Longshore v. County of Ventura

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation598 P.2d 866,157 Cal.Rptr. 706,25 Cal.3d 14
Decision Date22 August 1979
Parties, 598 P.2d 866, 24 Wage & Hour Cas. (BNA) 442 Woodrow G. LONGSHORE et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. COUNTY OF VENTURA et al., Defendants and Respondents. L.A. 31090.

Ghitterman, Schweitzer & Herreras and Allan S. Ghitterman, Ventura, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Dorothy L. Schechter, County Counsel, and Andrew B. Gustafson, Asst. County Counsel, Ventura, for defendants and respondents.


Plaintiffs are one retired and seven current Ventura County deputy sheriffs who have sued the county and certain of its officers for the recognition of and payment for substantial amounts of overtime credits alleged to have been accumulated by them prior to July 1961 (pre-1961 overtime). They appeal from a judgment of dismissal, which was entered after the county's demurrer to their third amended complaint was sustained without leave to amend.

After a close examination of a series of Ventura County salary ordinances, we will conclude that the county's salary ordinances in effect between 1955 and 1961 created no vested rights to cash compensation for overtime service. We will reject a contention that the county is estopped by its representations to deny compensation rights for pre-1961 overtime. We will further hold, however, that plaintiffs' claims are neither barred by the statute of limitations nor fatally uncertain, and while affirming as to plaintiff Longshore, will reverse the judgment as to the remaining plaintiffs, remanding the case for further proceedings.

The Complaint

The third amended complaint contains four causes of action, the first two relating to Longshore, the third to all other plaintiffs, and the fourth to all plaintiffs. The allegations of the first may be summarized. Longshore accumulated 762 hours of authorized overtime credit between 1955 and July 1961; ordinances then in effect entitled him either to compensatory time off or, in lieu thereof, a lump sum payment at termination. All of the credits are recorded in his personnel records. Prior to June 30, 1963 (the date upon which a subsequent salary ordinance purported to "cancel" unused pre-1961 overtime), he tried to take the accumulated hours as compensatory time off but was told by defendants that the unused overtime was being "held in abeyance" until the exhaustion of current credits; but for such statements he would have exhausted all of his pre-1961 overtime credits before mid-1963. From 1962 to 1974 he relied on defendant's "representations . . . that all (pre-1961) . . . hours would be credited for him for future use." Upon approaching his retirement in 1974, he unsuccessfully sought to reach a voluntary agreement with the county on utilization of the unused overtime. He has exhausted all of his administrative remedies. By their conduct, defendants are obligated to compensate him for those credits which he had accumulated under pre-1961 ordinances, and are estopped to assert the forfeiture provisions of subsequent salary laws.

In his second cause of action, Longshore asserts that, on the same facts, he has been deprived of property rights without due process and is entitled to recover because the county has been unjustly enriched. In the third, those plaintiffs who are still active deputies, suing for themselves and all others similarly situated, ask for a declaratory judgment defining their rights to pre-1961 overtime credit under the various applicable ordinances. In the fourth, all plaintiffs join in seeking a judicial declaration that the county's 1961-1962 salary ordinance, which purported to cancel pre-1961 overtime credits which were unused by July 1, 1963, unconstitutionally impaired plaintiffs' vested contract and property rights. The prayer of the complaint seeks the monetary value of Longshore's accumulated pre-1961 overtime credits, specific performance of the county's alleged contractual obligations to deputies currently employed holding pre-1961 overtime credits, costs, and attorneys' fees.

Defendants demurred, both generally and specially, to each count, asserting that the first and second causes of actions are barred alternatively by the Tort Claims Act (see Gov.Code, § 810 et seq.; all statutory references are to that code unless otherwise cited), the governmental claims presentation statute ( § 945.4), and the constitutional proscriptions against retroactive compensation for public employees (Cal.Const., art. IV, § 17 (formerly art. IV, § 32); see also art. XI, § 10, subd. (a)). The demurrer further alleged that the third cause of action was fatally uncertain, and that the fourth was precluded by mootness, the statute of limitations, and, as to plaintiff Longshore, the inappropriateness of declaratory relief. Without specifying its reasons the trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend, and this appeal followed.

