Firefighter collaterally estopped from challenging compelled arbitration for health benefits says San Antonio Court of Appeals

City of San Antonio v. Gerard Cortes, 04-14-00301-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, April 29, 2015)

This is a civil service/collective bargaining case involving the City’s motion to compel arbitration which the court of appeals agreed should be granted.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) for the firefighters sets forth health benefits for employees like Cortes. Cortes received a letter advising his dependents needed to go through the verification process for eligibility. Cortes alleges the directive for verification implied disciplinary action if he did not comply, but that such directive was contrary Texas law. He filed suit alleging the City unilaterally altered his health benefits.  The City filed a motion to abate and compel arbitration which the trial court denied. The City appealed.

The City asserted Cortes’s claims are identical to those already brought by the Union and are related to the same CBA.  In the Union’s suit, the Fourth Court of Appeals previously held the claims must be submitted to arbitration.  The City asserts Cortes is in privity with the Union under the CBA and therefore res judicata and collateral estoppel prevents Cortes from relitigating the issue of compelled arbitration.  The Fourth Court held even though Cortes added a slightly different claim, the fact he is challenging the same CBA provision and the factual context of his claims still place his suit within the issue preclusion framework. Even though the Union’s suit has not resulted in a final judgment yet, the issue of compelled arbitration was procedurally defined and ruled upon in the interlocutory opinion in that case.  As a result, it is a final determination on that issue for collateral estoppel purposes. And since union members are in privity with their union, Cortes is collaterally estopped from challenging the issue of compelled arbitration. The denial of the motion to abate and to compel arbitration is reversed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Justice Angelini, Justice Barnard, and Justice Alvarez. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Angelini.  The attorney for Cortes is listed as Ricky James Poole.  The attorneys listed for the City are Deborah Lynne Klein, Michael David Siemer, Jacqueline M. Stroh, and Kenneth L. Clark.

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