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Michael H. Goldbaum v. the Regents of the University of California

January 6, 2011

MICHAEL H. GOLDBAUM, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



Super. Ct. No. 37-2008-00078618- CU-PT-CTL APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Jay M. Bloom, Judge. Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mcconnell, P. J.

reposted to correct date

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

The California Constitution (art. IX, § 9, subd. (a)) grants the Regents of the University of California (the Regents) " 'broad powers to organize and govern the university and limits the Legislature's power to regulate either the university or the [R]egents.' " (Miklosy v. Regents of University of California (2008) 44 Cal.4th 876, 889.) The Regents "functions in some ways like an independent sovereign, retaining a degree of control over the terms and scope of its own liability." (Id. at p. 890.) The Legislature, however, may regulate the Regents's conduct in limited areas. "[G]eneral police power regulations governing private persons and corporations may be applied to the university," as well as regulations of "statewide concern not involving internal university affairs." (San Francisco Labor Council v. Regents of University of California (1980) 26 Cal.3d 785, 789 (San Francisco Labor Council).)

Courts have consistently held the Regents is exempt from statutes regulating the wages and benefits of employees and other workers, including those pertaining to prevailing wages, overtime pay, and indemnification for the cost of work uniforms and maintenance, on the ground those matters are internal affairs of the university that do not come within any of the exceptions to constitutional immunity. (San Francisco Labor Council, supra, 26 Cal.3d at p. 788; Regents of University of California v. Aubry (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 579, 587-588 (Aubry); Kim v. Regents of University of California (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 160, 167 (Kim); In re Work Uniform Cases (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 328, 344.)

The question on appeal here, one of first impression, is peripherally related to these wage and benefit opinions: Is the Regents constitutionally immune from the reach of Labor Code section 218.5,*fn1 which mandates an award of attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party in an "action brought for the nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or . . . pension fund contributions"? We answer the question in favor of the Regents's autonomy, and accordingly, affirm a judgment denying Michael H. Goldbaum's motion for attorney fees in an action against the Regents to establish his eligibility for pension fund benefits.

BACKGROUND

Goldbaum is a professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He began working for UCSD in January 1977, and between 1977 and 1992 he devoted more than 50 percent of his work time to UCSD. In 1979 he received full tenure.

In February 2008 Goldbaum filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint against the Regents for declaratory relief and breach of contract (complaint). The complaint alleged an element of his employment was participation in the University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP); under the UCRP, an employee's pension increases with longer employment; and UCSD failed to report to the UCRP that Goldbaum had been an employee between 1977 and 1992. Goldbaum was considering retirement, and he sought a judicial determination that he is eligible for pension benefits covering his entire period of employment and a writ of mandate ordering UCSD to accurately report his employment to the UCRP. The Regents disputed that Goldbaum was eligible for pension benefits between 1977 and 1992.

Both parties moved for summary judgment or adjudication. While the motions were pending, the parties settled the matter. The Regents agreed that Goldbaum would be considered an eligible employee during the disputed period "for purposes of calculating his UCRP Service Credit." The Regents had entirely funded a retirement account for Goldbaum, and he was required to cause the account funds "to be rolled over to UCRP to offset the cost to UCRP for any additional years of Service Credit allocated for the Disputed Period." Goldbaum reserved his right, if any, to seek attorney fees and costs.

Goldbaum moved for an award of attorney fees and costs under Labor Code section 218.5. In opposition, the Regents argued it is constitutionally immune from the statute, and in any event the writ proceeding was not an "action" within the meaning of the statute and Goldbaum was not the prevailing party. The court agreed with the Regents on the constitutionality issue and denied the motion. The court relied on Kim, supra, 80 Cal.App.4th 160, one of the line of opinions holding wage and benefit matters are internal university affairs not subject to state regulation. A dismissal with prejudice was entered on September 17, 2009.*fn2

DISCUSSION

I

Appellate ...


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