Clallam County Deputy Sheriff's Guild v. Board of Clallam County Com'rs

Decision Date25 October 1979
Docket NumberNo. 46025,46025
Citation92 Wn.2d 844,601 P.2d 943
PartiesCLALLAM COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF'S GUILD, and Fred W. DeFrang, President, Respondents, v. BOARD OF CLALLAM COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Howard V. Doherty, Jr., Richard Lotzgesell and Ronald N. Richards, Clallam County Commissioners, Appellants.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Grant S. Meiner, Clallam County Pros. Atty., Craig D. Knutson, Deputy Pros. Atty., Port Angeles Slade Gorton, Atty. Gen., Richard A. Heath, James K. Pharris, Asst. Attys. Gen., Olympia, for appellants.

Clinton, Fleck, Glein & Brown, Lawrence B. Linville, Seattle, for respondents.


The Board of Clallam County Commissioners (Board) has a dispute with the county deputy sheriffs who are represented by a deputy sheriffs' guild (Guild). The county voters had adopted a Home Rule Charter pursuant to Const. art. 11, § 4 (amendment 21). The charter mandated adoption of a personnel system for county employees, including deputy sheriffs. The Board adopted an ordinance to establish such a system. An alleged conflict between the county ordinance and the civil service for sheriffs' office act, RCW 41.14, led to this action.

The trial court enjoined use of the county ordinance to set salaries or determine employment of deputy sheriffs. Later it ordered the parties to enter into binding arbitration. We reverse.

More facts are needed to outline the issues. To comply with the Home Rule Charter's mandate, the Board enacted ordinance No. 80, which was codified as Clallam County Code §§ 3.08.010-.060 (1977). Ordinance No. 80 generally establishes a county personnel system under the supervision of a county "personnel director." The director is responsible to the county commissioners and supervises a career service for all county employees, including deputy sheriffs. Clallam County Code § 3.08.050 outlines the director's powers, which include: preparing and administering personnel policies; establishing a roster of all county employees; developing affirmative action programs; developing a safety management program; investigating the operation of the personnel policies; preparing personnel forms; and preparing annual personnel system reports. Under Clallam County Code § 3.08.060, vacancies are filled competitively.

The Board supplemented ordinance No. 80 with resolution No. 11, which established job selection criteria and a graduated pay scale, and resolution No. 20, which classified county employees by job description and set 1978 salaries.

About this same time, the Guild was bargaining with the Board for 1978 employment contracts. The Board offered the Guild the salaries and job classifications listed in resolution No. 20.

Dissatisfied with this offer, the Guild filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission. See RCW 41.56. The record before us does not report the status or outcome of this complaint.

To express further dissatisfaction with the offer, the Guild filed this declaratory judgment action in February 1978. The Guild argued, and the trial court agreed that ordinance No. 80 conflicted with the civil service for sheriffs' office act RCW 41.14, thereby violating the Supremacy Clause of the state constitution. The trial court enjoined the Board's use of ordinance No. 80 for determining the salaries or employment of deputy sheriffs. The Board timely filed a notice of appeal from this ruling on June 26, 1978.

When the Board and the Guild resumed collective bargaining, the Board again offered only the salaries delineated in resolution No. 20. The Guild then moved the trial court on November 2, 1978, for an order of binding arbitration. It admitted that it had no statutory right to binding arbitration, but claimed to have an equitable one.

The trial court granted the Guild's motion for binding arbitration. It ruled that the Clallam County deputy sheriffs' equal protection rights were violated by RCW 41.56.430-.490's limitation of binding arbitration to statutorily defined "uniformed personnel", RCW 41.56.030(6), I. e., law enforcement officers employed by King County or cities with at least a 15,000 population. See Yakima County Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Board of Comm'rs for Yakima County, 92 Wash.2d 831, 601 P.2d 936 (1979). The Board timely filed a notice of appeal from this decision on December 7, 1978.

The two appeals, since they in fact arose from the same litigation, were consolidated by the Court of Appeals. We accepted direct review under RAP 4.2.


We first consider whether this action is proper under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, RCW 7.24. The Act is designed "to settle and to afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status and other legal relations; and is to be liberally construed and administered." RCW 7.24.120; King County v. Boeing Co., 18 Wash.App. 595, 601-02, 570 P.2d 713 (1977). However, absent issues of major public importance, a "justiciable controversy" must exist before a court's jurisdiction may be invoked under the Act. Port of Seattle v. Washington Util. & Transp. Comm'n, 92 Wash.2d 789, 806 597 P.2d 383 (1979); Diversified Indus. Dev. Corp. v. Ripley, 82 Wash.2d 811, 814-15, 514 P.2d 137 (1973). The Board and the Guild dispute whether such a controversy exists about ordinance No. 80's alleged unconstitutional conflict with RCW 41.14.

