Tuscaloosa County Com'n v. Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n of Tuscaloosa County

Decision Date23 August 1991
Citation589 So.2d 687
PartiesTUSCALOOSA COUNTY COMMISSION v. DEPUTY SHERIFFS' ASSOCIATION OF TUSCALOOSA COUNTY and Tommy Squires, individually and as president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association of Tuscaloosa County. DEPUTY SHERIFFS' ASSOCIATION OF TUSCALOOSA COUNTY and Tommy Squires, individually and as president of the Deputy Sheriffs' Association of Tuscaloosa County v. TUSCALOOSA COUNTY COMMISSION. 1900911, 1900913.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Barry L. Mullins and Robert Spence of Mullins & Smith, Tuscaloosa, for appellant/cross-appellee.

Joseph G. Pierce of Drake & Pierce, Tuscaloosa, for appellees/cross-appellants.

KENNEDY, Justice.

The Tuscaloosa County Commission ("Commission") filed a declaratory judgment action against the Deputy Sheriffs' Association of Tuscaloosa County ("Deputies") and certain fictitiously named parties to determine whether law enforcement officers in the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department were entitled to additional compensation and backpay. The trial court ordered the additional compensation but did not order the backpay, and both the Commission and the Deputies appeal.

The facts are undisputed and were stipulated to by the parties. In September 1975 the Legislature enacted, and the Governor approved, Act No. 323, Reg. Session, Ala.Acts 1975, which provides:

"Section 1. The compensation of all law enforcement officers in the sheriff's

department in Tuscaloosa County shall not be less than the compensation of a

State Trooper in the State Department of Public Safety with comparable years

of service and comparable rank and position. The schedule of compensation for

such employees shall be as follows:

                               "Rank                                Compensation
                "Chief Deputy                          Shall be comparable to Captain in the
                                                       State Troopers
                "Chief Investigator                    Shall be comparable to Lieutenant in the
                                                       State Troopers
                "Lieutenant Evidence Technician        Shall be comparable to Sergeant in State
                  Identification                       Troopers
                "Officer and Investigator Sergeant     Shall be comparable to Corporal in the
                                                       State Troopers
                "Deputies                              Shall be comparable to State Troopers
                

"Jailers, Matrons, Execution Clerk, Shall be comparable to State Troopers

and Communications Officers

"Section 2. The compensation provided for by this Act shall be paid from any

funds available to the governing body of Tuscaloosa County.

"The compensation of all law enforcement officers in the sheriff's department

in Tuscaloosa County shall not be less than the compensation of a State

Trooper in the State Department of Public Safety with comparable years of

service and comparable rank and position."

The Commission has raised the salaries of the deputy sheriffs several times pursuant to that legislation; these raises were based on legislation raising the state troopers' salaries as well as on Governor Fob James's approval of a state trooper salary increase because of the recommendation for an increase by the State Personnel Board.

Before the refusal to give the raise that is the basis of this action, the only time the Commission had not given a raise pursuant to Act No. 323 was when the legislature specifically excluded the deputy sheriffs from the operation of an act granting state troopers an increase in salary. Specifically, Act No. 84-745, Ala.Acts 1984, provided for a 10% increase in the compensation for state troopers, but it also provided that "the provisions of this bill shall not apply to any local employee whose salary is tied to that of any state employee." Accordingly, the Commission did not give the deputy sheriffs that 10% raise.

Since that act was passed, the compensation of state troopers has been reestablished several times, with no restrictive language excluding a raise for a local governmental employee whose salary is tied to that of any state employee. The Commission continues to pay deputy sheriffs 10% less than the salary received by state troopers, because, it contends, Act No. 84-745 so requires.

On July 18, 1989, Governor Guy Hunt and the State Personnel Board, on the recommendation of the Director of Public Safety, approved certain increases in salary ranges for state troopers. The Commission refused to increase the salaries of the deputy sheriffs to make them equal to the salaries paid to state troopers as a result of that increase.

In the action below, the trial court was asked to determine 1) whether the deputy sheriffs were entitled to a salary increase equivalent to that received by the state troopers as a result of the July 18, 1989, administrative action; 2) whether "compensation" in Act No. 323 applies exclusively to salaries and not to additional benefits; 3) whether the July 18, 1989, action violated procedures established by the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act; 4) if the deputies were entitled to the salary increase, then when was the increase effective; 5) whether the deputies were entitled to the amount of compensation paid state troopers in the acts subsequent to Act No. 84-745, instead of 10% less, as the Commission has paid them.

The trial court held 1) that the deputies were entitled to the salary increase; 2) that "compensation" referred to salaries only; 3) that the action did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act, and 4) that the salary increase was effective on the first day of the next fiscal year commencing after July 18, 1989. The trial court did not order the backpay.

On the first issue, the Commission argues that the deputies are not entitled to an increase corresponding to the July 18, 1989, trooper salary increase, because that salary increase was a product of administrative rather than legislative action. This argument ignores general rules of statutory construction.

In interpreting the provisions of an Act such as Act No. 323, a court is required to ascertain the intent of the legislature as expressed and to effectuate that intent. Lewis v. Hitt, 370 So.2d 1369 (Ala.1979). The legislative intent may be gleaned from the language used, the reason and necessity for the act, and the purpose sought to be obtained by its passage. Ex parte Holladay, 466 So.2d 956 (Ala.1985). Words used in the statute must be given their natural, plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, and where plain language is used a court is bound to interpret that language to mean exactly what it says. Coastal States Gas Transmission Co. v. Alabama Public Service Commission, 524 So.2d 357 (Ala.1988); Alabama Farm Bureau Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. v. City of Hartselle, 460 So.2d 1219 (Ala.1984). If the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, then there is no room for judicial construction and the clearly expressed intent of the legislature must be given effect. Dumas Brothers Manufacturing Co. v. Southern Guaranty Insurance Co., 431 So.2d 534 (Ala.1983); Town of Loxley v. Rosinton Water, Sewer, & Fire Protection Authority, Inc., 376 So.2d 705 (Ala.1979).

The statute is clear and unambiguous. It states that the compensation of a law enforcement officer working for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department is not to be less than that of a state trooper with comparable years of service and comparable rank and position. The statute neither says nor implies anything that would indicate that law enforcement officers in the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department are to receive a salary increase only when state trooper salaries are increased by legislative action. If the legislature had intended that meaning, it could easily have added such a qualifying phrase.

The trial court did not err in determining that Act No. 75-323 requires the Commission to grant its law enforcement officers increases in salary equivalent to the salary increases granted to state troopers by the Governor on July 18, 1989. Shelby County Commission v. Smith, 372 So.2d 1092 (Ala.1979).

The Commission argues that the trial court erred by determining that the word "compensation" in Act No. 323 applies exclusively to salaries. Particularly, it argues that inasmuch as its law enforcement officers receive benefits other than salary, those benefits are to be valued in determining equivalent "compensation" to state troopers for the purposes of Act No. 323.

We disagree. In Mitchell v. Mobile County, 313 So.2d 172 (Ala.1975), this Court addressed an act that had been passed to provide uniform minimum compensation for deputy sheriffs in counties with populations of less...

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