Griffith v. Wakefield, 159

Citation470 A.2d 345,298 Md. 381
Decision Date01 February 1984
Docket NumberNo. 159,159
Parties, 117 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2219 Edward A. GRIFFITH et ux. v. Donald K. WAKEFIELD et al. Sept. Term 1982.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

R. Bruce Alderman and Eugene H. Cunningham, Jr., Towson (Robert J. Aumiller and White, Mindel, Clarke & Hill, Towson, on the brief), for appellants.

George H. Cohen, Jeffrey Gibbs, David M. Silberman, and Bredhoff and Kaiser, Washington, D.C., Daniel F. Goldstein, Baltimore, amicus curiae for appellees The Md. State Fraternal Order of Police, The Md. State and District of Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Ass'n.

Gordon S. Berman, Baltimore (Jerome Blum, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee, Baltimore County Firefighters Ass'n, Local 1311.



The controversy in this case is over the validity of a Baltimore County charter amendment requiring resolution of labor disputes, involving county-employed fire fighters, through binding arbitration. The specific issue before us is whether the charter amendment constitutes proper "charter material" under Art. XI-A of the Maryland Constitution as construed in Cheeks v. Cedlair Corp., 287 Md. 595, 415 A.2d 255 (1980).

In July 1982, petitions proposing an amendment to the Baltimore County Charter were submitted to the Board of Supervisors of Elections for Baltimore County which, after finding that the petitions complied with all applicable laws, certified the proposed charter amendment for submission to the voters of Baltimore County in the general election to be held on November 2, 1982. The proposal was to add a new § 544 to Article V, as well as to amend §§ 706(a), 709 and 715 of Article VII of the Baltimore County Charter.

The proposed new language stated that if county-employed fire fighters had not reached a written contract agreement with Baltimore County by March 1 of any year, either party was entitled to demand arbitration by a board of arbitration, with the decision of that board being final and binding upon both parties. The proposal set out the selection procedures for appointment to the three member board, the board's powers, the procedures to be followed by the board, and the factors to be taken into account by the board in making its award. The proposed amendment stated that a decision of the board rendered in accordance with the powers and procedures set forth in the amendment "shall be final and binding" upon the County and the union, with no appeal permitted. Finally, the amendment mandated that the County's budget submitted by the County Executive to the County Council include any funds necessary to effectuate the award of the board and that this funding "shall not be decreased or deleted" by the council.

Before the November 1982 election, Edward A. Griffith and Joyce L. Griffith, residents and taxpayers of Baltimore County, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County against the members of the Board of Supervisors of Elections. The plaintiffs, on their own behalf and "on behalf of all other taxpayers, similarly situated," alleged, inter alia, that the proposed charter amendment would "unlawfully initiate new legislation not authorized by" Article XI-A of the Maryland Constitution and "that the terms of the proposed charter amendment are patently local legislation and not charter material." The plaintiffs also asserted that the proposed charter amendment violated the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, in that the proposed amendment granted the right of binding arbitration to only one class of municipal employees. The plaintiffs sought declaratory relief and an injunction restraining the defendants from placing the proposed amendment on the ballot for the November 1982 general election.

Thereafter, the Baltimore County Firefighters Association intervened in the proceeding as an additional defendant. The circuit court, with the consent of all parties, postponed any further proceedings in the case until after the charter amendment had been voted upon in the general election. On November 2, 1982, the voters of Baltimore County approved the charter amendment.

The plaintiffs then moved for summary judgment, and the defendant-intervenor firefighters association cross-moved for summary judgment. On January 13, 1983, the circuit court granted the association's motion for summary judgment, holding that the charter amendment did not violate Article XI-A of the Maryland Constitution. The court further held that plaintiffs did not have standing to raise the due process and equal protection issues. The plaintiffs took an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, and, before any further proceedings in that court, they filed a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted.

Article XI-A of the Maryland Constitution, adopted by the voters on November 2, 1915, provided for a significant degree of political self-determination for counties choosing home rule status. Section 1 of Article XI-A sets forth the procedures for the preparation of a county charter which, if properly presented to and adopted by the electorate, "shall become the law of said ... County, subject only to the Constitution and Public General Laws of this State." Section 3 requires that any charter adopted under § 1 "shall provide for an elective legislative body in which shall be vested the law-making power of said ... County" and that such county council "shall have full power to enact local laws" for the county. The procedures to be followed in amending a county charter and the effect thereof are spelled out in §§ 5 and 6 of Article XI-A.

In Cheeks v. Cedlair Corp., supra, 287 Md. 595, 415 A.2d 255, this Court held invalid a citizen-initiated proposal to amend the Charter of Baltimore City on the ground that the proposed amendment dealt with subject matter beyond the permissible scope of a charter as set forth in Article XI-A. 1 The proposed charter amendment would have created a tenant-landlord commission and prescribed "in lengthy detail, the powers and duties of the Commission in administering the system of rent control." 287 Md. at 602, 415 A.2d 255. The Court analogized an Article XI-A charter to a "local constitution" which is intended to establish "the form and structure of government." Id. at 606-607, 415 A.2d 255. The Court then contrasted this power to organize a local government, reserved to the people of a charter county and of Baltimore City under Article XI-A, with legislative or "law-making" power (id. at 607, 415 A.2d 255):

"Absent an intention to permit a contrary usage, a charter amendment within the context of Art. XI-A is necessarily limited in substance to amending the form or structure of government initially established by adoption of the charter. A charter amendment, therefore, differs in its fundamental character from a simple legislative enactment. Its content cannot transcend its limited office and be made to serve or function as a vehicle through which to adopt local legislation."

Applying this principle to the facts of Cheeks, the Court found the proposed rent-control amendment to be "essentially legislative in character" in that it "constitute(d) an exercise of the police power in all respects similar to the enactment of a local law." Id. at 608, 415 A.2d 255. Because, under Section 3 of Article XI-A, the legislative body (in Cheeks, the Baltimore City Council), and not the electorate, is given "full power to enact local laws," the Court held the proposed Baltimore City charter amendment invalid.

The Court's decision in Cheeks is dispositive of the issue presented in the case at bar. Like the charter amendment in Cheeks, the proposed charter amendment in the present case prescribes "in lengthy detail" 2 an entire system of binding arbitration for a select group of county employees; it leaves nothing for the determination of the County Executive or the County Council.

The proposed Baltimore County charter amendment states that its purpose is "to prevent strikes, job actions and other disruptions that might impede the protection of the public health, safety and general welfare." In order to achieve this end, the amendment mandates that "if the certified employee organization or organizations representing (the) fire fighters" and the county have not reached a written contract agreement on "terms and conditions of employment" by the first day in March of any year, submission to a board of arbitration is mandatory upon the request of either party. The amendment sets forth, in minute detail, the composition, function and powers of the board. The board is to be composed of three members. One member is to be appointed by the County Executive and one is to be appointed by the certified fire fighters organization; both of these members must be selected "within four days of the request for arbitration." The third member is to be selected by the two previously chosen members, also within four days, from a list of candidates furnished by the American Arbitration Association. In the event that the two arbitrators are unable to agree on the choice of the third arbitrator, the American Arbitration Association is to select the third arbitrator, who "shall act as chairman" of the board of arbitration. The board is to begin the arbitration proceedings within seven days after the selection of the chairman and to make its decision "within fifteen days after the commencement of the arbitration proceedings," although the chairman may extend this time requirement. The board is granted "the power to administer oaths, compel the attendance of witnesses, and require the production of evidence by subpoena." The proposed amendment also delineates the factors to be considered by the board in making its award. 3

Under the proposed amendment each party must provide the board with "a...

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