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Monarch Fire Protection District v. Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

July 26, 2016

MONARCH FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
PROFESSIONAL FIRE FIGHTERS OF EASTERN MISSOURI LOCAL 2665, OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE FIGHTERS (I.A.F.F.), ANDY STECKO, NICK SMITH, AND CHRIS GELVEN, Defendants/Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Joseph L. Walsh, III

          LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Monarch Fire Protection District, appeals the grant of summary judgment entered by the Circuit Court of St. Louis County in favor of the defendants, Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665, of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Andy Stecko, Nick Smith, and Chris Gelven (collectively "the union"), and the corresponding denial of the district's own motion for summary judgment in this case interpreting the parties' collective-bargaining agreement.

         Because the agreement has a fixed duration and does not impermissibly delegate the legislative function of the district's publicly elected board of directors, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Monarch Fire Protection District is a fire-protection district, duly organized and existing pursuant to Missouri statute and operating within St. Louis County. In accordance with section 321.200 RSMo. (Supp. 2014), the district has a board of directors that meets regularly and exercises all powers of the board. The board consists of three directors, and elections for the board are held every two years. The board's powers include the power to adopt fire protection and prevention ordinances, and any other rules and regulations necessary to carry out the business, objects, and affairs of the board and the district. Section 321.600(12) RSMo. (2000).[1]The board's powers also include management, control, and supervision of all business affairs of the district; hiring and retaining agents, employees, engineers, and attorneys, including part-time or volunteer firefighters; and exercising all rights and powers necessary or incidental to or implied from the specific powers granted by statute. See generally sections 321.220 RSMo. (Supp. 2013) and 321.600.

         The union is an unincorporated association, certified by the State Board of Mediation as the collective bargaining representative for the district's privates, engineers, firefighters/ paramedics, captains, paramedic shift supervisors, probationary firefighters/paramedics, fire inspectors, secretaries, and maintenance personnel.

         After months of good-faith negotiation, the district and the union reached a collective-bargaining agreement that took effect January 1, 2011 for a period of three years, up to and including December 31, 2013. Section 5.02 of the agreement states:

This Collectively Bargained Agreement shall take effect as of January 1, 2011, and shall continue in full force and effect for a period of approximately three (3) years to and including December 31, 2013.
Should a single significant issue arise that one or both parties believe warrants the reopening of the agreement, the agreement may be reopened for re-negotiation of specific items, on such terms, as long as both parties in writing give forty-five (45) days' notice.
This Agreement shall remain in effect during good faith negotiations and shall continue to remain in full force and effect until such time as a new Agreement is agreed upon.

         The agreement was presented to the district's board of directors, and a majority of the board adopted the agreement as Ordinance No. 28.

         At the heart of the parties' dispute lies section 5.02, paragraph 3 of the collective-bargaining agreement-language added at the insistence of the district-that provides as follows:

This Agreement shall remain in effect during good faith negotiations and shall continue to remain in full force and effect until such time as a new Agreement is agreed upon.

         On December 11, 2013, the district filed its petition seeking a declaratory judgment that section 5.02, paragraph 3 of the agreement is void, unenforceable, and against public policy and that the section renders the agreement a contract of indefinite duration, which would hence be terminable at will by either party. The union filed a ...


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