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Hudson v. County of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division

November 14, 2014

MONIQUE HUDSON, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, LEROY BACA, and LOS ANGELES COUNTY EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT ASSOCIATION, Defendants and Respondents.

Certified for Publication Filed Date 12/15/14

Appeal from judgments of the Los Angeles Superior Court No. BC458667, Amy D. Hogue and Luis A. Lavin, Judges.

Green & Shinee, Elizabeth J. Gibbons, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Hausman & Sosa, Jeffrey M. Hausman, Larry D. Stratton for Defendants and Respondents Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Leroy Baca, Sheriff.

Robert S. Van Der Volgen, Jr., Johanna M. Fontenot, Michael D. Herrera for Defendant and Respondent Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.

CHANEY, Acting P. J.

A former deputy in the Sheriff’s Department of Los Angeles County, while on temporary disability leave resulting from knee injuries, was discharged from her employment on grounds later found by the county Civil Service Commission to be unjustified. During the long Civil Service Commission proceedings leading to its order restoring her employment, however, the county’s retirement authority granted her a disability retirement, without benefits, and she thereafter withdrew her accumulated retirement contributions. Her suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court sought restoration of her employment as a deputy sheriff, and the retirement authority’s reevaluation of her disability status in light of her rehabilitation following knee surgeries. She appeals from trial court rulings and resulting judgments that have thwarted that result.

Background

On April 1, 2011, appellant Monique Hudson filed a complaint against the Sheriff’s Department of Los Angeles County and Sheriff Leroy Baca, [1] and the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA).[2] The complaint’s first cause of action sought specific performance of a contract identified as a written settlement agreement. The second cause of action consisted of a verified petition for peremptory writ of mandate seeking the same relief against the Department. Additional causes of action sought declaratory relief and mandate against LACERA.

Factual Allegations[3]

As a factual basis for her suit, Hudson alleged that she became a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff, and member of LACERA, on November 1, 1998. In December 2000 and March 2001, she sustained on-duty service-related injuries to her left and right knees, respectively, for which she received benefits under Labor Code section 4850.[4] In August 2003, while she was on disability leave from the Department, Hudson’s right knee was further injured during an off-duty incident in which four sheriff’s deputies forceably ejected her from a home in which she was living with her boyfriend, another sheriff’s deputy, after he falsely reported to on-duty deputy sheriffs that she had refused his request to leave his home.

In September, 2004, the Department filed an application to LACERA for a disability retirement on Hudson’s behalf, based on her work-related left knee injury. In October 2004, Hudson filed her own disability-retirement application, claiming on-duty injuries to both knees.

In January 2005, the Department fired Hudson for misconduct, allegedly due to her physical resistance and use of profane language after being pepper-sprayed during the August 2003 off-duty incident.[5] On February 1, 2005, Hudson appealed her discharge to the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission (the Civil Service Commission), which scheduled hearings in September 2005.

On May 4, 2005, before the Civil Service Commission hearings on the matter, LACERA issued its determination that Hudson’s right knee injury permanently disabled her from performing her duties as a deputy sheriff, but that the injury was not service-connected because it had been exacerbated during the off-duty incident. LACERA informed her that for that reason she would not be entitled to service-connected disability benefits, and that because she was credited with less than five years of service with the Department she was would be entitled to no disability allowance.

LACERA informed Hudson that because she would receive no retirement benefits, she had the option to withdraw her accumulated retirement contributions. In December 2006, because she was in economic need Hudson withdrew all of the retirement funds she had contributed to LACERA during her almost five years of employment as a deputy sheriff.

On February 6, 2008, the Civil Service Commission issued its final decision on Hudson’s appeal from her discharge. The decision adopted its hearing officer’s findings that the termination of her employment had been unjustified, and required the Department to restore Hudson’s employment as a deputy sheriff, retroactive to five days after her discharge.[6] The Department did not appeal the Civil Service Commission’s decision, which became final on May 16, 2008.

The Department did not comply with the Civil Service Commission order. In March 2008 it mailed to Hudson a “Notice of Medical Release” informing her that she was released from her position as a deputy sheriff, effective retroactively as of May 4, 2005, as a result of her right knee injury. On April 5, 2008, Hudson filed a new appeal to the Civil Service Commission, alleging that the Department’s “medical release” was done in retaliation for her successful challenge to her wrongful discharge by the Department.

On August 5, 2008, while her appeal from her medical release was pending, Hudson entered into an unwritten agreement with the Department, under which she would be permitted to return to work in an unsworn position with the Department until LACERA could reexamine her medical eligibility to return to her position as a deputy sheriff. Under the agreement, if LACERA were to determine that she remained disabled from performing as a deputy sheriff, the Department would reinstate her to employment as a civilian custody assistant; if LACERA found her to be medically capable of performing as a deputy sheriff, she would be immediately reinstated to that position. The unwritten agreement was confirmed in an August 8, 2008 letter from the Department’s attorney.

An October 8, 2008 note from Hudson’s treating physician released her for full-time work as a deputy sheriff, recommending that she work at the Department’s court services division. In early November 2008, an Agreed Medical Examiner (appointed in connection with her workers’ compensation claim) released her for full-time work as a deputy sheriff.

On December 22, 2008, Hudson entered into a written settlement agreement with the Department, providing that she would return to work on a specified date in a 120-day custody-assistant assignment; that she would undergo a medical reevaluation and obtain a new disability determination from LACERA; that she would be restored as a deputy sheriff if LACERA determined that she was no longer disabled, and she would be hired as a permanent custody assistant if LACERA determined that she remained disabled to serve as a deputy sheriff.[7] Beginning in January 2009, Hudson went to work as a custody assistant pursuant to the written agreement.