The applicable pleading rules are familiar. A judgment based on an order sustaining a general demurrer must be affirmed if any one of the several grounds of demurrer is well taken. (California Trust Co. v. Cohn (1932) 214 Cal. 619, 623, 7 P.2d 297; Burke v. Maguire (1908), 154 Cal. 456, 461, 98 P. 21; Weinstock v. Eissler (1964), 224 Cal.App.2d 212, 223, 36 Cal.Rptr. 537; see Stowe v. Fritzie Hotels, Inc. (1955), 44 Cal.2d 416, 424, 282 P.2d 890.) On the other hand, any particular count which is well pleaded will not be affected by defects in a separate cause of action, so long as inconsistent or antagonistic facts are not pled. (See Steiner v. Rowley (1950), 35 Cal.2d 713, 718-719, 221 P.2d 9; see generally Witkin, Cal.Procedure (2d ed. 1971) Pleadings, § 301, p. 1974.) The complaint must be liberally construed and survives a general demurrer insofar as it states, however inartfully, facts disclosing some right to relief. (Code Civ.Proc., § 452; Barquis v. Merchants Collection Assn. (1972), 7 Cal.3d 94, 103, 101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 496 P.2d 817; Venuto v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1971), 22 Cal.App.3d 116, 122, 99 Cal.Rptr. 350.) We analyze the complaint under these principles.

The Claims Statute and Sovereign Immunity

At the outset, defendants contend that the first and second causes of action must fall because they fail to allege prior presentation and rejection of a claim. ( § 945.4.) We disagree. The claims statute applies, by its terms, only to causes of action which are governed by chapters 1 and 2 of part 3 of division 3.6 of the Government Code. Section 905, subdivision (c), specifically excludes from application of the statute those claims "by public employees for fees, salaries, wages, mileage or other expenses or allowances." Because Longshore essentially seeks recognition of a right to compensation for services performed as a county employee, his claim falls within the section 905, subdivision (c), exception.

Nor is Longshore barred by provisions of the Tort Claims Act granting, successively, sovereign immunity from liability for adoption of a statute ( § 818.2) or misrepresentation of public employees ( § 818.8) or discretionary acts ( § 820.2). The shield provided by the Tort Claims Act expressly excludes actions arising on contract. ( § 814; E. H. Morrill Co. v. State of California, (1967) 65 Cal.2d 787, 793, 56 Cal.Rptr. 479, 423 P.2d 551.) A claim for compensation owed by an employer for services already performed is contractual, and thus is exempt. (See Glendale City Employees' Assn. v. City of Glendale (1975) 15 Cal.3d 328, 343, 124 Cal.Rptr. 513, 540 P.2d 609; Elevator Operators etc. Union v. Newman (1947) 30 Cal.2d 799, 808, 186 P.2d 1.)

Retroactive Compensation; Vested Rights

Defendants' principal objection to the first and second causes of action is that they seek retroactive compensation for services already performed, in violation of the California Constitution. A public employee is entitled only to such compensation as is expressly and specifically provided by law. (Van Riessen v. City of Santa Monica (1976) 63 Cal.App.3d 193, 199-201, 133 Cal.Rptr. 618; Markman v. County of Los Angeles (1973) 35 Cal.App.3d 132, 135, 110 Cal.Rptr. 610.) The statutory compensation rights of public employees are strictly limited and cannot be altered or enlarged by conflicting agreements between the public agency and its employee. (Miller v. State of California (1977) 18 Cal.3d 808, 814, 135 Cal.Rptr. 386, 557 P.2d 970; Boren v. State Personnel Board (1951) 37 Cal.2d 634, 641, 234 P.2d 981.)

Moreover, the employee's rights are set by the law applicable at the time compensable services are rendered. The Constitution forbids state or local enactments which retroactively grant compensation for work already performed. Specifically, as to state power, the California Constitution, article IV, section 17 (formerly art. IV, § 32) provides, in pertinent part, as follows: "The Legislature has no power to grant, or to authorize a city, county, or other public body to grant, extra compensation or extra allowance to a public officer, (or) public employee . . . after service has been rendered . . . , or to authorize the payment of a claim against the State or a city, county, or other public body under an agreement made without authority of law." In a similar vein, article XI, section 10, subdivision (a), added June 2, 1970, and applicable to local entities, provides: "A local government body may not grant extra compensation or extra allowance to a public officer, (or) public employee . . . after service has been rendered . . . or pay a claim under an agreement made without authority of law." Thus, where statutes or ordinances in effect when overtime hours were logged provided no right to compensation therefor, the public entity may not subsequently grant it. (Simpson v. Cranston (1961) 56 Cal.2d 63, 69, 13 Cal.Rptr. 668, 362 P.2d 492; Martin v. Henderson (1953) 40 Cal.2d 583, 590, 255 P.2d 416; Markman v. County of Los Angeles, supra, 35 Cal.App.3d...

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