Maryland Classified Emp. Ass'n, Inc. v. Anderson

Decision Date07 December 1977
Docket NumberNo. 20,20
Citation281 Md. 496,380 A.2d 1032
Parties, 97 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2179 MARYLAND CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, INC., et al. v. Charles B. ANDERSON, Jr., et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

J. Edward Davis and Daniel T. Doherty, Jr., Towson (J. Calvin Jenkins, Jr. and Weinberg & Green, Towson, on the brief), for appellants.

N. Peter Lareau, Baltimore (A. Samuel Cook, Paul F. Strain, Christopher H. Mills, Venable, Baetjer & Howard, Baltimore, and John E. Kelly, County Atty., Bel Air, on the brief), for appellees.


ORTH, Judge.

We decide on this appeal that compensation of employees of a chartered county may not be committed to binding arbitration unless so authorized by a public general law of Maryland or the organic law of that county. We hold specifically that those provisions of the Harford County Code (1965) (the County Code) requiring that such matters with respect to Harford County be submitted to binding arbitration are invalid as not authorized by a public general law or the Harford County Charter (1973) (the County Charter).


We are called upon to determine the propriety of an order of the Circuit Court for Harford County denying a petition for a writ of mandamus and for damages which was filed on behalf of all the employees of Harford County who are members of the General Work Force Unit (GWFU) and the Management and Confidential Unit (MCU) by Jack Allen Plott, a member of the GWFU, by Richard Wheeler, a member of MCU, and by the Maryland Classified Employees Association, Inc. (MCEA), which is certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of the employees in the two Units (the appellants). The defendants named in the action were Harford County, Maryland, a body corporate and politic (the County), Charles B. Anderson, Jr., individually and as County Executive, and those persons composing the County Council of Harford County (the Council). A demurrer by Anderson, individually, was sustained without leave to amend and this ruling is not questioned on appeal. The appellees are the County, the County Executive in his official capacity and the County Council.

The suit stemmed from MCEA and the County seeking an agreement under § 201B of the County Code with respect to compensation of the County employee members of GWFU and MCU. Negotiations began in the fall of 1974. An impasse was reached and the dispute was submitted to arbitration. An arbitration award was issued on 23 May 1975. Under the award, wages were to be increased 7.8% For the next fiscal year (1975-1976), the employees were to receive in-grade step increases on their regular anniversary dates, and the maximum major medical coverage was to be increased from $10,000 to $20,000. Although § 201B(h)(5) prescribed that the decision of the arbitration board be binding on both parties, the County did not put the award into effect. On 27 May 1975 the County Executive proposed to the Council that all County employees would receive a raise of 7.8% Effective 1 July 1975. The Council rejected the proposal. On 29 May the County Executive proposed a $640 across-the-board raise without step increases for all classified employees and exempt secretaries, with certain exceptions, who would not have received that amount under those proposals. This increase was included in the annual budget and appropriation ordinance and was adopted by the County Council on 31 May. No other action was taken by the County to implement the award of the arbitrator. Appellants instituted the action on 14 July 1975. Upon the denial of the petition by the trial court on 18 October 1976, MCEA, Plott and Wheeler noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. We issued a writ of certiorari before decision by that court.

We affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court for Harford County. In so doing, we first affirm an interlocutory order of the trial court denying a motion made by appellants to prohibit appellees from interposing the defense that § 201B was invalid.


The threshold question posed by the interlocutory order, see Maryland Rule 887, denying the motion to prohibit is whether a charter county may attack the validity of its own legislative acts. Precisely, the issue is whether, in an action to compel Harford County, a charter county, to abide by the provisions of a law it duly enacted, it may interpose the defense that the law was invalid?

