Trial court without jurisdiction over hearing examiner under CBA

City of Beaumont v Beaumont Professional Firefighters Local 399, NO. 14-12-00059-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] April 30, 2013)

This is related to an appeal from a hearing examiner’s award in which the trial court determined it did not have jurisdiction pursuant to Tex. Local Gov’t Code § 143.057(j)(West 2011). The facts are relatively simple. A firefighter was injured on the job and remained on medical leave until his retirement (two years later).  Upon retirement he learned the City did not allow him to take or receive payment for 292 hours of vacation time since he did not take the vacation time in the year following having earned it. The hearing examiner ruled for the firefighter and Union.  The City appealed but the trial court dismissed the appeal noting it did not have jurisdiction since the question was not one relating to whether the hearing examiner exceeded jurisdiction.

The 14th District Court of Appeals wrote an opinion talking down to the City a little bit. The court first noted that appealing a hearing examiner’s ruling is different than appealing an arbitrator’s ruling under a CBA.  A hearing examiner exceeds her jurisdiction when her acts are not authorized by the Act or are contrary to it, or when they invade the policy-setting realm protected by the nondelegation doctrine.  In this case the court noted “The City entered into the CBA and agreed to be bound by its terms. The hearing examiner enforced those terms in a way the City does not like; she has not acted contrary to the CBA.”  The court noted that simply because the City believes the hearing examiner made the wrong decision does not mean she exceeded her authority.

The hearing examiner’s opinion stated even though the CBA states vacation time must be taken the following year “nothing in the CBA states that earned vacation time or allowance is lost and may not be taken if an employee is on disability leave. Nor does the CBA state that vacation time or allowance may not be taken simultaneously with disability leave.”  As a result, the hearing examiner’s award to the firefighter stands and the district court’s dismissal is affirmed.

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