Bradford v. City of Shreveport, s. 54965

CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana
Citation305 So.2d 487
Docket NumberNos. 54965,54966,s. 54965
Decision Date02 December 1974

Page 487

305 So.2d 487
W. C. BRADFORD et al.
Nos. 54965, 54966.
Supreme Court of Louisiana.
Dec. 2, 1974.
Rehearings Denied Jan. 17, 1975.

Page 488

Neil Dixon, Dixon, Thomas & Fleming, John Gallagher, Roland J. Achee, W. Gene Carlton, Shreveport, for defendant.

Robert G. Pugh, Pugh & Nelson, Shreveport, for plaintiffs.

Page 489

Troy E. Bain, Booth, Lockard, Jack, Pleasant & LeSage, Shreveport, for amicus curiae for Murton Edwards and others.

Hugh T. Ward, Peters, Ward & Miller, Shreveport, amici curiae for Professional Fire Fighters Ass'n of La., AFL-CIO & Shreveport Fire Fighters Ass'n Local No. 514, AFL-CIO in Support of W. C. Bradford and others.

MARCUS, Justice.

This action was instituted by 21 policemen employed by the Department of Public Safety for the City of Shreveport. Plaintiffs seek to recover the difference between their usual salary and overtime wages of one-and-a-half times their usual salary for hours worked in excess of 48 hours per week during a period extending from August 16, 1968 to April 30, 1971. Defendant filed a peremptory exception of prescription, alleging that all claims for wages earned more than one year before the suit were prescribed, a plea of estoppel by laches, and a general denial of liability for the overtime pay. After trial, the district court sustained defendant's plea of prescription, overruled the plea of estoppel by laches, and rendered judgment in favor of those plaintiffs who earned overtime wages within one year prior to suit. 1

Both the city and the policemen appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, which reversed the ruling of the district court sustaining defendant's exception of prescription and applied the doctrine of estoppel by laches to disallow plaintiffs' claims for overtime pay for hours worked prior to January 1, 1970. Bradford v. City of Shreveport, 294 So.2d 855 (La.App.2d Cir. 1974). Upon the applications of both sides to the dispute, we granted certiorari. 299 So.2d 351 (La. 1974).

The facts giving rise to this controversy are not in dispute. In 1968, a group of black women residing in a predominantly black area of Shreveport approached the chief of the Shreveport police department to complain of frequent burglaries and assaults in that area and to request increased police protection. After a series of informal meetings among the police chief, the Commissioner of Public Safety, and black members of the police force, it was decided that, to avoid exacerbating prevailing racial tension in the area, the increased patrols should be comprised of black police officers. However, because the number of blacks on the force was insufficient to man an appropriate number of three eight-hour shifts per day, it was suggested that patrols be divided into twelve-hour shifts, which would better utilize available manpower.

In a meeting with most of the black officers, the police chief outlined the suggested plan. The twelve-hour shifts were to be filled on a voluntary basis only, and overtime pay for the additional hours was to be at the same rate as the usual salary. The response to the plan was favorable, as the officers welcomed the opportunity to earn extra wages. Thus, nearly all of the black officers volunteered for the extra duty. The twelve-hour patrols commenced on August 16, 1968 and continued through April 30, 1971. At that time, it was no longer considered feasible to continue the overtime plan, as the voters of the city failed to approve a tax renewal that would have provided necessary funds to finance the extra salaries.

Sometime after the overtime plan was terminated, some of the officers who had worked the twelve-hour shifts were informed of a state statute purporting to require that policemen working more than 48 hours a week must be compensated at one-and-a-half times their usual salaries for the overtime hours. See La.R.S. 33:2213 (1950). A representative group approached

Page 490

the Commissioner of Public Safety and inquired about the law. He suggested that they request an opinion from the city attorney on the matter. By letter dated August 4, 1971, the officers requested the city attorney to write a letter to the police chief and Commissioner of Public Safety regarding the time-and-a-half pay statute. They never received a reply to the request and, shortly thereafter, retained counsel. This suit was filed on September 23, 1971.

The resolution of this controversy rests upon our determination of three issues:

(1) whether the Home Rule Charter of the City of Shreveport precludes the application of La.R.S. 33:2213, which requires that policemen be paid one-and-a-half times their usual salary for hours worked in excess of 48 hours per week;

(2) whether the action by the policemen for back pay is prescribed; and

(3) if the action is not prescribed, whether the plaintiffs are estopped by laches from recovery.


Plaintiffs base their claim for compensation on La.R.S. 33:2213 (1950), which is a general law that provides:

The maximum hours of work required of any full-time paid patrolman, patrolman first class, sergeant, lieutenant, or captain, or any other employee of the police department, except those employed in a position, grade, or class above that of captain, in any municipality affected by this Sub--part (I.e., a municipality having a population of not less than 12,000 nor more than 250,000), shall be forty-eight hours in any one calendar week, and eight hours in any one day. In cases of emergency, any employee may be required to work in excess of the maximum. For each hour so worked the employee shall be paid at the rate of one and one-half times his usual salary, to be determined by reducing his monthly salary to an hourly scale.

Defendant resists the claim on the ground that, as a city operating under a home rule charter, it may compensate its police free from state regulation. Thus, we must initially determine whether the compensation of Shreveport city policemen properly rests within he domain of the city or the state.

It has long been settled in this state 2 that municipal corporations are creatures or agencies of the state established by the legislature for the purpose of administering local affairs of government and, as such, possess only those powers delegated by the state. It follows, then, that where a municipal corporation derives its powers of government from legislative acts, the contours of that power may be shaped by the will of the legislature. 3 However, where the powers of municipal government are derived directly from the state constitution, the legislature may not alter the local authority except where permitted by the constitution. 4

The City of Shreveport derives its powers of government directly from article 14, section 37 of the Louisiana Constitution, which provides in pertinent part:

The people of the City of Shreveport shall have power to establish in the manner

Page 491

hereinafter provided, government for the said City.

(1) (Sub-section (1) details the mechanics of drafting a plan of government.)

(2) The plan of government shall be subject to amendment by election of the people as provided therein.

La.Const. art. 14, § 37 (1921), Added by La.Acts 1948, No. 529. Pursuant to this general authorization of home rule, the City of Shreveport adopted a plan of government (or home rule charter) on February 3, 1950, in which it reserved

. . . all the powers, rights, privileges and immunities which are now or may hereafter be . . . conferred . . . by the constitution and...

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