Appellants would have us hold that appellees cannot challenge the validity of § 201B. In oral argument before us, however, appellants frankly admitted that they did not know the answer to the question, remarking that they were not aware of any "real law on that in Maryland." They did not refer to any case directly on point in other jurisdictions. They suggested that inasmuch as it was the two bodies in Harford County, namely the County Council and the County Executive, which "put this law on the books and made it valid," they were "therefore bound, in and of themselves, to the constitutionality (and validity) of the law." This was in accord with the comment in appellants' brief that it was "remarkable and contradictory" that appellees have challenged the constitutionality and validity of § 201B, the very law which the Council passed and the County Executive approved and signed into law. Appellants point to the unsuccessful efforts to repeal the provisions under which arbitration is binding. 1 "Therefore," appellants conclude, "the County Executive and the County Council having enacted § 201B, having had opportunities to repeal and to amend § 201B, cannot now challenge its constitutionality and its validity." Appellees characterize this "line of reasoning as totally circular." They say: "Appellants have done no more than assume the merits of their position with respect to Appellees' authority to enact such legislation and conclude that since Appellees possess the authority, they cannot argue that they did not possess it."

It is correct that on the threshold question we write on a clean slate as far as Maryland is concerned. Our recent opinion in Harford County v. Schultz, 280 Md. 77, 86, 371 A.2d 428 (1977) in which we found no justiciable issue in a declaratory judgment action, is not apposite. Baltimore County v. Churchill, Ltd., 271 Md. 1, 313 A.2d 829, app. dism., 417 U.S. 902, 94 S.Ct. 2594, 41 L.Ed.2d 207 (1974) and City of Baltimore v. Concord, 257 Md. 132, 262 A.2d 755 (1970), which appellants cited in their brief for the proposition that "Maryland practice has long provided that political subdivisions lack capacity to question the validity of state law," are not controlling even by analogy, for here, as the trial court noted, "it is the creator, and not a subordinate, which is questioning its own power."

Appellees refer to six cases of this Court which they say clearly support their position that they may challenge the validity of the law. None of them, however, as the trial court recognized, is dispositive of the question, simply not addressing it in the context in which it is before us. 2 Nor are we led to appellees' position by the cases in other jurisdictions cited by them. 3 As appellees indicate, in those cases public employers defended suits in which employee organizations sought to compel compliance with impasse-resolving arbitration provisions by contending that the particular laws were invalid. In none of the cases, however, was the issue of the right of the enacting authority to attack the law it enacted presented or discussed, so the question before us was never reached.

On the other hand, we are not persuaded by the cases in other jurisdictions which appellants cite in support of their claim that appellees cannot mount an attack on the validity of § 201B. 4

There are a number of cases throughout the country in which governmental entities or their officers have challenged the validity of their own enactments. In many of them, however, the threshold question is simply not raised; the courts have proceeded directly to the merits of the issue without regard to the propriety of the challenge. Even when the threshold question is considered, no persuasive pattern of decision emerges to dictate its determination. In sum, it seems that, in actuality, the point is left to the discretion of the court. The various courts have considered a number of interests in determining how to exercise that discretion. Under the ordinance here, when the arbitration decision is duly reached, it is binding. Thereafter, the county officials have no discretion with regard to implementing the decision, and their duties in connection with it may be fairly characterized as ministerial. Many states have recognized the principle that a public officer may not attack the constitutionality of a statute in a mandamus proceeding brought to compel the officer to perform a ministerial duty imposed by that statute when his interest is official and not personal. This principle, in keeping with the generally accepted axiom that a litigant can question the constitutionality of a statute only when it is applied to his disadvantage, is based largely upon governmental policy. "It rests upon the theory that the court should accept as final the acts of the Legislature and discourage attacks upon them except where necessary to protect the private interests of the individual asserting invalidity and peculiarly and particularly affected thereby." State v. Steele County, 181 Minn. 427, 430, 232 N.W. 737, 738 (1930). The cases recognizing this principle, however, are not precisely analogous to the case at hand because they do not involve officials directly engaged in the law-making process. 5

The Superior Court of New Jersey took the flat position that "(a) municipality itself cannot question the validity of its own ordinance. If it becomes discontent therewith, the remedy lies in repeal or amendment . . . ." Springfield Tp. v. Bensley, 19...

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