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Professional Firefighters of Eastern Missouri, International Association v. City of University City

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

March 7, 2017

PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS OF EASTERN MISSOURI, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS, LOCAL 2665, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
CITY OF UNIVERSITY CITY, MAYOR SHELLEY WELSCH, FIRE CHIEF ADAM LONG, CITY MANAGER LEHMAN WALKER, AND COUNCIL MEMBERS STEPHEN KRAFT, TERRY CROW, L. MICHAEL GLICKERT, PAULETTE CARR, ARTHUR SHARPE, JR., and ROD JENNINGS, Defendants/Respondents,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Tom W. DePriest, Jr.

          SHERRI B. SULLIVAN, P.J.

         Introduction

         Professional Firefighters of Eastern Missouri, International Association of Firefighters, Local 2665 (Appellant or Union) appeals from the trial court's declaratory judgment entered in favor of City of University City (City), Mayor Shelley Welsch (Mayor), Fire Chief Adam Long (Fire Chief), City Manager Lehman Walker (City Manager), and Council Members Stephen Kraft, Terry Crow, L. Michael Glickert, Paulette Carr, Arthur Sharpe, Jr., and Rod Jennings (Council Members) (collectively Respondents). We affirm.

          Procedural Background

         Union filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus against Respondents, requesting the court order Respondents to comply with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) entered into between City and Union, particularly those sections dictating the minimum staffing of City's Fire Department. The court issued a preliminary order in mandamus directing Respondents to file responsive pleadings and to appear for hearing. Union then filed its First Amended Petition for Declaratory Judgment against Respondents, requesting the court hold a hearing to determine City's obligations regarding minimum staffing of the Fire Department under the existing CBA, and City's obligations regarding hiring qualified personnel to ensure City maintains its contracted minimum level of staffing in the Fire Department.

         Respondents filed a Motion to Dismiss Union's Petition for Declaratory Judgment, to which Union filed a response. The court denied Respondents' Motion to Dismiss and held a trial on Union's Petition for Declaratory Judgment, at which testimony was adduced, evidence taken, and the parties filed trial briefs. The court then issued its Judgment, finding the language of the CBA regarding minimum staffing permits City to issue a reduction in force, which may have the effect of reducing the minimum number of personnel on duty. This appeal follows. Additional facts relevant to determining the merits of Union's appeal will be adduced as necessary later in this opinion.

         Point on Appeal

         Union maintains the trial court erred in finding Section 2.03 of the CBA allows City to issue a reduction in force reducing the minimum number of personnel on duty because the decision was against the weight of the evidence and erroneously applied the law, in that the language of the entire CBA, along with evidence presented regarding the intent of the parties in agreeing to the language of Section 2.03, dictates a finding that City is required to staff each crew on duty with 11 firefighter/paramedics regardless of whether or not a reduction in force is issued.

         Standard of Review

         The standard of review for a declaratory judgment action is the same as in any other court-tried case. Century Motor Corporation v. FCA U.S. LLC, 477 S.W.3d 89, 94 (Mo.App. E.D. 2015). The judgment will be affirmed unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Id. We apply de novo review to questions of law decided in court-tried cases. Id. The interpretation of a contract is a question of law. Systemaire, Inc. v. St. Charles County, 432 S.W.3d 783, 787 (Mo.App. E.D. 2014).

         Discussion

         On April 13, 2015, Union and City entered into the CBA. The CBA is a written contract between the parties setting forth the employment relationship between City and the firefighters. Article 2 - Working Conditions, Section 2.03 of the CBA, titled "Reduction In Force, " provides:

The City will maintain a staffing level of at least 11 personnel per crew on duty each day. However, in the event of a reduction in force, front-line employees assigned to a shift will be laid off by seniority regardless of job classification. Specifically exempt from this provision shall be 40-hour administrative employees, specifically the Fire Chief and Assistant Chief. Seniority is defined as length of continuous service from latest date of ...

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