A "justiciable controversy" is

(1) . . . an actual, present and existing dispute, or the mature seeds of one, as distinguished from a possible, dormant, hypothetical, speculative, or moot disagreement, (2) between parties having genuine and opposing interests, (3) which involves interests that must be direct and substantial, rather than potential, theoretical, abstract or academic, and (4) a judicial determination of which will be final and conclusive.

Seattle School Dist. 1 v. State, 90 Wash.2d 476, 489-90, 585 P.2d 71, 80 (1978); Ronken v. Board of County Comm'rs of Snohomish County, 89 Wash.2d 304, 310, 572 P.2d 1 (1977); Diversified Indus. Dev. Corp. v. Ripley, supra, 82 Wash.2d at 815, 514 P.2d 137.

The Board says that elements (1) and (3) are missing by arguing that the dispute about ordinance No. 80's conflict with RCW 41.14 is speculative and involves only the Guild's potential interests. The Board concedes that some provisions of ordinance No. 80 overlap with RCW 41.14's coverage of deputy sheriff selection, promotion and termination. However, it claims that, as long as those provisions are not enforced, no real dispute about the overlap exists and thus no justiciable controversy exists under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act.

We are not convinced by the Board's argument. A real dispute is readily germinating from the overlapping personnel systems of ordinance No. 80 and RCW 41.14. Confronted with two potentially conflicting personnel systems, the deputy sheriff members of the Guild have a direct and substantial interest in securing relief from the uncertainty of their legal rights and obligations.

Moreover, this case raises an important constitutional question about the supremacy of state law. Because a judicial opinion will benefit the public, other branches of government and, in particular, other Home Rule Charter counties, a declaratory judgment to resolve this constitutional question is proper. See Seattle School Dist. 1 v. State, supra, 90 Wash.2d at 490, 585 P.2d 71; State ex rel. Distilled Spirits Institute v. Kinnear, 80 Wash.2d 175, 178, 492 P.2d 1012 (1972); See also Bjorge, Standing to Sue in the Public Interest: The Requirements to Challenge Statutes and Acts of Administrative Agencies in the State of Washington, 14 Gonz.L.Rev. 141, 161-65 (1978).


We now consider whether ordinance No. 80 conflicts with RCW 41.14, thereby violating the Supremacy Clause of the state constitution. We begin by noting that Const. art. 11, § 4 (amendment 21), the provision on which the Guild relies and on which the trial court based its ruling, is the Home Rule amendment and is not the relevant constitutional provision for questions of state law supremacy over county or municipal law. Rather, Const. art. 11, § 11 is the state Supremacy Clause, and provides:

Any county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws.

See State ex rel. Schillberg v. Everett Dist. Justice Court, 92 Wash.2d 106, 108, 594 P.2d 448 (1979).

To determine whether ordinance No. 80 is preempted under the state Supremacy Clause, we must examine the statute with which it is said to conflict, RCW 41.14. A statute, such as RCW 41.14, will not be construed as limiting the power of a county to legislate concurrently in a particular area unless it clearly expresses such an intent. State ex rel. Schillberg v. Everett Dist. Justice Court, supra at 108, 594 P.2d 448.

If the legislature is silent as to its intent to occupy a given field, resort must be had to the purposes of the legislative enactment and to the facts and circumstances upon which the enactment was intended to operate.

Lenci v. Seattle, 63 Wash.2d 664, 669-70, 388 P.2d 926, 930 (1964).

The legislature enacted RCW 41.14 to establish a merit system of employment for deputy sheriffs. RCW 41.14.010. A three-member deputy sheriffs' civil service commission is created in each county. RCW 41.14.030. The civil service commission's extensive powers and duties are defined in RCW 41.14.060 and include the making of rules and regulations about examinations, appointments, promotions, transfers, reinstatements, demotions, suspensions and discharges, and which rules and regulations "may also provide for any other matters connected with the general subject of personnel administration." Pursuant to this power, the Clallam County commission has promulgated extensive rules and regulations. See Clallam County Civil Service Commission for Clallam County Sheriff's Department, Rules and...

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1 books & journal articles
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