, and in March of 2005 the arbitrator found a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, required the promotion of the highest candidate on the eligibility list, and ordered the retroactive promotion of any officer passed over by out-of-order promotions.

Prince George's County (the "County") petitioned the local Circuit Court to vacate the arbitration award; the Circuit Court affirmed the arbitrator's decision, whereupon the County appealed.

On its own, the Court of Special Appeals (the "Court") raised the issue of mootness, since the collective bargaining agreement at issue had expired in 2005, thus rendering the matter at issue moot. The Court noted an exception to the rule that courts are not to decide academic or moot questions where there is no longer an existing controversy, if there is a public benefit to be derived from deciding a matter of important public interest raised, for the guidance of courts and litigants in the future. The Court noted that the collective bargaining agreement at issue here had subsequently been renegotiated, and that the County had resisted a clarification of the section at issue urged by FOP 89 and instead the existing language had been continued. Thus, the Court found justification to address the issues raised, even though moot in this case.

The Court had little difficulty finding that arbitration was required in this case, noting that arbitration is a favored remedy, and that in the case of ambiguity over the scope of matters subject to arbitration, the arbitrator and not the courts should initially determine the matter. Upon review, the Court found the dispute was within the scope of the arbitration provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

Turning to the arbitration award itself, the Court noted that mere errors of law or fact would not ordinarily justify vacating or refusing to enforce an arbitration award, but only if the award is base on fraud, misconduct. bias, prejudice, corruption or lack of good faith on the part of the arbitrator, or if the award is contrary to a clear public policy, or if beyond the scope of the issues submitted or failing to consider all matters submitted, or to correct a mistake of form such as an evident miscalculation of figures. The Court found nothing to support the contention that the award was a mistake so gross as to work a manifest injustice or contained a palpable mistake of law or fact, or that the arbitrator's decision was completely irrational. Contrary to the County's contention that provisions of county law supersede, interpret, or limit the interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, the Court found that the terms of such collective bargaining agreements are explicitly incorporated into and supersede inconsistent provisions of the county law.

Although the technical ruling of the Court was a dismissal on the basis of mootness, after considering the merits of the issues raised the Court upheld the arbitration award on all counts.

The full opinion is available in WordPerfect and PDF.

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