Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Court of Appeal Upholds Maywood’s Decision to Disband Its Police Department
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The City of Maywood legally disbanded its police department and is not liable to its former officers, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Maywood’s 2010 decision to turn law enforcement responsibility over to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was a legitimate response to the city’s fiscal crisis, Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst wrote in an unpublished opinion for Div. Two. The city’s need to respond to the emergency, she said, took precedence over the no-contracting-out provision in the city’s collectively bargained memorandum of understanding with its officers.
The city took the step after the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority cancelled Maywood’s $50 million-per-occurrence liability coverage and its $10 million- per-occurrence workers’ compensation coverage. The city incurred more than $18.8 million in general liability claims between 2005 and 2010, 92 percent of it related to the Police Department.
The CJPIA cited the city’s failure to meet the terms of a performance improvement plan that it had agreed to 11 months earlier. The police department was also the subject of a separate review by the state attorney general, conducted between 2007 and 2009, resulting in findings that it lacked oversight, used questionable hiring practices, failed to maintain written practices and procedures, and failed to investigate citizen complaints.
The solution, council members determined, was to lay off nearly of its employees—an action local government experts described as unprecedented in California—and turn policing over to the sheriff and the rest of its operations over to the neighboring City of Bell.
The city remained liable to the CJPIA, however, for more than $11 million for past coverage, at a time that is receipts were about $750,000 per month and its operating costs were more than $1 million monthly. After the decision to disband the Police Department was made, but before it took effect, the Maywood Police Officers Association and the Maywood Police Middle Management Association filed suit.
The unions sought a writ of mandate and/or an injunction seeking to block the handover to the sheriff. They subsequently filed an amended petition and complaint, asking the court to order that the department be reestablished and to award damages for breach of contract.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Meiers denied the writ and granted summary judgment in favor of the city.
Ashmann-Gerst, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the city had established, on the undisputed facts, the defenses of frustration of purpose, impracticability, and impossibility.
The city’s inability to get the insurance coverage situation under control, resulting in the cancellation of coverage, frustrated the purpose of the no-contracting-out provision, the justice said. She acknowledged that lack of supervision by the city, and its failure to retain qualified officers, contributed to the problems, but said “it was the officers who engaged in the misconduct leading to the civil rights violations and claims history.”
Ashmann-Gerst went on to say that the loss of insurance coverage made it impossible for the city to continue operating the department, rejecting the argument that Maywood, by extending the MOU with the MPOA while the CJPIA’s improvement plan was in effect, assumed the risk that it would lose the coverage.
The undisputed evidence, the justice explained, showed that the city agreed to the extension in order to improve its cash position, as the union agreed to give up a 2009 pay raise and to accept a salary adjustment in 2011, not because it anticipated losing its insurance coverage.
Union ‘Ignores Reality’
Another argument, that the city could have obtained alternative coverage in the commercial market or self-insured, was speculative and “ignores the reality of the CJPIA insurance,” the jurist said. In any event, she added, the city’s general fund was nearly $1 million in the red, and would “have been forced to choose between maintaining a police department without adequate insurance and risk exposing itself to bankruptcy, on the one hand, and being exposed to contract damages after making a last resort decision to disband the police department due to the loss of insurance and inability to obtain adequate replacement insurance, on the other hand.”
Disbanding the department, she wrote, was the sole means of assuring the citizens of police protection, excusing performance of the MOUs as a matter of law.
The case is City of Maywood v. Maywood Police Department, B256417.
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