Daily Journal Names Vergara Decision Top Appellate Verdict of 2016

In its annual review of the largest and most significant verdicts and appellate reversals in California, The Daily Journal named Altshuler Berzon LLP’s victory in Vergara v. California as the top appellate reversal of 2016.

The plaintiffs in Vergara had sued the State of California, several state officials, and three school districts in 2012, alleging that five statutes that provide California public school teachers with certain job security protections after a two-year probationary period violated the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution by causing students to be assigned to “grossly ineffective teachers” in violation of their fundamental right to educational equality.  The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, intervened to help the State defend the statutes’ constitutionality.

After an eight-week trial, the trial court invalidated all five statutes.  The Court of Appeal unanimously reversed, ordering judgment to be entered in favor of the State and the teacher union intervenors, and against the plaintiffs.  The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs’ equal protection theories were fundamentally flawed, and that the challenged statutes do not violate equal protection because the statutes do not require different treatment of any identifiable groups of students, do not cause any school district to hire, fire, or assign any particular teacher to any particular student, and do not result in disproportionate assignment of less effective teachers to low-income or minority students.  Plaintiffs filed a petition requesting that the California Supreme Court review the Court of Appeal’s decision, but the Supreme Court denied that petition on August 22, 2016.

Altshuler Berzon LLP partners Michael Rubin, Stacey Leyton, Eileen Goldsmith, and Casey Pitts principally handled the appeal for the teachers unions and were featured in The Daily Journal’s article on the Vergara victory.

District Court Rejects EPA’S Attempt to Avoid Federal Oversight of California Water Quality

In a victory for environmental groups seeking to protect healthy rivers and endangered species, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today denied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that it has failed to carry out its duty to enforce the Clean Water Act.

In Natural Resources Defense Council v. McCarthy, three environmental groups filed suit alleging that, since 2014, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has waived water quality standards in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary 14 separate times, causing severe damage to a fragile ecosystem providing habitat for dozens of endangered plants and animals, including several salmon species.  Their complaint, filed against the EPA, alleges that the EPA failed to carry out its mandatory duty under the Clean Water Act to review any revision to state water quality standards to ensure that the revised standards meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.  EPA filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the SWRCB’s waivers are not subject to federal oversight and do not qualify as revisions because they were temporary in duration.

The District Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor.  The Court explained that EPA has a clear statutory responsibility to review any revision to water quality standards and that EPA had failed to demonstrate that the waivers – although temporary in duration – do not effectively revise California’s water quality standards.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represents Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the litigation.

District Court Rejects Challenge to Law Prohibiting Unilateral Deductions from Worker Paychecks on Public Work

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California today granted motions to dismiss challenges to California Senate Bill 954 (2016), which prohibits contractors on public work from unilaterally reducing workers’ wages by taking credit for payments to industry advancement funds.  Under Senate Bill 954, contractors may only take credit for industry advancement payments that are required by a collective bargaining agreement with the workers’ representative.

In ABC-Contractor Cooperation Committee v. Becerra, a contractor and an industry advancement fund alleged that Senate Bill 954 is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and violates the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause.  The District Court rejected the challenges, concluding that Congress did not intend to prevent the States from allowing minimum labor standards to be varied by collective bargaining agreements and that the California statute does not restrain free speech or impermissibly discriminate.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California in defending the law.

 

Ninth Circuit Stays District Court Injunction Against California Law that Requires Payment of Prevailing Wages to Ready-Mix Drivers

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a stay of a District Court injunction that prevented enforcement of a new California law that requires suppliers of ready-mix concrete to public work to pay ready-mix drivers at least the prevailing wage.

In Allied Concrete v. Baker, a group of ready-mix suppliers assert a constitutional challenge to California Assembly Bill 219 (2015), which applies the prevailing wage law to ready-mix drivers working for commercial suppliers.  The District Court denied the motion of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to intervene to defend the statute and then issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting state officials from enforcing the statute, reasoning that there are “serious questions” about whether the law violates equal protection.  The Teamsters filed an immediate appeal and joined state officials in seeking a stay of the preliminary injunction, which the Ninth Circuit granted.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represents the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the action.

District Court Upholds California Refinery Safety Law

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California upheld California’s refinery safety law, Senate Bill 54, which allows refineries to use outside construction contractors to perform onsite work only if those contractors use a skilled and trained workforce. The Legislature found that the use of unskilled workers at the refineries is a threat to public health and safety and to the environment.

Two contractors sought to overturn the law, arguing that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, and that SB 54 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The District Court entered summary judgment for the Defendants, holding that the Plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their constitutional Equal Protection claim, and that their preemption claims lacked merit. The Court explained that the Legislature has the power to pass laws to protect public health and safety, including SB 54, which was passed in the wake of the 2012 explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented the State Building and Construction Trades Council, which intervened on the side of the State to defend the law.

Federal Court Grants Preliminary Injunction Restoring Voting Rights to Thousands of North Carolinians in Advance of the November 8 Election

The United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina today issued a preliminary injunction requiring the State Board of Elections and three North Carolina counties to restore the voter registrations of approximately 4,000 individuals whose registrations had been cancelled in the final weeks and months before the election based on an alleged change in residence. These voters were purged as a result of mass challenges filed by private parties based solely on a single piece of mail sent to the voters that had been returned as undeliverable, even though in many cases the voters had not changed their residence or had simply moved to a different residence within the same county and thus remained eligible to vote. County boards of elections purged many challenged voters unless they appeared at a hearing in person or submitted affidavits to defend their eligibility to vote. The court ruled that these cancellations of voter registrations were likely unlawful under two provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, one that prohibits “systematic[]” purges of voter rolls within the 90 days prior to a federal election and one that establishes a strict process, involving statutorily prescribed notice and a waiting period of at least two years, for cancelling a voter’s registration based on a change of residence.

