Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Court of Appeal Strikes Down Law Allowing It To Directly Review ALRB Decisions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A statute permitting the Court of Appeal to directly review decisions of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board is unconstitutional, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The justices overturned a Fresno Superior Court judge’s ruling that he lacked jurisdiction to hear a dispute over whether mediation sessions mandated by statute in farm labor contract disputes must be open to the public. It will be up to the trial judge to determine the first instance whether such sessions must be open, Justice Stephen Kane wrote.
Under the Alatorre-Zenovich-Dunlap-Berman Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, a grower or a union representing its employees may, if certain conditions are met, ask for “mandatory mediation and conciliation,” or MMC. Under this process, the parties are allowed 30 days to complete mediation, otherwise, the mediator becomes a factfinder and must recommend terms of a proposed collective bargaining agreement.
If the ALRB approves the mediator’s findings and report, the proposed CBA is imposed on the parties.
Yesterday’s ruling arose out of an MMC process between Gerawan Farming, Inc. and the United Farm Workers.
A Gerawan employee, Lupe Garcia, requested that the ALRB authorize him to attend the “on-the-record”, or fact-finding, MMC sessions as an observer. Garcia argued that there is a constitutional right of access to such proceedings.
The ALRB denied the request, and broadly ruled that there is no constitutional right of public access to the sessions.
Gerawan and Garcia both took the position that the sessions should be open. Gerawan filed an action for declaratory relief and damages against the board in Fresno Superior Court, and Garcia filed a complaint-in intervention in that proceeding.
The board demurred under Labor Code §1164.9, which was added to the 1975 act by a 2002 amendment, and which gives the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court the sole jurisdiction to review ALRB decisions or enjoin its proceedings.
Judge Mark W. Snauffer rejected the plaintiffs’ challenges to the statute and sustained the board’s demurrer.
In defending the statute, the board cited rulings upholding similar laws providing for exclusive review in the appellate courts of rulings of other agencies, such as the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
Kane, however, in his opinion for the Court of Appeal, said that §1164.9 violates Art. VI, §10 of the state Constitution, which grants superior courts original jurisdiction of “all…causes,” with the exception of proceedings for writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, and prohibition, as to which the superior courts, courts of appeal, and Supreme Court have concurrent jurisdiction.
The appellate courts, Kane acknowledged, have upheld exceptions to the superior courts’ exclusive jurisdiction, “but only where the Legislature’s authority to enact such laws was found to be expressly or impliedly granted by other constitutional provisions.”
He cited a 1954 Supreme Court decision upholding the grant to the appellate courts of exclusive jurisdiction to review PUC decisions, based on the constitutional provision giving the commission plenary jurisdiction over the regulation and control of public utilities. He also noted that a similar ruling in 1913 had upheld the appellate courts’ exercise of exclusive jurisdiction to review decisions of the PUC’s predecessor, the Railroad Commission.
Similarly, a 1947 ruling upheld the appellate courts’ exclusive jurisdiction to review rulings of the Industrial Accident Commission—predecessor of the WCAB—and a 1968 decision upheld similar jurisdiction over challenges to ABC rulings, Kane said. In each instance, he explained, the agency involved was granted comprehensive powers over a specific subject area.
“Conspicuously running through the above cases is a common test or standard that was applied to determine the constitutionality of the enactment at issue,” he wrote. “Each decision upholding a statutory elimination of the superior court’s original jurisdiction to review certain administrative decisions was premised explicitly on provisions in the Constitution empowering the Legislature to enact the statute in question. In other words, a statute that divests the superior court of its original jurisdiction granted under article VI, section 10 of the California Constitution will be upheld only if the authority to enact such a law is expressly or impliedly conferred on the Legislature by other constitutional provisions.”
He rejected the board’s argument that Art. IX, §1, granting the Legislature authority to enact minimum wage and “general welfare” legislation for the protection of workers, implicitly authorizes legislation like §1164.9. While the provision does give lawmakers a “general grant of authority” to create an entity like the ALRB, it does not imply that they may give the appellate courts exclusive jurisdiction to review that entity’s decisions, the justice said.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Kane said the trial judge was correct in sustaining the demurrer with respect to the damages claims, brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983, because the board members were sued in their official capacities, in which they have absolute immunity.
The case is Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, F069896.
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