LACERA refused to reevaluate Hudson’s eligibility for employment as a deputy sheriff, however, on the ground that her December 2006 withdrawal of her retirement contributions had ended her LACERA membership.

At the end of April 2009, Hudson provided LACERA with a medical release from the surgeon who had performed surgery on her right knee, releasing her for duty as a deputy sheriff as of May 4, 2009. Hudson repeated her request for a medical reevaluation by LACERA. LACERA continued to refuse to reevaluate Hudson’s medical disability status on the ground that she was no longer a LACERA member due to her 2006 withdrawal of retirement contributions.

On June 9, 2009, counsel for the Department and for LACERA orally agreed with Hudson’s counsel that LACERA and the Department would accept and comply with any recommendation made by the doctor who had determined Hudson’s permanent disability for LACERA in 2005. On June 30, 2009, Hudson’s 120-day assignment as a custody assistant expired, leaving her without employment.

After reexamining Hudson on July 15, 2009, the doctor to whom the parties had agreed reported that Hudson appeared to be fit for unrestricted duty as a deputy sheriff. On August 25, 2009, Hudson provided the Department with the report, and requested immediate reinstatement as a deputy sheriff.

On September 11, 2009, the Department informed Hudson that it would not reinstate her to any position with the Department, and continued that refusal during the following months.

First Cause of Action

The first cause of action of Hudson’s original complaint alleged the Department’s breach of the December 2008 settlement agreement, seeking specific performance requiring the Department to reinstate Hudson as a deputy sheriff with backpay and benefits.

Second Cause of Action

The second cause of action petitioned for a peremptory writ of traditional mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, requiring the Department to perform the ministerial duty created by the Civil Service Commission’s February 2008 order (as well as the December 2008 settlement agreement), requiring Hudson to reinstatement to employment as a deputy sheriff with backpay and benefits.

Third Cause of Action

The complaint’s third cause of action sought a declaration of the parties rights and responsibilities under the settlement agreement and the Civil Service Commission’s order.

Fourth Cause of Action

The complaint’s fourth cause of action alleged that LACERA breached its ministerial duty to fully inform Hudson of the consequences of withdrawing her accumulated retirement contributions, and a ministerial duty to allow her to re-contribute the withdrawn contributions, then to be reevaluated by LACERA to determine her present medical eligibility to serve as a deputy sheriff.

Fifth Cause of Action

The fifth cause of action sought a declaration that Hudson is permitted to repay the retirement contributions she had withdrawn from LACERA, and then to be treated the same as any LACERA member with respect to reevaluation of her disability status.

Answers to Complaint

The Department filed its answer to the original complaint and return to the petition on or about May 2, 2011, admitting and denying various allegations and asserting 77 affirmative defenses. LACERA filed its answer to the complaint on May 23, 2011. Hudson filed a replication on June 8, 2011.

Department’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

The Department moved for judgment on the pleadings with respect to Hudson’s first three causes of action, for failure to state a claim. The motion argued that Hudson failed to meet the conditions precedent to enforcement of the settlement agreement’s terms, that she is entitled to no possible remedy under any theory, and that she failed to file a claim under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code, §§ 910, 911.2).[8]

Specifically, the Department’s motion contended section 31725 requires that Hudson’s capacity to perform as a deputy sheriff must be determined by LACERA, not by the Civil Service Commission; that LACERA still deems Hudson to be disabled notwithstanding the Civil Service Commission order setting aside her discharge; that the settlement agreement’s condition to her reinstatement has not occurred because Hudson has not obtained LACERA’s redetermination of her disability status; and that in any event Hudson’s alleged oral agreement with LACERA’s counsel concerning her right to reinstatement does not bind LACERA’s Board to adopt the designated doctor’s recommendation. The Department argued also that the complaint improperly sought specific performance of a personal-services contract, in violation of Civil Code section 3390.

Hudson’s opposition argued that no government claim was required because her action was not a wage claim by a former employee; that her settlement agreement was not a personal-services contract; that the agreement of LACERA’s counsel regarding the procedure for reevaluating Hudson’s disability status was valid and enforceable; and that her complaint stated a claim for traditional mandate to enforce the Department’s ministerial duty to comply with the unappealed order of the Civil Service Commission.

Ruling on Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

On March 13, 2012, the trial court (Amy Hogue, Judge) granted the Department’s motion for judgment on the pleadings on the first cause of action (for specific performance), with 10 days leave to amend; granted the Department’s motion for judgment on the pleadings on the third cause of action (for declaratory relief) without leave to amend; and declined to rule as to the second cause of action (petition for writ of mandate), ruling that the motion with respect to it should be brought in the court’s writs and receiversdepartment.

The First Amended Complaint

On March 27, 2012, Hudson filed an amended pleading alleging essentially the same underlying facts with some additional factual elements. But it did not re-allege the original first cause of action for specific performance of the written settlement agreement, or the original third cause of action for declaratory relief, as to which the court had granted judgment on the pleadings.

The new first and second causes of action of the amended pleading allege the Department’s violations of Hudson’s civil rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, primarily by failing to comply with the Civil Service Commission order requiring restoration of her employment and with its oral and written agreements to do so. They seek her reinstatement as a deputy sheriff, backpay, interest, actual and exemplary damages, mandate, declaratory relief, and attorney fees.[9] The third cause of action of the amended pleading re-alleges the original complaint’s petition for a writ of mandate against the Department under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085. It alleges (in addition to Hudson’s beneficial interests and lack of adequate remedy at law) that the ...


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