Altshuler Berzon LLP, along with co-counsel, represents the plaintiffs, which include the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the Moore County Branch of the NAACP, and individuals whose eligibility to vote had been challenged.

California Supreme Court Denies Review in Vergara

The California Supreme Court today declined to review the California Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision in Vergara et al. v. California et al., Case No. B258589, which reversed a Los Angeles Superior Court decision invalidating five statutes governing the employment of California public school teachers.

The Vergara plaintiffs sued the State of California, several state officials, and three school districts in 2012, alleging that five statutes that provide California public school teachers with certain job security protections after a two-year probationary period violated the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution by causing students to be assigned to “grossly ineffective teachers” in violation of their fundamental right to educational equality. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, intervened to help the State defend the statutes’ constitutionality.

After an eight-week trial, the trial court invalidated all five statutes. The Court of Appeal unanimously reversed that decision and ordered judgment to be entered in favor of the State and the teacher union intervenors and against the plaintiffs. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs’ equal protection theories were fundamentally flawed, and that the challenged statutes do not violate equal protection, because the statutes do not require different treatment of any identifiable groups of students, do not cause any school district to hire, fire, or assign any particular teacher to any particular student, and do not result in disproportionate assignment of less effective students to low-income or minority students. Plaintiffs filed a petition requesting that the California Supreme Court review the Court of Appeal’s decision, but the Supreme Court today denied that petition. As a result, the case is now over.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers in the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.

Court Approves Consent Decree Resolving Hawaii Hospital Workers’ Suit

The United States District Court for the District of Hawaii approved and entered as its own order and final judgment a Consent Decree in United Public Workers v. Ige, a case involving the contract rights of public hospital workers impacted by legislation authorizing privatization of Maui County’s public healthcare facilities.

After signing into law Hawaii Act 103 (2015), the Governor of Hawaii entered into an agreement to transfer Maui County’s three healthcare facilities to Kaiser, which would terminate the public employment of the hospital workers, effective June 30, 2016. But United Public Workers, which represents about 500 workers at the hospitals, has collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the State that are effective through June 30, 2017. The Union filed suit to challenge the timing of the privatization as a violation of the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and moved to enjoin the privatization until expiration of its CBAs. After the district court dismissed the case on the pleadings, the Union sought emergency relief from the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit ordered expedited merits briefing and set the case for a prompt oral argument. After oral argument, the Ninth Circuit enjoined the privatization transaction pending a decision on the merits. Although the State sought reconsideration, the Ninth Circuit did not vacate its injunction.

The Union and the Governor reached a settlement fully resolving the Union’s claims before the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling on the merits. The Governor agreed to entry of a consent decree providing that, notwithstanding the transfer of the Maui hospitals to Kaiser (which is now scheduled to occur on November 6), the bargaining unit employees will remain public employees covered by the CBAs until the contracts expire, after which Kaiser must offer them at least six months of employment. The Consent Decree ensures that all bargaining unit members will continue to enjoy the full benefits and protections of their CBAs until June 30, 2017, and the additional year of public employment is equally crucial, particularly for those who otherwise would not vest in their pensions or become eligible for higher retirement benefits.

The district court vacated its original judgment and entered the Consent Decree as the final judgment of the Court. At the parties’ joint request, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot. Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with Honolulu-based Takahashi & Covert, represented the Union.

Federal Court Dismisses Chamber of Commerce Lawsuit Against Seattle

The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington today dismissed a lawsuit filed by the United States Chamber of Commerce against the City of Seattle challenging a new Seattle ordinance that permits independent contractors who drive for certain transportation companies within Seattle, including companies such as Uber and Lyft, to select an exclusive driver representative that will engage in collective negotiations regarding the terms and conditions of their contractual relationship with those transportation companies. The Chamber of Commerce, suing on behalf of its member companies including Uber, asserted that the ordinance is preempted by federal antitrust law and the National Labor Relations Act and violates federal and state antitrust laws and the Washington Public Records Act. The District Court concluded that the Chamber lacked standing to pursue its challenge because it could not show that any of its individual members was suffering present harm from the ordinance or faced a substantial risk of future injury from the ordinance.

Altshuler Berzon LLP along with the Seattle City Attorney’s office represented the City of Seattle in the District Court and served as counsel to the City in the drafting of the ordinance and its implementing regulations.

Sixth Circuit Overturns Longstanding Cap on Civil Rights Attorneys’ Fees Awards

The Sixth Circuit today overturned a rule that for three decades had capped the number of compensable hours incurred in public interest attorneys’ fees litigation to three percent of the hours incurred in litigating the underlying case. The rule had operated to encourage government defendants to engage in protracted litigation to challenge attorneys’ fees awards and resulted in inadequate compensation to attorneys for important civil rights work.

At the urging of plaintiffs’ counsel, who also successfully defended the bulk of the federal district court’s attorneys’ fees award in the underlying Ohio voting rights cases, the Sixth Circuit held that a 1990 Supreme Court decision not previously considered by the 6th Circuit in its several cases reaffirming the 3% rule justified reconsideration of the rule, and that the legislative history of the federal civil rights statutes as well as policy considerations supported its abandonment.

Altshuler Berzon LLP along with Ohio counsel represented the plaintiffs in SEIU Local 1 v. Husted and The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless v. Husted.