School Committee of Greenfield v. Greenfield Ed. Ass'n

Decision Date14 January 1982
Citation385 Mass. 70,431 N.E.2d 180
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Brian A. Riley, Boston, for Greenfield Ed. Ass'n.

Bruce E. Mohl, Asst. Atty. Gen., for Atty. Gen., intervener.

Bruce N. Cameron, Atlanta, Ga. (Jack D. Curtiss, Greenfield, with him) for National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc.

Abraham Margolis, Chestnut Hill, for plaintiff.


LIACOS, Justice.

The School Committee of Greenfield (committee) brought this action against the Greenfield Education Association (association) and two tenured teachers, Shirley Hornketh and Joy Davenport (teachers), seeking a declaratory judgment as to whether it could dismiss the teachers on demand of the association without violating the statutory or constitutional rights of the teachers. A judge of the Superior Court allowed the committee's motion for partial summary judgment and ordered a stay of arbitration of a grievance asserted by the association against the committee and the two teachers. The grievance, brought under a collective bargaining agreement then in force between the association and the committee, sought the dismissal of the teachers for failure to pay an agency service fee required by the agreement. The teachers cross-claimed against the association, alleging its internal procedure for the rebate of impermissibly-obtained fees violated their rights pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial judge, in addition to granting the committee's motion for summary judgment, denied the association's motion for summary judgment, and reported his decision to the Appeals Court. Mass.R.Civ.P. 64, 365 Mass. 831 (1974). The Appeals Court allowed the Attorney General to intervene in the appeal as a defendant, and we granted the association's motion for direct appellate review. We now affirm, with certain modifications, the orders of the Superior Court judge.

The material facts are not in dispute. At all relevant times, the committee and the association were parties to a collective bargaining agreement which required teachers who were not association members to pay an agency service fee to the association "commensurate with the cost of collective bargaining and contract administration as determined by the Association," as a condition of continued employment. Public employers are permitted to enter into such agency shop agreements by G.L. c. 150E, § 12, the text of which is set out in the margin. 1 This agreement also provided for the arbitration of all grievances, and defined grievance to include any violation or misinterpretation of the agreement.

The association notified all teachers in September, 1978, that membership dues for the school year would be $158 and the agency service fee would be $153. It requested Hornketh and Davenport, who are not members, to pay the fee in October. They did not pay. In November, the association requested that the committee comply with the agreement by discharging the teachers. In December, the association posted a notice in all school buildings stating that all nonmembers could seek a rebate through the procedures of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association after the entire fee was paid.

Hornketh and Davenport continued to refuse to pay the fee. On April 30, 1979, they were notified by the superintendent of schools that the committee would consider their dismissal on June 19, pursuant to an association request. The committee held a hearing on May 31 at which the teachers stated that they objected to the uses to which the fee would be put, and the association offered to drop its request for dismissal if the fees were paid into an "escrow account" to be administered by it pending a determination by the Labor Relations Commission of the allowable amount of the fee. See 402 Code Mass.Regs. § 17.05(2) (1978). The teachers refused to pay the fee, but on June 19 the committee voted nevertheless not to dismiss them. The association filed a grievance with the committee, asserting that this vote violated the agreement. The grievance was denied; the association then demanded arbitration, and this action was brought by the committee in Superior Court.

The questions reported by the judge may be reduced to the following: (1) whether this action presents an actual controversy under G.L. c. 231A; (2) whether the stay of arbitration was properly granted; (3) whether this action should have been stayed pending administrative action; (4) whether dismissal of these teachers would violate the teachers' tenure act, G.L. c. 71, §§ 41, 42; and (5) the proper construction and constitutionality of G.L. c. 150E, § 12, as amended.

1. "Actual controversy." This action was brought for declaratory and injunctive relief under G.L. c. 231A, §§ 1, 5. Section 1 authorizes the Superior Court to "make binding declarations of right ... either before or after a breach or violation ... in any case in which an actual controversy has arisen."

There can be no doubt that an actual controversy has arisen here. The association allegedly initiated arbitration proceedings, and the committee was placed in the dilemma of either violating what appear to be the plain terms of the collective bargaining agreement or possibly violating the statutory and constitutional rights of the teachers. These circumstances "plainly indicate that unless the matter is adjusted (these) antagonistic claims will almost immediately and inevitably lead to litigation." School Comm. of Cambridge v. Superintendent of Schools of Cambridge, 320 Mass. 516, 518, 70 N.E.2d 298 (1946).

2. Stay of arbitration. The association contends that the trial judge was prohibited from granting a stay of arbitration in this case by G.L. c. 150C, § 2(b ). Section 2 expresses a preference for arbitrating labor disputes, permitting stays only where there is either no "agreement to arbitrate" or "the claim sought to be arbitrated does not state a controversy covered by the provision for arbitration." The association argues that since its grievance asserted only that the committee violated the agreement by failing to dismiss the teachers, the agreement to arbitrate governed and the stay was improper. The committee argues that the dismissal of teachers involves a nondelegable function of a school committee and hence is not arbitrable. Further, the committee argues that the issues involved in this dispute directly implicate the constitutional and statutory rights of the teachers, and hence the dispute is not arbitrable. The teachers join in this latter argument and add that arbitration is inappropriate because they are not parties to the collective bargaining agreement and would have neither a say in the selection of the arbitrator nor a right to participate in the arbitration proceedings. We need not consider all of these contentions to determine that the judge did not err in ordering a stay of arbitration.

The claim submitted to arbitration primarily concerned the rights and responsibilities of the teachers who, as third parties, would have had no right to participate in the arbitration proceedings. Cf. Norton v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 369 Mass. 1, 336 N.E.2d 854 (1975) (employee has no individual right to compel employer to arbitrate grievance absent breach of union's duty of fair representation). The teachers' interests obviously would not be adequately represented by the association, and they had no reason to believe the committee would fully represent them. We hold that a stay of arbitration may be granted where the interests of the employee and the bargaining representative are in direct conflict and it is not clear that the employer would represent the interests of the employee. The mere presence of an arbitration clause in a bargaining agreement does not foreclose the issue. See NLRB v. Brotherhood of Ry., Airline & S.S. Clerks, 498 F.2d 1105, 1109 (5th Cir. 1974) (NLRB properly refused to defer to arbitration where interests of employee and union were in direct conflict and employer could not be expected to undertake protection of employee's interests).

3. Labor Relations Commission jurisdiction. The association contends that its motion for summary judgment on the teachers' cross-claim should have been allowed due to the teachers' failure to exhaust available remedies before the commission. 2 This is technically an issue of primary jurisdiction, rather than exhaustion, since there was no pending administrative proceeding when this action was brought, but, as we have noted elsewhere, the same concern for the relationship between agencies and the courts underlies both doctrines. Murphy v. Administrator of the Div. of Personnel Administration, 377 Mass. 217, 220-221, 386 N.E.2d 211 (1979).

The doctrine of primary jurisdiction, which counsels a court to stay its hand when the issue in litigation is within the special competence of an agency, "does not apply, however, when the issue in controversy turns on questions of law which have not been committed to agency discretion." Id. at 221, 386 N.E.2d 211. The principal issues here are an alleged statutory bar to dismissal of the teachers despite the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and a constitutional challenge to the procedure by which the permissible agency fee amount is determined. Neither of these questions has been committed to the jurisdiction of the commission. Also, resolving these issues will affect many nonparties, making it appropriate for judicial rather than administrative determination. Cf. East Chop Tennis Club v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 364 Mass. 444, 450, 305 N.E.2d 507 (1973) (suspension of exhaustion requirement would be warranted where case involves...

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